My name is Richard Nixon, only now I’m a girl

That strange statement is the first line in a new song from Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, which is getting a fair amount of airplay on CBC Radio 2. It asks the age-old question of what would happen if President Nixon came back as a black woman named Rose. This extended conceit becomes a roundabout way of dealing with issues of race, class and the real face of America… Interesting stuff with both a political and spiritual edge, as is always the case with Cockburn.

Another bit of current music news I find interesting is the “Seven Swans Reimagined” project where artists like Derek Webb and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy are covering songs from the oeuvre of Sufjan Stevens. As a devoted fan of both Sufjan and Webb I think this cross-pollination is a neat idea, but I’m also a little nervous about the inclusion of the CCM mainstream David Crowder Band on the record. Sometimes I think when Christians are too eager to claim an artist as their own, the credibility of the artist suffers in the process. Is that a horribly elitist thing to say?

 

 

And finally, Paul Simon has a new bluegrass-inspired record out. The lyrics to the first single, “The Afterlife,” I found to be particularly fascinating. “After I died / and the makeup had dried” the narrator arrives as the “new kid” in heaven, only to find out he has to “stand in line.” At first I thought of Kafka. But as the lyrics continue, it turns out there’s a lot of things going on in this song. It’s about finding your place in the hierarchy of being, joining the long line of poets, mystics and ordinary folks who’d like to catch a glimpse of the hidden deity… realizing you’re not the first or only person who has a “personal relationship” with the man upstairs:

Buddha and Moses and all the noses from narrow to flat, had to stand in the line,
just to glimpse the divine,
what you think about that?

Well it seems like our fate to suffer and wait for the knowledge we seek.

It’s all his design, no one cuts in the line,
no one here likes a sneak

You got to fill out a form first,
and then you wait in the line.
You got to fill out a form first,
and then you wait in the line.

After you climb, up the ladder of time,
the Lord God is here.
Face to face, in the vastness of space,
your words disappear.

And you feel like swimming in an ocean of love,
and the current is strong.

But all that remains when you try to explain is a fragment of song

And, just like Zechariah or Job, you end up speechless in the presence of G-d, the unutterable Name.

Lord is it, Be Bop A Lu La or Ooh Poppa Do
Lord, Be Bop A Lu La or Ooh Poppa Do

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