Friday, April 23, 2010

Gordon Gano and Hope

Now I might be silly, I'll admit it. I discovered the Violent Femmes in 1991, my 11th-grade year, just as I realized that my life never would line up with my expectations and hopes. The last two years of high school and the next two years of college remain the darkest days of my life, with extreme depression ruling most of my decisions. As a depressed, promiscuous, 17-year-old girl on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I fell hard for the idea of Gordon Gano the lyricist based on their wild, uninhibited, and (to me) very new sound on the 1981 Violent Femmes album. I played Blister in the Sun over and over and over, cackling to myself that my mom didn't know it was about masturbation. I played Add It Up at full volume, and I shouted Gano's words and channeled all the fury and hatred I had through my voice, trying to feel the horribleness that I felt leaving my body through my mouth.

It's really a very good thing that I never saw this 1984 photo of Gano as a teenager. I think I would simply have imploded. At 34, I still might:

Much later I discovered their album 3. I loved it, too, but not with the intensity and excitement of that self-titled debut. I found some of the songs more singable if less infectious. My particular favorite for years was Fat, a song I've taken as a bit of a theme song for myself. I'm sure Gano wrote and sang it just for me. And oh! just for a moment to sing the praises of Guy Ritchie's bass playing on that song! The song is utterly predictable and an absolute masterpiece. It never fails to make me smile, and I always end up dancing.

I digress. Here and now, I'm writing for a different reason. In spite of the angst and worldly teen suffering he codified and recorded for posterity, Gano always has described himself as a devout Baptist. Knowing that, in my later years as a Christian, I've found hope in a good bit of his supposedly profane (as opposed to sacred) and secular music.

Over the last six months, I've suffered awful, terrible depression. Some of the worst depression I've endured since those years at the end of high school has haunted me right here and now. I have been overwhelmed by it, and have often had to remind myself that you can't "lose" hope. You either choose to have it, or you don't.

This morning on the commute to work I plugged my iPod into the truck stereo system as always and scrolled through the bands. I'm sick of Sting, of the Police, of the Chemical Brothers. My depression has been too serious for me to risk listening to Nine Inch Nails (another discovery of those horrific late-teen years) or Tori Amos.  I saw Violent Femmes at the bottom of the artist list and thought, "Ah, just what I need." I selected the ever-so-slightly more mature 3 album for the ride in.

As I pulled onsite, a song I'd completely forgotten came on, and it spoke to me. The first hope I've felt in a while welled up, and I sang along thinking, "Oh my God. He's done it. Gordon Gano has fought this very depression in this very way, trying to reconcile it to this very faith. And he wrote it down and sang it out for me."

Now I'm certain good old Gordon's never gonna see this blog, and that's okay. But I have to say, it's been nice hearing him all these years, and I surely would like to thank him.

Outside the Palace
I've been outside the palace
I've been outside the gate
I still don't feel that I made any mistake
When I got off that train
I felt my feet hit the ground
I didn't want to know
Where that gravy train was bound

To me, the palace here is the protective home we have as Christians. The palace is that shelter that Christian parents want to give their children. We want to save them the sorrow of knowing and being hurt by that world; ultimately, though, we can't do that. They (and we) choose to step outside God's palace, to know the world. And that might or might not be a fundamental mistake. Regardless, how do we appreciate the palace for what it is if we never leave it?

God help me to see
I've been loved all along
And not to get too confused
Between the moonlight and the dawn

The moonlight and the dawn here represent the actual depression. The confusion and darkness that descend when you've been too long in the world and you begin to question God, his love for you, his desire for your happiness, and our purpose here. I read these lines as a literal prayer, and a literal promise. I have been loved all along, but I need help remembering and living that; the depression, the time of darkness between the moonlight and the dawn, confuses me and obscures the fact of God's love.

If I go back to the palace
I'll walk right through the gate
Nobody knows how much here was at stake
I might get on that train
In feel the wheel on the track
Move it on up the mountain like a foregone fact

Going home to the palace really is as simple as walking right through the gate, but the simplicity of the act masks the incredible cost of staying away. It's simple to forget the palace, or to relegate it to a time in my life, a phase I went through, and to continue in the world as though it was ordained that I must: I can forget the palace, leave it in the past and stay on the train (here representing the world). Now working on the world's mountains becomes a foregone fact of my life. My purpose becomes about the world and its problems.
God help me to know
I've been in love my whole life
And not to get so confused
Between the struggle and the strife.

Maybe it's a function of the depression in my head right now, but these last lines make me want to weep for their reassurance and simple faith. Again, this is a prayer, one that asks God for the simple reminder that I am in love with him, that he is my choice; I am not bound as a Christian just because the Hindu gods didn't get to me first or because I'm not Buddhist. My faith is not by default, and it is not a reflection of God's ownership of me. No, God relinquished his ownership by giving me the freedom to choose him or any other god. The struggle and the strife, the products of the world and of being outside the palace, can so easily overwhelm and confuse, sending me back to depression and separation and allowing me to forget that I chose this faith and this walk.


  1. Your transparency is just awesome, and how your love of God leads you to see him in unconventional places.

    And you brought up so many music memories of the same type--esp. identifying with "I Just Want Something I Can Never Have" and "Head Like a Hole"--and singing/hollering "Add it Up" with my friends. . . And I am glad I am not in that place anymore. I am so sorry you are there, and so glad you feel lifted up, even if just a little.