["My Church" by Maren Morris plays briefly then fades out]
Anne: Hi, I'm Anne.
Melanie: And I'm Melanie.
A: And you're listening to Just a Second: A Jump, Little Children Fandom podcast.
M: Where the topical discussion is beyond belief.
A: Okay! I think this is, what? Our sixth episode?
M: Yeah! Lucky number six!
A: Yeah. And this is the religion episode! And what I'm sort of trying to take a look at in this episode is two very different concepts. First of all I'd sort of like to explore the idea of fandom as a proxy or replacement for religious worship or the role that religion had for people in the past. Which I don't think we can necessarily get too deeply into but I do think it's something interesting to think about. And the other prong of this, if you will, how has having a religious background or a religious background that you're maybe no longer connected to impacted your experience of fandom. And we also have with us Keri. Hi, Keri.
A: Keri was on our previous episode where we attempted to talk about Jay Clifford and perhaps, fittingly, it didn't quite work out that way, at least in my estimation. But we did what we could and we're moving on now! [laughter]
M: We've moved on from that!
A: I know it didn't go the way I wanted because I was, at least myself, I don't know if this was the case for Melanie, was so discombobulated by having seen Paul McCartney just recently before then that I just couldn't really concentrate on Jay Clifford. But Melanie's used to it!
M: Sorry, Jay! [laughs]
A: I think he probably would've preferred that, but speaking of The Beatles I wanted to start out reading this quote from the book I'm reading by Mark Lewisohn called Tune In. It's a history of The Beatles and this particular edition that I'm reading is the regular edition which is only 800 pages, whereas the deluxe edition is 1700 and it only goes up through 1962. But anyway the first Beatles fan, the first fan was named Pat Moran and she'd made friends with them and she brought them food because they didn't always eat regularly [laughs] and a they got along really well with her. And there's a particular paragraph I wanted to read. Her father really did not approve of her going to see these boys at the rock club and it starts here: "Paul called Pat Moran our number one fan, accepting her as both their first and their keenest. But her enthusiasm led to some sorry consequences and home. Her father demanded to know what the devil a good Catholic girl was doing chasing boys who played filthy rock and roll. And when these same boys began to shape her vocabulary—she started to say 'fab' and 'gear' because they did— he almost hit the ceiling, but hit her instead. In the end she drove him so mad with her non-stop chattering—Beatles for breakfast, dinner and tea— that he pronounced it a sin and ordered the first Beatles fan to seek almighty God's forgiveness at confession. "I had to tell the priest I spend too much of my time worshipping The Beatles." He just ignored me and said, as he always did, remember your prayers say five Hail Marys and four Our Fathers and you'll be forgiven." [laughter] I spend too much time worshipping The Beatles! I just love that. I mean I don't love the fact that he hit her but, you know.
A: It was the 60s. Actually, no, it wasn't the 60s. I think it was either '59 or '60 but anyway. Of course at the time it was scandalous and you know we're looking back like "oh look at these people playing the oldies in the fifties" and it's just you know almost quaint at this point but at the time, of course, it was quite a big deal and I do believe that he would have thought of that as a sin, so, that sort of covers....
M: Yeah, I know certain members of my family who were into the Beatles their father was not, you know, he'd call it filthy devil music! [laughs]
A: Yeah, exactly. So, to that end do you want to talk a little bit about the religious background in your family and how that impacted your family members and you or?
M: So, I was raised Mormon in the Mormon religion. And while my mom wasn't so hung up on stuff, her parents were back when she was a teenager. So I've heard all these stories of you know them not liking the Beatles and most of the music back then. But my mom was not a strict person in terms of the music that I listen to or anything, cuz she let me listen to pretty much anything that I wanted. So my religious background doesn't really play a big part in it at all. [laughs]
M: But Keri's might!
K: Yeah, well and I think it's really kind of interesting to see this from two perspectives of two former Mormons who were raised in the same tiny little Mormon congregation in South Carolina surrounded by all the Baptists. And Melanie hit it on the head. Her family was, well her grandparents were kind of like local Mormon royalty.
K: But her mom was a little more relaxed and I remember growing and my family was, my parents, were first-generation and so they were 100% cued up, cued in, avoid anything that even had the appearance of evil or not being a hundred percent in alignment with the church and even to the point, I mean, my parents. I don't know if you know this, Melanie, but my parents when I was a kid chose the music that they would play at the stake dances. So Mormon local congregations are called a ward and when you get a bunch of wards together they form a stake, like S-T-A-K-E on a tent, and that was the level where you'd have youth dances for children ages 14 to 18 where you would dance very appropriately with the Book of Mormon width between you [laughter] and nothing inappropriate and watch those hips, people! I mean really keep it, keep it down. And my parents were charged with choosing the music for these dances when I was a little kid. And I remember them going through, I mean Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" just made their day [laughter] because it was so positive and uplifting. Can you even imagine? How do you even dance to that? I still don't know. That wasn't the point, it was appropriate! And so, for me, my parents were very, very musical. They met in a musical performing group. It was music in the Donnie & Marie Osmond vein and classical and we always sang and we would, I was a clogger. That's my deep, dark confession, so when I was clogging I got to listen to songs like Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It". [laughter] They danced to that so....
A: They clogged to that? Please tell me they clogged to that! [laughter]
K: Not even joking. It is a true story from my really strange childhood that I didn't realize was strange when I was living it.
A: Absolutely amazing!
K: [laughs] "Push It" was one. There were a couple of really good ones that now that I'm an adult I listen to it and I'm like "Freakazoid"? Really that was a song that, wow, cuz they only like, we clogged to little sections of it so never heard the whole song.
A: Uh oh.
K: So that's how it kind of snuck its way in there and was labeled as appropriate! But there was this whole overarching question of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate and what will bring you closer to God and what will drive you away from God. And I remember seeing Melanie as a kid, so Melanie forgive me and edit if this is too much [laughter], and Melanie had musical tastes like Marilyn Manson
K: and all these you know scary things that wow, that really drives away the spirit. I mean, I was judgy, I apologize. Super sorry about that.
M: [laughing] It's okay, everyone was I was.
K: It's a thing! I was wrong!
M: I was used to it! [laughs]
K: I want to go on podcast record now saying my bad. [laughter] It was just an interesting, different kind of time. So we lived very much in a bubble and when I first discovered the band I had to jump through so many mental gymnastics. I mean had graduated from college, literal mental gymnastics to make it okay to be at a venue that served alcohol that most people call a bar but I was just there for the music. And Melanie was a safe person for me take on these experiences because I was still very cued up in the Mormon world and there was a lot of judgment around things and I knew that Melanie, who had once upon a time liked Marilyn Manson, would be a safe friend to take to these places and have these experiences and I wouldn't be dragging her down but lifting her up! And oh, look! Here's a classically trained cellist!
A: So it's fine!
K: Yeah, remnants from my childhood. This is how, cuz I was living with my parents right after college, through a whole other series of events, so I'd go and I'd leave my parents' home and come home and they're like, "Is it good?" So my line, and there was absolutely nothing that we were doing wrong at these places. Never a temptation, never a thing. I mean you'd come home smelling like smoke but whatever and aside from that it's just, I had to tell her, "Oh yeah, we'll they're just really talented. They're so talented and to me when you take these god-given talents and work on them and refine them that is uplifting and Godly." [laughs] That's where I was when I discovered Jump.
A: Well, see this is really interesting for me because I don't really have a religious background. My parents don't like going to places or doing things. You know my father wasn't into going out and seeing people socially and neither was my mother so they sort of reinforced each other in that. So they were not part of any church groups. I eventually went to a Unitarian church because I was at a period in my life where I'd just been laid off and I was sort of bummed and looking for something to do. But the thing with Unitarianism is you don't have to actually believe in spiritual matters, per se, or rather in supernatural matters. You have to basically adhere to the code that Unitarians all more or less believe that is basically related to human rights and it will take the human rights-based elements of other religions and sort of explore and incorporate those. And some people don't really like that aspect of it but the Unitarians mean well and that's really the important thing. But that was sort of a late development in my life. Prior to that I was just sort of a general Christian holidays person because that is my cultural background but there was no active religious engagement at all for most of my life. So when I hear people talk about "well God doesn't want you to do this or God wants you to do that" or "this is Godly, this is not" I'm like, okay. Cuz that doesn't really speak to me. And it's really interesting to me to hear people talk about how other people saying "you shouldn't be doing this because it's not godly." But I want to do it! [laughter] So it's just the entire framework and the context doesn't really fit into my life and it's never really been something that I've incorporated. But you know, it is interesting to hear about and watch. But I'm sort of, I guess, not, I don't want to sound judging cuz I'm sure there are people listening who are religious so I'm not going to, I'm just saying that's not particularly my background. I ended up sort of having an academic interest in it in others, so I'm just several degrees separate from that at this point. And I don't have a current religious stronghold in my life and I didn't in the past that I'm dealing with breaking away from and that's really where I'm coming from. And it allows me to or, yeah I guess it allows me to look at the question of is fandom a replacement or proxy for religious worship? In a way that's probably not as emotionally impactful as it might be for others and some people might find that concept offensive, but I just try to look at it and say is there a universal human need to have a place where you gather with others and watch someone perform or make statements to you or move you in some other way? Is there a human need to do that and do people find that more or less wherever they can? That's sort of what I'm wondering. I don't think we can necessarily answer that.
A: But I do think, other than that, there is a tendency throughout cultures for people to do that. I don't know if that means there's an innate need but it just seems to keep happening for some reason.
K: Well, and I think there's definitely something there because as I've moved through the process of being very deeply committed and religious to a very specific and strict religion to "whoa, wait I don't know what I believe" to probably a more agnostic view of the world. The reason I left the Mormon Church didn't have anything to do with being mad or upset at the Mormon Church. It had to do with being immersed in a lot of other good things that challenged and broke my view of this one Church being the one true church. So with my current opinion and thought on faith and religion and matters, I feel like I'm in a seeking phase right now and figuring out exactly where I want to be with it, is that there is a very strong commonality in all religions that I believe is driven by a basic human need of connection with yourself, connection with community, connection with the divine and that it plays out in a number of different ways. And so I have no problem thinking of religion as something that meets this need and also fandom as something that meets a need that propels and uplifts. And it's not an exclusive thing. You can be both religious and a fan. The ultimate question for anyone I believe is, is this propelling me forward and doing good? Am I helping people, am I helping others, am I helping myself by doing this? Or is it bringing negativity into the world in some way? And as long as you can answer in the affirmative, that hey this is growth and progress and help and good then by all means go all in.
A: Yeah, well said! Speaking of the idea of people trying to find community, I said earlier that I turned to the Unitarian Universalist Church when I had been laid off, that was part of it. I was like you know and I don't think it's a coincidence that this was also during Jump's hiatus so there were a lot of people that I used to see quite often that I just didn't see any more and didn't expect to see again anytime soon and I had just been laid off. So I was really trying to find something to do. And like I said, my parents and I are not really into going out and having fun social events anyway so it was a sort of attempt to find a connection. The funny thing being that I still didn't feel like I fit in well at this particular church and sort of got tired of that after a while and just stopped going because it just didn't seem to be a good use of my time. I just didn't really enjoy all that much going there. I mean they're good people but you know I sort of felt like with Unitarians unless you're really, really, really into the concept and you're really hardcore into activism, which is a lot of Unitarian stuff. They have a very powerful background in activism. It's more like going to a voluntary college lecture where you have to shake hands before and hold hands afterward for that stupid stuff. So I mean, you're just going to sit there and listen to people talk. There's not an element, necessarily, where you have to believe that you're doing something for your soul and I don't really have that happening so that was not so much of a compelling feeling of "oh, I've got to go and nourish my soul." I don't really have that standpoint on it. Maybe I should but I sort of feel like I don't really think of the soul is a literal thing. I always think of it as basically a metaphor for something else going on in your life or some other element of you so I'm not really looking at it as a literal practice, if you will.
K: I think it's important to acknowledge the feeling aspect of both experiences so when you get deep into religion, Melanie back me up here on this one, but once a month Mormons do this thing where they stand up in church and they bear their testimony. And having stepped out of the church now I've dissected that experience a little bit and people will stand up every month and say "I know this church is true" and I know this and I know that and it's often and emotional event. I mean Melanie can you see the people crying....
K: ...as they bear testimony and there's that deep gut feeling of a confirmation that the choices they're making are right. And it's something that while I was in that religious experience took as confirmation that that religion was true based on a feeling. Do you relate to that, Melanie?
M: Do I relate to having confirmation that it was true or?
K: Having confirmation or seeing other people have confirmation, cuz that's also part of it is witnessing and yeah.
M: Well, I just, honestly I just thought it was like a great performance that everyone was doing and everyone was feeding off of everyone's performances.
A: That's what I was going to say.
M: And just letting their emotions just kind of feed off of each other and, "Oh, you feel this way? I feel this way too" and kind of, I don't know.
A: Yeah, I was thinking that would kind of freaked me out because it would look to me like they're working themselves and each other into an emotional state to reinforce what they already believe and sort of be like, "well they believe it, I believe it too and we're all right. Because we're all talking about it."
M: And see that always made me uncomfortable because I thought it was a deeply personal thing that I didn't necessarily want to tell everyone about! [laughter]
K: You're such a rebel. Keeping deeply personal things deeply personal. [laughs]
A: Imagine that!
M: I just never felt the need to do any of that stuff. Now when it comes to talking about a band oh yeah, I'm happy to spread the gospel of Jump, Little Children. [laughter] But I'm not going to be pushy about it and I'm not gonna get overly emotional about it and start crying while I say how much I love them and how much their music means to me.
A: You only do that for the Beatles! [laughter]
M: That's right, I only save that for the Beatles!
A: Which is actually really weird because I wouldn't have thought that I would be crying over the Beatles and yet I totally have. I mean, granted it's been in the past month but it really, it's an experience.
K: Yeah, I think there are just feeling is something that's at the center of both of these experiences.
K: So this wonderful resource called Wikipedia, cuz you can tell how academic I am in looking things up these days.
A: Are you looking up what is a feeling?
K: What is, tell me what a feeling is! [laughter] Well, no, there's a feeling known as religious ecstasy that's a type of altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness frequently accompanied by an emotional sometimes physical euphoria related to religion. Tell me you haven't felt that pressed up against the stage at a Jump, Little Children concert.
A: I have certainly enjoyed myself pressed up against the stage at a Jump, Little Children concert. I don't know if I'd really call it religious per se, because I was thinking as you read that people would say, well yes of course the euphoria I'm feeling is because of the spirit; it is because of God. Where I'd be like, you're having a chemical reaction in your brain because you're really enjoying where you are. Which sounds like someone in one of Jay's atheist podcasts that he listens to. [laughter] But I mean you can also say that maybe those are the same thing if you wanted. I guess you could say the spirit is causing me to have brain chemical reactions! [laughter] I don't know. I don't know if you can really definitively say what's causing what. You can just say, yes I'm having that feeling, I identify with that feeling. I remember my first real Jump, Little Children show in a club. I hadn't really gone to that many shows anyway. I think I was like 19 and being a sort of a square child who never really did anything. I wasn't like a constant club goer or anything at that point. And I had, of course, I think this would have been a unique experience even if I had gone to a lot of shows. But I had never experienced anything remotely like before and I don't think I ever quite equaled the way I felt after that show even with the other Jump shows. For one, that was a really great show. If you look at the setlist you could just, I think anyone who's a Jump fan would be impressed by that setlist. This was October 1998 at the Cotton Club in Atlanta. And, yeah. I can't really describe that but it was a particular feeling that I could only get [from] and only associated with Jump shows. And that's why I went to such a disproportionate amount of Jump shows because other shows did not provide that same feeling for a variety of reasons. Whether you're talking about being with the other fans, your friends, the band itself, the music itself, or talking with the band afterward if you combine all those things you just can't equal that at other shows and why bother trying, I guess. [laughs] It's just a very special feeling. And interestingly please allow me to mention this, and I swear I won't go on about this too much, but there was a completely different experience but was similar in many ways at the Paul McCartney show. It was just bigger by several orders of magnitude because it was Paul McCartney. But there was that same feeling of it being you know capital letters An Experience.
M: Uh huh.
A: Wouldn't you agree, Melanie?
M: Oh, yeah! I mean, that was the fourth time I've seen him and it's still...I can't get over the fact that I've seen Paul McCartney!
A: Like at all?
M: And been there in the same room as him and just feeling, cuz I have no control over what I was feeling.
A: Yeah! Yeah, exactly! That's the thing, you're like, I'm in the same room, I'm looking at him. I sort of joked about it, I was like, my eyes are looking at Paul McCartney. The light that is bouncing off of Paul McCartney is being reflected through my glasses lenses into my eyeballs because we're in the same room! I laughed about it. I have a screencap of a video someone took of him playing where it's like, there we are! I am in, I'm in the frame! And it's like that's what really gets you is when he's playing these songs, this is the guy that actually wrote the songs and you're there!
A: And it really does. I'm pretty sure I mentioned last time my reaction to the setlist so I might not go into that again. But still, it is a, it's also kind of strange because when you stop and think about it these are just guys playing music. [laughter]
A: I mean, what the hell!
M: See, that's why I don't stop and think about it.
A: Yeah! That's a great point.
M: They're just dudes playing music.
A: Reminds me—yeah, it's sort of dumb if you think about it too much!
M: Yeah! Yeah!
A: But it reminds me of a discussion I had with my friend Charles several years ago. I said you know, we sort of have a universal language of emotion in music. And he was like, I read that that's not really true because in Chinese opera—no, no I think I had started out with the example of Chinese opera. God, I can't remember. But the upshot of it was when you or I or people in the West are listening to people singing in Chinese opera and they sound very mournful or they sound a particular way to us, Charles was mentioning a theory, a music theory he had read about that there is no universal emotional language in music because it's all very culturally dependent. So, what is signaled in a particular way in Chinese opera is simply not going to come across to people raised in the West the way that it's intended to. And I was like, okay, cuz I would have assumed that if you hear, not necessarily someone singing, but if you hear quote unquote sad music that everyone would think that it's sad. Or everyone would be moved in a particular way by it. Cuz I've never read anything otherwise. If happy music, sad music, I assume that we all know what that means. And I assume it's all going to evoke a particular feeling. So that's that sort of threw me for a loop. And Charles said he would get back to me with some more information on that theory and I haven't followed up with him on that but I don't know, maybe that's not really an accepted theory? I mean I guess you have to maybe do some brain measurements to see what parts of people's brains reacted to what music. But that is just something that I have taken for granted that people would be moved in a particular way by music that sounds, to me, to be a particular way. And maybe that would explain or speak to the fact that people seem to feel emotions around people playing music and music itself. That it evokes these feelings that we liken to or equate with religious euphoria. Maybe that's all wrong!
M: Yeah, maybe it's just that we've seen these examples all of our lives, being in our culture.
A: Yeah, it's confirmation bias or something.
K: Well, as you were describing the feeling of being in the same room with Paul McCartney...
K: I remembered an experience I had in college where the Mormon prophet visited our campus.
A: So it's basically like that.
K: And felt very much the same. I mean it was 5,000 people in an arena and I was sitting kind of up high on the side and I still remember being in awe at being in the same room and just watching what he did and waiting with eager, bated anticipation for what he was going to say! And was it going to be groundbreaking? And guess what? It wasn't. But it still was. [laughter]
K: It like, it didn't matter what he said or what he did. Every single thing he did was amazing because of how I have this person built up in my mind and what I believed about this person and the things I have done because I believed in this person.
A: Right! That sort of reminds me of reading some articles about Paul's tour, he would tell a lot of the same stories in different cities through the tour. And you know, on the one hand that's kind of, I was sort of annoyed by that even though it didn't make sense because obviously if you're going on a big tour you're not going to come up with unique stories for every night of the show. I can't possibly repeat my stories every night! And I was like, he can do whatever he wants! It's Paul McCartney, he can literally say the exact same thing every night if he wants. It's still Paul McCartney. So, yeah. [laughter] But who were we, who is this podcast about? Uh, Jump, Little Children.
M: Oh yeah! [laughter]
K: I remember. I didn't go to the Paul McCartney show. [laughter] So for all you listeners out there: I feel ya. [laughter]
A: But before that there was some sort of thread I wanted to connect to what you were saying about the Mormon prophet.
M: Well it's all just a cult of personality that plays into it.
A: Excellent. That's an excellent way to put it.
M: Very, very deeply.
A: Cuz you know, at the end of the day Paul McCartney is a human man playing music.
A: It's really, it's really struck me in my Beatles nerdom over the past month just how incredibly huge they are and just, I was thinking of the concept we have in our vocabulary about religion as well as pop idols. We've got "idol", "icon". We've got things things like we were talking about in earlier episode of people collecting personal effects of Franz Liszt, making necklaces and jewelry out of his cigar butts and piano strings and coffee leavings. So that's like relics, more or less. And it's this idea of something that ties you, if you will, too your idol or the figurehead or wherever you're looking at and whoever you're focused on. But at the same time I don't want to seem sort of facile and dumb by making it sound like, oh we worship, we literally worship musicians. [laughter] Cuz I don't think it's that either. I think it might also tie into this. Although I think the concept of fans worshipping is a cross-cultural in cross-gender experience, I think there is sort of an element to the sort of negative stereotype of female fans as mindlessly worshipping or mindlessly, well I guess I already said worshipping! [laughter] Mindlessly worshipping as we saw with Pat Moran and "why are you doing this? Why you corrupting yourself with this nonsense?" And to be fair even though this was, I checked again, and this was 1960, by the end of 1960 when they were in Hamburg, the Beatles were pretty filthy! [laughs] So it's not like the fathers are wrong to be concerned in these situations. But at the same time you don't even have to get into stuff like that to begin with. It just seems like sometimes the very concept of women being enamoured of male musicians in general is problematic for people even though, as I said you know, it is a cross-cultural experience. Everyone can experience this feeling of fandom. I do think there's sort of an element of like, oh you chicks need something better to do. [laughter] Which I think I talked about. I don't remember if it was Barbara Ehrenreich's essay or someone else's but in a previous episode talking about people were concerned because there were so many teenagers at this particular point in time who were not turning their concerns toward marriage and motherhood. They were going nuts over the Beatles or previous to that, although somewhat less so because it was not really during the baby boom, the girls who were obsessed with Frank Sinatra. It was like, "why are you not focusing on marriage and motherhood?" Because that's a drag. [laughter] And we'd much rather obsess over whoever. Which I can't really blame them. But one other aspect of this that is not really related to the two things I was wanting to talk about earlier is the people in the band have a certain, I don't think we know all the ins and outs of their religious backgrounds or experiences, but Jay has talked about it a little bit. Isn't his grandfather who was a minister?
M: I believe so.
A: Yeah. And he's talked about being an atheist. He was on a podcast talking about that.
A: And he listens to, who was that? Sam somebody? Anyway yeah, he's mentioned an atheist thought figure, if you will. I can't remember what the term is for that now. Which is an interesting thing to do and of course religion informs a lot of his songs, a lot of their songs. The most obvious one of course being "Cathedrals", which was interesting to me when the Notre Dame Cathedral suffered that devastating fire people were posting the song and I was like that's not, the point of the song is [laughs] Melanie why don't you explain the point of the song.
M: Yeah! The point of the song is you're in these supposed great religious spaces, you know, and then you realize maybe you're not—
A: Go home.
M: Yeah. You should go home. Or maybe what you're looking for isn't in these places, they're right where you've always been.
A: And of course it was inspired by Chris joining that sect.
A: I was going to say cult and then I thought, well it's probably more polite to say 'sect'. [laughter] And, you know, what that did to them watching him sort of be absorbed into that world. So, let's see. I know in terms of religion there's sort of a, not directly related, Matt and Evan, I think, were drawn to Charleston because their father was restoring church pews in Charleston? I think that was the case.
M: I think so. Something like that. He was restoring something churchy.
A: Yeah. I think it was pews and I think that's, I'm sure I'm forgetting something at some point, but my recollection is that's how they ended up in Charleston. Gosh, I really should know that right off, shouldn't I?
M: It seems right!
A: The important thing was they were dealing with that. And of course in Charleston there are so many churches and their steeples are pointing like an accusing finger! [laughter] Just constantly pointing like accusing fingers! And it is a very religious city.
M: I mean, it's called "The Holy City"!
A: Yeah, exactly. With its....
M: They even have, Jay wrote a song called "Holy City".
A: That he did!
M: That was not released, was it? It was like a demo.
A: Another one of his [laughs]
K: I ordered it on EZ Chief!
A: Oh yeah! On the EZ Chief thing.
K: Well, you know I was watching some series recently on cults and extreme belief. And it was interesting to me to pick out some of the commonalities in what I'd experienced and what others had experienced and I think one of the interesting things about religion is that it creates a framework. And I think that most of what people believe in or get into is good, pretty much, and then there's this one twist of something that's, oh, like way not good that's thrown in the mix. That throws everything else off. But people are connected and hooked and attached because of how much that is good. And Melanie, when you said something about the cult of personality it reminded me of the cult expert they had who would talk to these survivors of these different experiences and having a charismatic leader is a very important part in any of these deep religious experiences. And if it's not the leader being charismatic, it's charisma by proxy because the leader supposedly has a direct link to God.
K: So it's interesting, that whole cult of personality, charismatic leader, leader by proxy. So when you look at a religion that has a charismatic leader that's another parallel between religious experience and the experience of following a band and being attracted to the charisma of the band members.
A: Yeah, the Charisma.
M: Yeah and you can see that too, like with this, I don't know how long it's been going on, but the whole worship leader things where it's like a rock concert. But also like billed as like this worship thing that is aimed at young people.
M: It's been going on for like a decade, probably? I mean there where echoes of it when I was young with my friends, cuz they would invite me to things. But I think it's just really taken off in the early 2000s.
K: Well, and I tell you the churches, the religions are using that as a tool. They are using the rock and roll hook to get people in. And I'll say, my husband and I sometimes will go to a local church that we just kind of happened upon and they had people and they were nice and they have couches and they have really good performances on Sunday mornings. So, if I am going to go somewhere to worship I'm going to go somewhere with a little coffee shop in the lobby, comfy couches, and free childcare for an hour this Sunday morning where I get to go listen to a little concert with really good music. It's an interesting shift from how I was raised to worship in my previous points of worship and yet at this point in my life I don't see anything wrong with receiving that kind of refreshing entertainment when I go to connect with something spiritual on a Sunday morning.
A: That's reminded me too, that one thing I really do miss about going to church and one reason I stopped going to this particular UU church was because their land was bought by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and is now a parking deck.
K: That's a good reason to stop going.
A: So they are working out—yeah, it's like an eight story parking deck now. And the original building was one I think that Martin Luther King visited or there was something from, it was an older building. He either visited that one or the original one that they moved from, that they took some stuff with them from. They're working out of an office park now and I'm just nor particularly interested in going to an office park to go to church. But one thing they were super good at was their music program and that's pretty much a standby with Unitarians is they have really solid music. Cuz I think a lot of people coming to Unitarian Universalism come from religious backgrounds of a very different type. They miss, they don't want to be in those restrictive religions anymore but they miss the concept of community. They miss the actual worship time, cuz we would still call it that, it would still be called worship or services or worship service. You know, whatever! But one thing that they all would have in common, I came to learn, is that the music programs are amazing. One thing that was sort of fun, they would take classic hymns and Unitarian the shit out of them [laughter] and just make them as inoffensive and non-God related as possible, which was hilarious. I had a friend who was a former Jehovah's Witness who would read through the new lyrics in the hymn book and she would laugh because they just completely neutered the shit out of them. [laughter] And made it Unitarian. But at the same time everyone really enjoyed, we had all-music sessions. We had a session that was completely devoted to Pete Seeger. That was like our yearly Pete Seeger sermon. Nothing but Pete Seeger! [laughter]
M: Oh yeah! Yeah when I was searching for, like after I left Mormonism I was searching for—to see if I wanted to go to other places—I investigated Unitarian Universalism. I think they had like a whole thing one Sunday on Bob Dylan. [laughs]
A: Oh, absolutely. They would also do it with Woody Guthrie. If you look at the audience—not the audience—the congregation! It's all older boomers.
A: They love it if there are younger people or if there are people of color there but it's all older, white boomers.
M: Yeah, it really is.
A: So they're clapping, they're doing offbeat claps to Bob Dylan songs [laughter] and Peter, Paul, and Mary, they fucking love Peter, Paul, and Mary. [laughter]
M: Oh yeah!
A: It's like yeah, get down! I took my mother to a Christmas service, and my mother has a Baptist background, but she was taken aback to see that there was a band, an electric band, playing John Lennon's "Imagine". It was like, "wow, they certainly wouldn't have done that at my Baptist churches." Yeah I guess not! But yeah, that's a reason I would sort of want to go back is I liked singing along. Cuz there is sort of a feeling that you get from singing with other people in a large group. Or you know if you're singing along with lyrics you still feel like you're engaged. Because you are engaged. You are actually physically participating in the activity that's moving everybody. And you're also sort of reflexively going "we're all doing this! We're all singing the words! We all know the words! Yeah!" But you know, at church a lot of times you would have a little book. They don't give you a little book at concerts! You're supposed to know the words! That's cheating! [laughter] If I have an order of service. Jump, Little Children Order of Service. [laughter]
K: Sunday morning worship, just a bunch of cheaters!
A: Well, you know the Unitarians who were the big shots who have been there for 30 years or more, they already knew the words so they didn't need the hymn book. Whatever. But it does sort of show how things and concepts and feelings transfer because I think I really do feel we have some sort of commonality and common need for stuff like that. Because I'll see people try to say like, oh, we've got to get rid of organized religion! And I sort of feel like, no matter what your feelings are on organized religion, people are always going to try to construct that. Because it serves some people's purposes for there to be organized religion like that. When we're talking about, oh we just need a place for families to meet or it's more like I want to control the reproductive decisions of everyone in my community. [laughter] You know, it really runs the gamut. But I think there always is a drive for that. There is a drive for people to find this commonality, even someone like me who doesn't really feel drawn to hanging out with people. I know some people have experienced this need to, oh, I've got to go out tonight and go somewhere where there are other people. I'm like, what? People you don't know? That you don't already know? What are you doing? That's just not something that I feel. Even when I was, at that period of time where I was looking around because I had been laid off from that job I still felt really weird about being like, I need to—I think I thought of it as like a networking opportunity. But I didn't really know how I would manifest that into networking cuz that's also not something I particularly like to do. Surprise. But yeah, I guess even despite all my natural tendencies I do think I have always enjoyed the community at a Jump show because I found my I found my niche there, if you will. And like I said earlier, there's really nothing else like it. So I don't know if you necessarily want to equate that to religious experience? I don't think I necessarily would do that but I think there is something underneath all this that is common to most people.
K: Well and maybe that is another one of those areas of commonality that being a fan of a band or being a member of a religion, you make up certain assumptions about the other people who are in the room with you, that gives you permission to connect.
K: So you would just go to like a random networking event that if you went to a networking event of Jump, Little Children fans you be like, hey, we have something we can talk about. Walk into any Mormon congregation in the world and...
A: they're all Mormon.
K; you have a really good idea what to expect. And you know none of them are drinking coffee. None of them are drinking tea. None of them are shopping on Sunday. There's all these things that you know about the people who are in those same places with you and that becomes the community. It becomes a religious experience.
A: Yes. Literally a commonality. So yeah. I didn't know you couldn't shop on Sundays!
K: Oh, there's so much you can't do. [laughs]
A: I was thinking too the actual monetary tying of religion, specifically the Catholic church, to music has actually given us a very vast musical legacy if we're looking at stuff like the patronage of Mozart and Beethoven, etc., etc. by the Catholic church. I was thinking when I was in Vienna I made a point of going to various churches there and I went to a Catholic Mass where I didn't really do anything you know. It was sort of like a concert really, because the people who were singing, unlike here which I thought was interesting and I commented on this to my friend, here at least it at my church everyone would wear their vestments and stoles and they would they would look very dressed up as making it clear and setting them apart as part of the, they were the choir. Where as here during the Catholic Mass everyone was wearing their street clothes. So it was very interesting to me to be sitting in this 400 year old church where everyone was not really dressed up especially even though I was sort of like, well, ok, I guess everyone is just wearing what they want. It's almost like they're Unitarians. But the choir was always set apart with the Unitarian and that was not the case here so it was interesting listening to this Mozart mass in this 400 year old church with people just singing like this is an everyday thing for them. Which it was! My friend was like, yeah this is just here and this is just a normal thing. They weren't making it into a grand thing through various displays of artifice because it already was a grand thing. You were literally in a church that I'm quite sure Mozart went to at some point. And there was also a church in Salzburg that I went to, I think, that was Mozart's home church where he was baptized. And it just lead me think a lot about the Catholic church was giving it's perhaps ill gotten gains to Mozart in order for him to write music that glorified the Church. It made this nice little circle there. And say what you like about the Catholic church, we did end up with them financing some great music. [laughs] That's really the important thing. No. But you know regardless that is part of what happened which may not have necessarily happened otherwise because the music sort of served as publicity for the Catholic church.
K: Well, I mean, the church was the origin of theater.
K: So that is— I feel like theater is the origin of the concert experience too. So all of that is tied up in religion is what got people together originally. And now there's...
A: Right, yeah. I essentially felt like I was at a concert.
A: Which I basically was. As the people around me said the Mass things. [laughter] Whenever my friend walked into a church with me she had to stop and do the thing with and I didn't know she was going to do that so I kept walking and she was stopping and doing the thing with her hands. I was like, oh, are we supposed to do that? Am I bringing the Devil in? Oops. I brought the Devil. [laughter]
K: It's like a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's the same thing. Same thing!
K: Other people are doing the things. I don't know the things.
A: They're the little things we all have to do. The little things everyone knows to do and it is part of a ritual.
K: And I will say that the experience of going to concerts probably was the start of my transition, not saying out of the Mormon church but my transition into a different life. Because I loved the shows, decided to move to Charleston after following them around for a couple years, not because they were there. That sounds like creepy and weird and that's not what happened. I had a friend who was living there so I had a place to go and I knew I just needed to make a change. And actually, so when I first moved to Charleston I happened to go at the same time that my job was getting outsourced so I went with a severance package. It was just this crazy god-timing thing. I went because I wanted to go and by the time I left all these other things had happened that confirmed that I needed to go anyways. And there was this one night when I was feeling really stressed out in my new little apartment on James Island and I was looking for a job and still hadn't had something come into place. And I'm like, man I need to know if I made the right decision. So I get in my Prius and I'm driving downtown and crossing King Street I see Jonathan Gray. [laughter] So, I mean, if you're religious you look for signs everywhere and at that moment in time, I thought that was a sign. So of course I circle the block, park my car to go see where he was going. Cuz that's not creepy at all either. And I parked on this little side street and I saw him walking north on King and I was like, he's over there, ok I need to keep going. And I stayed a few paces back so he wouldn't see me because again, I'm not a stalker. But I saw him duck into Sermet's Corner. And as I passed Sermet's Corner that was glowing with warmth and beauty there was this table full of everyone from Jump, Little Children. [laughter] Eating dinner at Sermet's Corner. And I saw it and it made my heart happy and I kept walking by, turned around, walked back down the street, saw them again and felt, again, that feeling that everything was going to be okay. I'd made a good choice for my life. I was in a good place. things were going to be fine. And I didn't want to go in and see them. I didn't want to have any interaction. It was still kind of that, maybe a little bit of a worship thing where they were over there and I'm over here and I don't want to interact but I love that they're there. But it gave me comfort to know they were there and I took it as a sign from God that I'm making good choices and everything's going to be fine. And two years later when I was having a birthday party and ended up at the same table surrounded by all of my new friends in this wonderful warm joyous thing, it was a full circle moment for me thinking I've come here, I've created this life for myself that I used to watch and hope for and not have and here I am making it happen. So that was a little bit of a religious experience!
A: Yeah that's really interesting how we look at signs and how we interpret signs and how we look at the concept of fate. Like this was fated to happen. Or another entity is directing things so that my fate will be such and such or another entity has directed things or I control my fate. You know, people have various schools of thought about their levels of control in that sense but that reminds me too, I know I've talked about this before but you know right in 2015 right before my father was diagnosed with cancer, Jump was announcing that they were getting back together at the end of the year. And that turned out to be exactly what I needed and I would say, on a spiritual level, at the end of that year that is what I needed. Okay, I wasn't expecting to tear up over that but yes it was. I think it was, in so much as anything like that is fated or a coincidence. I also believe in coincidence. I mean obviously everyone believes in coincidence but I'm saying it doesn't necessarily have to be imbued with spiritual meaning for a coincidence to be amazing and impactful for people.
K: There's something about timing and energy and karma and all of those things that I think loop up into....
A: the way things happened to work out.
K: Exactly. And I think that's another evidence of the power of personal intent and human belief and the power that each one of us has to put together the life we choose.
A: Yeah! Yeah, I'm going to have to think about that cuz I'm sort of in the state right now where I think my depression is manifesting as having a weird attitude about why bother because everything's fucked? [laughter]
K: That's hard to argue with, Anne. That's really hard to argue with.
A: That's the thing, it is hard to argue with that because we really are fucked. [laughter] So, it's yeah, it's not really helping the depression thing but yeah, thinking about actively manifesting something a little more positive, I've been grappling with that. How much can really be done. I know a lot of people are saying, well, we're doing what we can in times like this. But it can be very easy to slip into sort of a pessimism about that. Which is why I think there's some sort of need being filled in my thinking right now by this sudden and intense Beatles nerdery. I don't know. I don't really know exactly what's happening with that but I didn't know exactly what was happening with Jump either. So sometimes people just have these, I don't know, I feel silly saying, "sometimes you will have these needs." [laughter]
K: Hey, well, if you chase the things that bring you joy then that's just going to put more joy in the world.
A: Other things might happen too. Yeah. And also other things might happen from those things. K: Exactly.
A: Your interest in such and such may point you to such and such else and we call that fate! Woo! [laughter]
K: Manifesting isn't about magically making a bike appear out of nowhere. It's about thinking you're going to get a bike and then subconsciously you start making the choices and taking the actions that make the bike appear.
A: Obviously I'm going to get a bike now.
A: I just have to take steps one, two, three, which I can [crosstalk]
K: Yeah, attach to whatever brings you joy and see what happens.
A: Yeah! I think we....
K: Did we just start a new religion?
K: Praise Jaysus.
A: I think, yeah, praise Jaysus.
M: Praise Jaysus.
A: Praise Jaysus. That's, yeah, praise Jaysus. [laughter] Good times. Alright, well that's it, folks. Until next time.
[Mass in C Minor, K. 427 Kyrie by W.A. Mozart plays briefly then fades out]