Top Ten Songs That Make Me Wish I Had More Faith
ike many people I know, I am what I call a ‘retired’ Catholic. It’s not so much that I’ve lost faith in Jesus as my homeboy—as Ghostbusters' Winston says at the apparent end of the world, “I love Jesus' style”—but more that the continual actions of the Catholic Church as an institution have pushed me away. Gays: bad! Women working and spreading the word of the Lord: bad! Contraception: bad! Covering up the lost innocence of children abused: okay! Pile on a few hundred years of Catholic guilt and it's not a very attractive proposition. But this in itself saddens me; sometimes I wish my faith were stronger, so that all that didn't matter. Well, not that it “didn't matter” in a complacent 'ignore it and it will go away' manner, but more that I could see beyond that and continue to realise the benefits of prayer/worship. And yes, I could do it in my room and not at church, but these days even that feels… pointless.
And it's not just my Catholic faith (though despite my never having been a particularly regular churchgoer, it still upsets me that what little I held onto has fallen through my fingers) that feels lost. Maybe it's a quarter-life crisis, who knows, but everything seems to be a little shaky: my faith in myself, in the world, in my work, in rock'n'roll. All is not lost, but the troops are tired and the frontline has certainly taken a beating.
But you know what? I wish it were different. The truth is, as I sit here staring at my monitor trying to find a variety of ways to say “I've lost faith”—without, of course, actually admitting it—I wish there was something I could hold onto that would make things different. It was much easier when I was a kid and I could just hang onto the dream that one day I'd make a film with Steven Spielberg/meet Stephen Sondheim/collect every My Little Pony ever made; nobody tells you that those goals won't cut it when you're a “grown up”. Or maybe they should cut it, but the point is that right now, everything seems kinda blurry and ill defined, like I started the uphill ride out of 'paying my dues' town and then the car stalled halfway up the hill.
So, I do what I always do: turn to music, not for answers but more for questions. Songs that make me wonder what went wrong (if anything) and remind me to try to engage with the world. Songs so stuffed full of passion and faith that they make me wish I had more of just that: faith.
10. Christina Aguilera - The Voice Within
Should I feel dirty or like less of a music critic because this song works for me? Of course not! The point is, “The Voice Within” does exactly what it sets out to do, which is bring the sobs. But beyond that, the line “Young girl, don’t cry/I’ll be right here when your world starts to fall” feels like a reminder to believe in myself (or maybe a message from my Mum). And sure, I’m not a 12-year-old girl, but I’m the first to admit that, yes, I still need Xtina’s guidance from time to time. I’d love to be one of those all-conquering, only-child, centre-of-attention “I’m the boss, I’m right” Type A kinds of people, but more often than not I’m a nervous, occasionally self-sabotaging type, generally expecting failure rather than success—and you have to work hard to be happy, and work hard to overcome those issues, and this song makes me want to.
9. George Harrison - My Sweet Lord
Yes, there are times when I question a blind devotion to a chosen god—witness the “it is God's will” reaction to the hurricanes and tsunamis, not to mention wars in His name—but when I hear this song, I just want to know what it's like to feel such a strong faith that you write a love song about it, not even realising you're ripping off The Chiffons in the process, such is the glare on your rose-coloured glasses. That would be nice.
8. Ry Cooder - Jesus On The Mainline
A while back my whole family started attending church regularly again, and I can't say we didn't have reason to. It'd been a hard few years and my parents probably felt the need for some help keeping the faith of the family together at the seams, help that they couldn't guarantee would be on tap. We found a local church that was a little more welcoming than most, and Mum and Dad eventually joined the choir. I'm the first to admit I felt out of place and uncomfortable the whole year we spent churchgoing on Sundays (not helped by being set up on a date with a boy the entire female congregation assured me was “a really nice boy, and good looking!” who revealed he was gay when the food hit the table at said date), except for the day Mum and Dad convinced the choir to sing this traditional, specifically, the Ry Cooder version from Paradise And Lunch. That was the only time I felt like I was in the right place; a year of pussyfooting “modern praise music” that spoke in generalisms and tried to make Catholicism 'hep' was a comprehensive turn-off—but the idea of just picking up a telephone and telling (note: not, in the typically meek manner, asking) Jesus what you want really appealed to me. Sadly, no telephone number is included in the lyrics.
7. Sinead O'Connor - No Man's Woman
You can take this song as a statement of intent from a woman prepared to become a priest (“I got a lovin' man and he's a spirit”), or you can take it the way I did: that I don't need a man to make me happy, but by god it'd be nice. And, of course, as soon as I started pumping this song for that reason, a good one came along. Here's fingers crossed.
6. Cold Chisel - Flame Trees
In Australia, where football and pub rock is the national religion, it would be easy to say that this song has ‘sacred overtones’. But the truth is that “Flame Trees” is sacred; unlike Cold Chisel’s Veteran’s anthem “Khe Sanh”, there’s no boozy sing-alongs when “Flame Trees” hits the pub stereo, only quiet reflection in everyone from the just-knocked-off mechanics and brickies to the pub owner and people who are hearing the song for the first time. It reliably reduces me to tears every time I hear it (and I'm willing to admit that the children's choir version played at the crescendo of Rowan Woods' Little Fish worked its intended magic on me). It's just one of those songs, an unabashed outpouring of emotion, hope and grief from a man everyone expects to shout and stomp his feet a lot; a tale of small-town life left behind and the girl who left (or maybe she died? I don't think anyone really knows). It makes me wish I knew what my school friends are doing now, makes me wish I could make myself make more time for friends. I don't want to be a hermit but sometimes that's the way it feels. “Ah! Who needs that sentimental bullshit, anyway/Takes more than just a memory to make me cry.”
5. Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch - I'll Fly Away
There are of course many versions of this song, but this is the one I most often return to (this and a ‘Smoky Mountain Gospel’ version played on mandolin). Sometimes there’s no hidden meaning or re/misinterpretation, a song just does what it does. Would I like to go to heaven? Sure! Do I ‘know’ if it exists? Not sure. But this song makes me hopeful.
4. Lenny Kravitz - Are You Gonna Go My Way
I don't know if it's his own personal revisionism, or if Lenny Kravitz was telling the truth on VH1 when he said this song is about Jesus (I always figured it was about Lenny, but I guess you could draw some psychological comparisons), but I reckon that's kinda awesome: Jesus as cocksure rockin’ guitar hero (even if seeing that phrase in writing has a distinct scent of Parker & Stone). If the Catholic Church realised the power of straight up rock—and no, I don't mean Stryper, nor Christian rock; something about that genre, beyond the Creeds and Switchfoots, really irks me in a profound manner—well, the world would be a different place. Also, this song (along with KISS's “God Gave Rock & Roll To You II” and Slayer's “Raining Blood”) serves another purpose: it reaffirms my faith in rock'n'roll every once in a while, which—in this year of soggy Strokes seconds and the many faces of Franz Ferdinand—is needed pretty much weekly.
3. Lauryn Hill - To Zion
Everyone in my family thinks this song is about something different (Dad: “Isn’t it about her baby who died?” Mum: “It’s about God!” Me: “It’s about her baby!” The Dog: “I’m hungry!”), but even in dodgy Australian Idol form, it still makes us all ‘a bit emotional’ (but then, so does “Isn’t She Lovely”). I often have dreams where I’m told I can’t have children, or I’ll have a baby but it will have a terrible illness, and I wonder if they have any meaning beyond the usual ‘dream diary’ gobbledygook. It’s true, I do want children (and a visit to a fortune teller revealed there’d be three before 30, with the first pregnancy “difficult”), but sometimes I worry that I over think it all. Hopefully it’ll just happen like this, a surprise, angel optional.
2. Mahalia Jackson - Oh My Lord What A Morning
I’ve often thought that if the local Catholic Church conducted itself in this manner I’d be there three times a week and twice on Sundays. When I was at my (Catholic) primary school I made a picture of the Virgin Mary covered in disco-bright silver and gold glitter and hung it in my classroom, to the confusion of my teacher who thought that muted blue paint might’ve been a better ‘theme’. This is what faith/religion means to me: passion and love. Not pain, not guilt, not discrimination, just marching up to Jesus to “tell him ‘bout my troubles” and “walking with the Lord”. Is that too much to ask?
1. Cliff Edwards - When You Wish Upon A Star
When Richard Dreyfuss steps into the spaceship at the end of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and the refrain from “When You Wish Upon A Star” starts up over John Williams’ emotional cacophony of strings and woodwind, I’m usually already blubbering on the ground. Dreams used to be so simple to conceive and hold onto when I was a kid; now I’ve just got this vague idea of somewhere I want to head, eventually, but nothing really concrete, and I want it back. Maybe it’s because I’ve achieved a fair bit in my relatively short life so far, maybe I’m having an early sea change, who knows: but when I hear Cliff Edwards’ voice crack when he sings “If your heart is in your dreams, no request is too extreme/When you wish upon a star as dreamers do,” I don’t know if my heart is in my dreams, and maybe that’s the problem. We’re taught that a career means everything as early as Year 10, made to choose university subjects before we even know if we want to go to uni (much less what we want to study), and eventually the word “dream” gets “career” tacked on the end of it, whether we like it or not. But who wants to dream about work? Not me! I guess I’m just waiting for that bolt out of the blue when fate will step in and see me through. If there’s anything left to have faith in, I have faith in that.
By: Clem Bastow
Published on: 2005-10-07