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A Rolling Stone Finds Satisfaction?
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A Rolling Stone Finds Satisfaction?
Mick Jagger, Goddess In the Doorway
My battle with cancer over the last year has provided me with a unique opportunity for extended reflection--on my own mortality (too near), on what matters most to me (family, friends, and kindness), and on the those formative forces in popular culture that have shaped my thinking and feeling about life, love, and all things beautiful. On many an afternoon lying on the couch with barely the strength to stand I found myself tearing up at the memory of the many “first times” in a young man’s life--especially those surrounding music--and rejoicing in what they taught me and where they took me.
For example, one afternoon in October I found myself weeping for the guilty, guttural pleasure I experienced upon hearing The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” for the first time. The pure simplicity of Keith Richards’ stunning guitar riff was exultant, and Mick Jagger’s lyrics of youthful restlessness touched a chord in me that to that point in my life as an earnest Preacher’s Kid had remained inarticulate.
I became a (closet) Stones fan that very instant, though I remained unable to own my affection for the original bad boys of rock music until well into my 20s. Sure, they were nasty, but they also managed to write unspeakably good songs that were at once emotionally present and endlessly hummable. There was an odd sense in which the Stone’s rebelliously urgent music actually ministered to me, though for the life of me I still couldn’t tell you why--at least not without giving up too much that ought to be reserved for therapy.
Anyway, since that adolescent “Satisfaction” moment I grew up to become, at least in part, a “Christian cultural critic”--a station in life that I once believed had little affinity with my affection for the Stones. They would remain, I assumed, a guilty pleasure, like AC/DC’s Back In Black or my Gino Vanelli records.
Recent recordings have forced a reevaluation of this resignation, however. First, on the Stones’ Bridges to Babylon (Virgin, 1997), I found that Jagger and Richards did “protest too much” in their “Saint of Me”--a song that grows from a narrative of St. Paul’s conversion into either a slightly too defiant rejection of Christian grace or, as one friend of mine insists, the ironic plea of someone convinced of his absolutely desperate need for redemption. Regardless, the song was a dramatic break from the band’s previous sex, drugs, and rock-‘n’-roll preoccupations and made me a regular intercessor for Jagger et al. After all, no one writes stuff like that just for fun, so I figured they needed our prayers.
But my hunch about a Stonesian spiritual quest could not have been more clearly confirmed than with the release late last fall of Jagger’s most recent solo project, Goddess in the Doorway (Virgin, 2001).
First off, the record sounds great, the result, at least in part, of Jagger’s collaborations with the likes of Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, Lenny Kravitz, Pete Townsend, Bono, and a stellar list of session players. The songs are solidly constructed, and the flow of the disc provides an essential balance, from the full-on rock of the Kravitz-produced “God Gave Me Everything” to the lovely, lovesick mid-tempo ballad “Don’t Call Me Up” and the late mid-life crisis longings of “Too Far Gone.”
But what is most stunning about the disc, however, is that it can easily be read on the whole as a kind of extended spiritual quest. Making rock songs about the spiritual nature of the male-female relationship is nothing new, even for the likes of Jagger, and while there are several songs on Goddess that struggle with the transcendent yearning of lost love, that’s not what I mean. Rather, much of this disc is directly about Jagger’s yearning for grace, forgiveness, and spiritual truth. “Dancing in the Starlight,” for example, finds the sinewy 60-something singer struggling with the fact that he “could not feel the Spirit” and was therefore “crying for salvation.” On the disc’s first single, “God Gave Me Everything,” Jagger gives credit where credit is due, creating the three-and-a-half minute version of a Destiny’s Child Grammy acceptance speech, thanking God for, well, everything.
But it is Jagger’s collaboration on “Joy” with U2’s Bono (who has been increasingly aggressive in his Christian faith of late), that is most startling about the album. The song feels very much like a Pauline conversion narrative, in which Jagger, out four-wheeling in the desert confesses he was “I was looking for the Buddha, but I found Jesus Christ.” In Jagger’s song, Christ, whose lines are sung by Bono, lights a cigarette and tells Jagger to “Jump for joy, make some noise, remember what I said.” What follows finds Jagger once again addressing Saul’s Damascus Road encounter in his own life:
“My soul is like a ruby/and I threw it in the earth/ But now my hands are bleeding/from
scrabbling in the dirt/ And I look up to the Heavens/and a light is on my face/ I never never
never/thought I’d find a state of Grace.”
The first time I heard “Joy” I was in the car, waiting while my wife got cash from the ATM. She returned to find me lost in a pool of tears, joining Jagger, Bono, and the gospel chorus in the exultant shouts of “Joy, joy, joy” that finish the song. I bought the album soon after, and was further encouraged to discover that Goddess finishes with a startling declaration of a changed man in “Brand New Set of Rules.”
For those of us who grew up embarrassed by the cover of Sticky Fingers and the frightening “Sympathy for the Devil” this is excellent news. More importantly, it’s good news for Jagger. While I don’t think we can expect the Mick at a Graham crusade anytime soon, Goddess in the Doorway does represent an extraordinary testimony to something exceptional and godly at work in the rock veteran. I’m redoubling my prayers.