Music with Soul

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Matt Labash considers "the question that has haunted Christians for centuries":

Proto-Jesus rocker Larry Norman actually crystallized it in song once, asking "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?"–a question that purportedly dates back to Martin Luther, who asked it concerning his own hymnody when he was attacked for appropriating tavern songs. The understanding of Christian and heathen alike has been that when God banished Satan, He kept all the key stuff: the clouds, the mansions, the streets paved with gold. But as a sop for assigning Lucifer to an eternity in fiery darkness, he gave him most of the good music. Satan got the Rolling Stones and Robert Johnson. God kept Debby Boone and George Beverly Shea.

But a new six-CD boxed set, Goodbye, Babylon, shows God may have been slyer than originally thought–having held in reserve long-forgotten and recently discovered gems that have been dusted off by Lance Ledbetter, a twenty-seven-year-old Atlanta software installer and former deejay. Having become obsessed with sacred music from the early part of the last century, Ledbetter scoured the bins and collections of knowledgeable musicologists over a five-year period, enlisting help from everyone he could lay hands on, including his father, who pulled appropriate Scripture passages as companion notes for songs. He financed this labor of love on his credit cards.

What he came up with is 135 songs and 25 sermons–the largest collection of American sacred music ever assembled. Instead of relinquishing control to some major label, Ledbetter put the whole thing out on his own start-up label, Dust-to-Digital.

It's a fun article: part memoir of Labash's evangelical upbringing, part putdown of "Contemporary Christian" pablum, part review of what sounds like a terrific collection.

[Via Terry Teachout, who also offers some sensible thoughts on the differences between Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Like Teachout I'm a Keaton man all the way.]

NEXT: "Can't you stop someone suspicious, to see what's going on?"

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  1. Are there -any- Chaplin people anymore?

  2. There are at TCM, where all-Chaplin days, featuring multihour blocs of biographies, critical appreciations, retrospectives, reminiscences, and showings of the master’s greatest hits, are as dependable as rain on a weekend.

  3. Not to mention Richard Attenborough and Robert Downey, Jr. “Chaplin” wasn’t a great film, but it was certainly better than The Buster Keaton Story. I still prefer Keaton, however.

  4. So is this guy a descendent of Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly?

  5. “”Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”

    Social conservatives of every era and culture have always looked askance at anything that people find exciting and stimulating. Confucius had similar complaints about musical fads in his era as did those who opposed that new innovation of Gregorian chants or critics of Elvis.

    Regardless of the milieu, social conservatism is all about binding the day-to-day behavior of individuals to long term goals like raising a family. Being “good” is largely a matter of forgoing immediate pleasure in service of the long term goal. The happiness or entertainment of any specific individual is not a concern. Anything that distracts or tempts the individual is a threat.

    Social conservatives don’t produce exciting new music (or any other art) because it serves them no purpose. They have no reason to seize peoples attention. They’re just interested in keeping every one on the treadmill.

  6. The “Passion” seized about $300m of attention.

  7. Woah, for a minute there I thought I was on Lew Rocwell’s blog.
    Are we really going to descend into “all good things are Christian and all bad things are hysterically anti-Christian” here?
    Shirley Knott

  8. Bidness is bidness and things are things , can I
    get back on my treadmill now?

  9. Shirley: what?

  10. Hydroman,

    Re Passion, the exception doesn’t make the rule. For whatever reason, the vast majority of artists, in today’s U.S. anyway, are distinctly unconservative. So there may very well be some meaningful explanation for this. Sure, OTOH it might be for the same reason a particular penny falls tails instead of heads, i.e. it just happened that way. But whatever the reason, finding exceptions doesn’t negate the realness of the phenomenon. FWIW…

  11. White Christian pop is not pablum – pablum is ingestible.

  12. Hey, wait a minute, what’s wrong with George Beverly Shea?

    – Josh

  13. Raised Catholic in the South, I love good old Baptist gospel music. That’s one thing they did right.

  14. I just want to put forward the comic genius of Harold Lloyd. Not only one of the greatest silent film comedians, but also one of the only to make the transitions to talkies. If you haven’t seen “The Milky Way” or my personal favorite “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock” you’ve missed some of the most hilariously brilliant, if forgotten, films.

  15. OOPS
    Strike “of the only”. Keaton and Chaplin of course made some memorable talkies too.

  16. I took most of my Sam Cooke soul comp and my Soul Stirrers comp and a few cuts from that 1963 “Live at the Harlem Square Club” elpee and scrambled it all up at random and burned a CD and I’ll tell you, it’s a hell of a thing.

    Goodbye, Babylon sounds mighty fine.

  17. Chaplin’s “Modern Times” had one of the most hilarious bits I’ve ever seen, where the efficiency expert brings in a machine to feed the worker (Chaplin) more quickly than he can do himself. Otherwise I find his stuff to be hard to watch for more than 20 minutes at a time.

  18. Anyone remember Ethel Waters? She sang moving spirituals at Billy Graham’s evangelistic meetings.

    She also had quite a jazz career before that.

    http://www.pbs.org/jazz/biography/artist_id_waters_ethel.htm

  19. Don’t sweat it. Satan gets a lot of crappy music, too.

    [Insert Britney Spears/Milli Vanilli/Air Supply/Whitesnake reference of your choice here]

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