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Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Monday, October 29, 2012





Poem of the week will be some song lyrics from Judee Sill.  For those of you old enough to remember her tragically short career, she toured with Nash and Crosby and lots of folks have covered her songs. Judee wrote some extraordinary lyrics, “Jesus Was a Cross maker” and “Crayon Angels” (covered by Fleet Foxes) are among my favorites. I know it seems like such a cliche for a singer/songwriter to die young of a drug overdose, but I think it was more than that for Judee.  From church organist to prison for robbing liquor stores at 15, to writing gospel songs patterned on Bach fugues to then turning tricks on hollywood blvd and then dying of a heroin overdose in 1979.  It seems that starting with the early family deaths of siblings and parents and the trauma of rape and car accidents that the only anchors that Judee could ever set into this world were chained fast by pain and sorrow.

She wrote in “Jesus Was a Cross Maker,”  “Sweet silver angels over the sea / Please come down flyin' low for me / One time I trusted a stranger / Cuz I heard his sweet song / And it was gently enticin' me / Tho there was somethin' wrong, / But when I turned he was gone. / Blindin' me, his song remains remindin' me, / He's a bandit and a heart breaker, / Oh, but Jesus was a cross maker.”  

If there is any recrimination of a god for her tribulations to be found in her songs, perhaps those lines above are the most explicit.  She affirms that ‘the sweet song of the Cross-Maker remains and entices her, but later she writes that “at every turn” she found herself too much alone, that she often felt abandoned and maybe even cursed, as she wrote in “The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown:”  

“Once a demon lived in my brow / I screamed and wailed and I cursed out loud / And I sailed through the clouds on ten crested cardinals / ...But I laughed so hard I cried / And the lamb ran away with the crown. / But I laughed so hard I cried, / And the lamb ran away with the crown.”

These same binary themes of joy and pain, laughter and tears, love and betrayal are repeated throughout the three albums of her short career, especially that of The Heat-Breaker and the Cross-Maker, and I have wondered if Judee is making references to the Jesus of Nikos Kazantzakis in “The Last Temptation Of Christ.”  A Jesus that contends with God, that often desires to escape the anguish of God’s burning love, a Jesus who often feels betrayed and abandoned as Kazantzakis writes:  "The feeling begins. Very tender, very loving. Then the pain starts. Claws slip underneath the skin and tear their way up. Just before they reach my eyes, they dig in. And I remember. First I fasted for three months. I even whipped myself before I went to sleep. At first it worked. Then the pain came back. And the voices. They call me by the name: Jesus." 

Of course, this Jesus never escapes from his chosen-ness or the awful grace of God.  This Jesus earns his living by making crosses, crosses for criminals and rebels, crosses for his disciples, and most significantly, a cross for himself.  Below are the lyrics from Judee Sill’s “The Kiss.”

Love, risin' from the mists
Promise me this and only this
Holy breath touchin' me
Like a wind song
Sweet communion of a kiss

Sun, siftin' thru the grey
Enter in, reach me with a ray
Silently swoopin' down
Just to show me
How to give my heart away

And once a crystal choir
Appeared while I was sleepin' and called my name
And when they came down nearer Eli)
Sayin', "Dyin' is done",
Then a new song was sung
Until somewhere we breathed as one

Stars, burstin' in the sky
Hear the sad nova's dyin' cry
Shimmerin' memory
Come and hold me
While you show me how to fly
Sun, siftin' thru the grey
Enter in, reach me with a ray
Silently swoopin' down
Just to show me
How to give my heart away

And lately sparklin' hosts
Come fill my dreams descendin' on firey beams
I've seen 'em come clear down
Where our poor bodies lay
Soothe us gently and say,
"Gonna wipe all your tears away"

Love risin' from the mists
Promise me this and only this
Holy breath touchin' me
Like a wind song
Sweet communion of a kiss...

Kazantzakis wrote that in the Last Temptation “I wanted to offer a supreme model to the man who struggles; I wanted to show him that he must not fear pain, temptation or death — because all three can be conquered, all three have already been conquered.”  I can’t say that Kazantzakis was successful in what he wanted to achieve, or that after reading his Jesus that I lost my fear of of pain and death.  But I think that I agree with him that “If we are to follow Jesus we must have a profound knowledge of his conflict, we must relive his anguish: his victory over the blossoming snares of the earth, his sacrifice of the great and small joys of men and his ascent from sacrifice to sacrifice, exploit to exploit, to martyrdom's summit, the Cross.”  I think that Judee Sills knew something about the snares of this earth and reliving it’s conflicts and anguish.  But I wouldn’t want to argue that she gave us a model of how to avoid or overcome them, but I think that like Kazantzakis she did show us how they could be embodied in words and music, and for that I bless her; be at peace dear sister.  Obliged. 

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