Sunday, November 10, 2013
The Serpent and the Song or is Bobby McFerrin the Most Dangerous Man in America
They say Sunday is for Church. They say Sunday is for making a joyful noise unto the Lord. They say Sunday is the day when you get forgiven for your sins. And although I have always been a Friday night/Saturday morning kind of guy, for once They might be right, because tonight I got to see Bobby McFerrin in concert at the Kimmel Center singing in support of his new album Spirityouall. If all you know of McFerrin is Don't Worry, Be Happy and his one man Oz and the Ted talk, you are short-changing yourself. It's true McFerrin is a human freak with a musical range than encompasses not only octaves but centuries of music histories and genres. He's a multi-instrumentalist who, in this concert, played keyboards, his voice, and on various numbers, the audience.
The new album is Americana and Gospel filtered through McFerrin's musicology lens. McFerrin knows what the Gnostics knew, what so many forget. There is no salvation without sin, no garden without a serpent, no Heaven without a Hell. All these songs are about salvation, but the threat of sin is always lurking. It gives the songs an energy and a vibrancy, and yes, let's say it, grace. "He's got the Whole World in his Hands" and "Wade in the Water" and "Jericho" and a half-dozen other songs I knew from religious school, and well-intentioned elementary school teachers, and summer camp were reclaimed and reconsecrated. The words spoke of heaven, but the music throbbed with temptation. There's a reason why Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan brethren banned singing and dancing. And there's a reason, too, why various churches brought it back. To sing with feeling is it's own form of Pentecostalist snake-handling. It's a dangerous act. To acknowledge our sins and still seek redemption as individuals and as nations is a dangerous act. It's why Jesus was a revolutionary and it's why Woody Guthrie sang about him. It's what might make Bobby McFerrin the Most Dangerous Man in America.
At one point in the evening, McFerrin had the microphone tight against his throat, vocalizing heartbeats while one of the instrumentalists (was it the drummer or the bassist? in the ecstatic moment, I was mesmerized but now I can no longer remember) riffed. And there McFerrin made plain what we all should know. At the base of the music, below the rhythm, below the bass line, is the human heart itself throbbing with desire. Sometimes it's the desire to do good. Sometimes it's the other kind of desire.
The Kimmel Center is a cold and soulless building but tonight it was rather a warmer place.
 This was thanks to the lovely Loretta Witt and Janet Lippincott, my wife's bosses at the Witt/Lippincott team of Realtors who were celebrating the 10th anniversary of Witt/Lippincott by taking the team and their spouses out for the evening. We enjoyed a lovely dinner, many gifts, including the gift of the company of the aforementioned Loretta and Janet, and the concert.