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M usic Notes Broken and Sacred When I was at a Christian college in the late ’90s, we used to go to the Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, Ohio, to hear husband-wife duo Over the Rhine play. Ours was a school that felt at times like a summer Bible camp: Sex and drugs were, of course, verboten, but so were certain types of rock and roll. Some faculty thought it was better to indoctrinate us with dispensational theology and literalist views of Scripture than have honest discussions that would help us think things through for ourselves. In other words, my college years marked the end of childhood more than the start of adulthood. Over the Rhine offered us something different. We’d go to Dayton (or the band’s hometown of Cincinnati) and hear Karin Bergquist sing about sex and suicidal thoughts and existential angst and the Holy Spirit and hope. And it all seemed very grown up, very dangerous. In our carefully constrained environment, the Holy Spirit was okay as long as he (it was definitely a “he”) agreed with what

Jesse James DeConto were 20, she Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine was 30—a real woman, all swaying curves and moans and wordless singing of the sort I’ve heard singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens call the “sex scenes” of pop music. I heard once that the song “Jack’s Valentine” got Over the Rhine’s albums this night would outlast us / and redeem kicked out of Christian bookstores, some small thing far beyond me.” though that may be suburban legend. Bergquist’s “Only God Can Save Us “Down here on the hardwood floor/ the Now” has her imitating patients at her lines on the ceiling start to swim once mother’s nursing home, singing “How more.” Bergquist and her husband, Linford Now Brown Cow” and “Fuzzy Wuzzy Detweiler, wrote about their own sex and Was a Bear” in their mental regression. I getting taken in the arms of Jesus, self- asked her if that might alienate fans who empowerment, and a yearning for God, a think of Over the Rhine as a “hip” Chrissort of blueprint for young Christians try- tian band. ing both to “It was the most traumatic thing I’ve be heavenly had to deal with,” she said. “Maybe some minded and people in the younger generation don’t to do some understand the song. But it’s not for earthly good them yet. Someday, they’ll understand.” “We refuse to separate the world Spoken like a true matriarch of coninto the broken and the unbroken, and temporary Americana. Of course, her we refuse to separate the world into the sultry voice and lyrics about gripping secular and the sacred,” Detweiler, the the “midnight microphone” can still drive son of a Mennonite pastor, told me re- young men mad. But when she sings cently. “The fact of the matter is, we’re about “the young and dumb and bored” all broken, and it’s all sacred.” driving recklessly for the thrill, you know Well, now comes Over the Rhine she’s no pretty girl to be trifled with. This in their mid-40s, with more than two is a real woman, watching her mother die, decades and a dozen studio albums be- giving thanks that her marriage survived, hind them. They released their soulful lifting up fallen friends, savoring Elvis and collection The Long Surrender in Febru- Hank Williams and Buddy Holly. Heaven ary. They’re not singing so much about and earth still collide, but the sadness and sex anymore, though their fierce fight the hope are deeper with age. for their marriage was well-chronicled in their 2005 record, Drunkard’s Prayer. And their existential angst is all but gone, replaced with a more mature set of strugJesse James DeConto is a gles: the global financial crisis, an ailing writer and musician living mother, scars of relationships and just in Durham, N.C. plain survival, any world-changing ambitions tempered by time. “I still dreamed of a love to outlive us / I still prayed that

“The fact of the matter is, we’re all broken, and it’s all sacred.” some older, wiser biblical exegetes had already decided the Bible said. But charismatic gifts or direct divine communication were suspect. None of it left much room for risks, mistakes, or failure—until, of course, we got out into the real world and found we had to do a lot of improvising, because the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically how to deal with an addicted spouse or a lying boss or how much to put in a 401k. Bible camp doesn’t require hope; there are games and friends and cute girls and piles of food—what more is there to hope for? Without hope, of course, there is no Christian faith, but without an awareness of what is broken, there can be no hope. Over the Rhine gave us both. My friend Ken, who was older and wiser (a seventhyear senior, and counting), joked once about how guys from my college went to Over the Rhine shows just to stare at Karin. And, yeah, she was hot. We

40 PRISM Magazine

Broken and Sacred  

Music Notes September/October 2011

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