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David Bazan shows us how to move from lost faith into something new
Playing as Pedro the Lion, the post-Christian rocker shows us how to gain our hope back after cynicism subsumed him.
David Bazan playing as Pedro the Lion warned his audience that some of the songs he was about to play were problematic and might trigger a bad reaction in their bodies before he played through two of his old records, It’s Hard To Find A Friend and Control, twenty-five and twenty-year-old records, respectively. These records have old songs on them that, frankly, sometimes don’t stand the test of time. But what stood out to me was that in revisiting the songs, Bazan altered some of the lyrics in ways that softened them, made them less cynical, and even showed his own growth.
In “The Longer I Lay Here,” Bazan sang “Sweet Jesus, I need you / Forgive me this sin / Not sex workers or heroin, gambling or gin,” replacing “hookers” with the more modern “sex workers.” In this particular change, Bazan shows that he can grow in cultural understanding and sensitivity. He isn’t too committed to his art to change. It might be a small change, but it expresses humility that some artists don’t grasp. His art is adaptable and he isn’t clutching to his pearls to defend it. He doesn’t retcon the idea that sex work is sinful to a fundamentalist, but he does make it a more respectful line sung from that perspective.
Another notable change was redescribing the indoctrination of children into the capitalist political economy in the song “Indian Summer” off of 2003’s Control as, “all the experts say to ought to start them young, that way they’ll naturally like the taste of the barrel of a gun.” The previous line, which I will not list here, was decidedly crasser and even sexist. Not only is this line more original and tasteful, it is also more relevant. It confronts a real problem of today, the American worship of firearms, without dulling the point of the song. It’s another example of Bazan’s self-awareness, preferring to deliver a point well, and not just in a way to shock his-then Evangelical listeners.
Bazan doesn’t just become more sensitive and self-aware, he emerges on the other side of his cynicism and his anger toward his faith and upbringing, through a divorce even, with a deeper understanding of his own desires and aspirations. In “The Bells,” Bazan changes his confession to his earthly father (and perhaps his Heavenly One too) and addresses himself, singing, “Self (instead of dad), I broke my promise to you / If you're wondering where I've been / I thought I knew what I was doing / But I was wrong again.” Bazan moves beyond his need for his dad’s approval, and even though he may not have the same faith any longer, teaches us that we often disappoint ourselves, and not God at all. In a strange way, Bazan helps some of his audience hold on to his faith, even as he moves beyond his own anger. Long gone are the days of Pedro the Lion singing about his deconstructed faith and his frustration with Christian hypocrisy.
And for my part, long gone are the days when I was angry with Bazan for his own process. As I moved through my own experience of changing and adapting faith, I look back at Bazan’s deconstruction with a grace that I just didn’t have at the time. Cynically naming his writing as exploiting the fragile faith of doubting Christians, I now see it as a way he was wrestling with his own faith. In criticizing his cynicism, I couldn’t see my own. Bazan’s transformation helped me see mine. His ability to let go of his pain and see the joy around him, even that night in that music hall in Brooklyn, was inspiring to me.
Bazan sings his songs of old with joy, grief, and wholeness, but never shame. I hope I can move through my present grief and look at my past with fondness, even as I see it from a new perspective. I hope I can sing the old songs in a new way, holding on to the good and changing what is no longer beneficial (and maybe never was).
As I look back at my twenties and thirties, there is no shortage of mistakes and pain, but yet there is still hope and joy. I will take the best of what I’ve got and move into what is next for me, hopeful for more changes to grow and change, and do something new.
Bazan ended his show with “Priests and Paramedics,” an anthem of prudent paramedics who lie to a patient about his impending death, and one of a hopeless holy man who wonders why we try to prolong life at all since we’re all going to die. That version of Bazan was certainly present that evening as he chronicled the tale of a woman who kills his cheating husband, but he didn’t end there.
In his final song, “The Secret of the Easy Yoke,” which is about not feeling God or having the charismatic ecstatic faith that so many of his peers did (an experience I can relate to), Bazan changes his lyric from “wanting to trust You,” to “wanting to want to want to.” And perhaps that is the most authentic thing he could sing, and I share in his desire to desire. May we find something new to strive for, and may we keep seeing the hope and goodness around us, despite the pain and mistakes of our past.
“Peace, be still.”