It's tempting to break down the apostasy of David Bazan, the former front man of the alternative-Christian band Pedro the Lion, in terms of what it says about the Pentecostal tradition in which he was reared and about contemporary culture at large. But to do so would be to put the proverbial cart before the horse.
The horse is Bazan's latest music, specifically last year's Curse Your Branches (Barsuk) and this year's Live at Electrical Audio (+1 Records), a live-in-the-studio run-through of 10 songs from Bazan's Pedro the Lion, Headphones, and solo albums.
As equestrian metaphors go, Bazan's tempos are more canter than gallop, the better perhaps not to distract those along for the ride from his running disquisition on why he is no longer a Christian (in a voice, coincidentally, that is often hoarse). As for the music itself, it's relatively stripped down, reverberating with a minimum of electronic effects, easily more horse-drawn carriage than souped-up hot rod.
That Bazan now considers himself an agnostic needn't traumatize mature believers. "Bob Dylan needs Jesus more than Jesus needs Bob Dylan," John Styll once wrote in CCM magazine, and the same goes for Bazan. Besides, those who have attained mature-believer status have probably already weathered a few crises of faith themselves, so Bazan's won't likely throw them for a loop (or at least any more of a loop than the one for which they were thrown by the Son of God's crying out from the cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?").
But that Bazan has been thrown for a loop is obvious. Indeed, it's the main point of his recent songs. "Did you push us . . . when we fell?" he asks of God in "When We Fell." "If you knew what would happen and made us just the same, / then you, my Lord, can take the blame." It's the free-will-vs.-determinism conundrum again, and for anyone experiencing afresh the realization that he doesn't have that enigma figured out, especially after a lifetime (34 years in Bazan's case) of assuming that having it all figured out was a prerequisite for redemption, it can definitely have a domino effect.
It can also, judging from Bazan's last two albums, lead to songs that document less the pilgrimage of a troubled-but-probing seeker than the exhibitionism that singer-songwriters have been prone to ever since James Taylor. Instead of rising to the challenge of creating centrifugal songs based on locating the universal in the particular-songs in which the first-person narrator is clearly a character and could therefore be anyone-Bazan settles for creating centripetal songs based on awakening the maternal instincts of his more sentimental listeners-listeners incapable of distinguishing between enjoying a song and merely feeling sorry for the agonizing composer from whom it was painfully wrung.
References to drunkenness recur ("How I Remember," "Cold Beer and Cigarettes," "Keep Swinging," "In Stitches"), a condition to which Bazan frequently repaired during the years following his loss of faith. (One imagines God writing a song called "When David Bazan Fell" that begins "Did he jump?") Frankly, it was his insistence on appearing inebriated at Christian-music venues over the last decade-some of the same venues where he still appears as a now-sober anti-evangelist-that made it hard to tell whether he was flouting religion or flaunting irreligion.
Whether flouting or flaunting, Bazan is certainly flogging. Flogging what? His sympathizers might say Christianity-and that it deserves it.
Others, however, who've already gotten his point and who wonder whether he'll ever have anything else to say, might answer "Dead horse."
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