“Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:16)
They’re all gonna die
And all the little babies
They’re all gonna die
All the poets
And all the liars
And all you pretty people
You’re all gonna die” (Low, 2007)
The chilling opening words to Low’s most recent album, Drums and Guns, somehow had a remarkable effect on me. Low has progressed a great deal since their inception in the early ’90s and this album is particularly moving. It is a themed album; an anti-war album.
As many of you know, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low are practicing members of the Church (Alan being a BYU graduate, Mimi a convert). One of my interests is the way that art plays off testimony in the Church, and I admit, most of the time I’m left wanting. Drums and Guns was such a pleasant surprise for me. Alan and Mimi have taken their experiences, testimonies, and desires and crafted an album that is anti-war. In today’s political climate one would assume the album, released in 2007, is an anti-Iraq War album, but this does not seem to be the case, necessarily. It seems to truly be two members of the LDS Church being obedient to the Doctrine and Covenants in renouncing war and proclaiming peace.
I explained to my mom the concept for the album. “It’s an anti-war album, Mom.”
And she looked at me and said, “It’s so easy and popular to be anti-war when you’re a musician, isn’t it?” I’ll let you parse that one yourself, but for the most part, it’s true. Musicians since the Sixties have been renouncing war and proclaiming peace for various reasons, sometimes because it’s the trendy thing to do, and sometimes through a heartfelt desire to change the world somehow. War is a common theme in music, from Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” to CCR’s “Fortunate Son”, to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, and the other end of the spectrum, Alice Cooper’s admission that he was pro-Vietnam. It was in part these songs and artists that influenced the popular opinion of the war, for good or bad.
Musicians understand that they have the ability (and some would say responsibility) to influence popular opinion. Some musicians have taken this to great lengths, such as U2’s Bono, who has been outspoken on numerous causes such as poverty, homelessness, and hunger.
I searched my memory and realized that, with Drums and Guns, this is one of the first times (if not THE first time) I’ve heard LDS musicians take a stance on anything in their art. Where are our outspoken LDS artists, musicians, and filmmakers? I concede that there are a few possible explanations:
1) I just haven’t been paying close enough attention. This may be the case, but I would say that I probably pay much more attention than the average member to things of an artistic nature, so if there are politically active LDS artists out there…
2) …perhaps they just don’t have the outlets they need to get their message to me. This seems rather unlikely, as well. They have their art.
3) Fear. There is an inherent risk in voicing opinions, and struggling LDS artists with families don’t feel like they can afford taking risks.
Unfortunately, the last option is 4) LDS artists aren’t making statements like this, and aren’t concerned with issues such as war. If this is the case, then Mormon art, like Mormon hairstyles*, is indeed 40 years behind the rest of the world.
And yet it leads me to wonder about the progress of our Church. There are some that criticize the Church (from within and without) for being provincial, non-progressive. Could it be so due to the lack of progressive art in our community?
Or do we take a more Marxist view (thanks Russ) and assume that Mormon art merely reflects the culture it is created in? That art is not in itself causative? This debate has raged for centuries.
When will we as a people of rising prominence in this world start making artistic stances to change the world? When will we take advantage of our position? Alternatively, am I just missing something?
Either way, for a beautiful yet jarring picture of war and its emotional elements, try Drums and Guns by Low.