The Easter Post: Resurrection vs. Reanimation

This will be a quick post in which I don’t intend to say anything new or profound, except in the sense that the gospel is always profound.  I just think the co-occurrence of The Walking Dead‘s season finale with Easter Sunday is too good an opportunity to pass up.  If you’re a TWD fan, you’ve probably already noticed this conjuncture and have been tweeting little jokes about it all week.  While I can appreciate this subcategory of morbidly irreverent humor, I want to remind us all of a few basic yet important truths.

We often forget that Christ’s resurrection means our resurrection too.  Do a search on occurrences of the term “first-fruits” in the Bible–in the Old Testament, you’ll get instructions about bringing your produce to the temple, but in the New Testament, you’ll find all kinds of good doctrine, most if not all from Paul, about how Christ’s resurrection was only the first in a series of resurrections.  There will indeed be a day when “all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth” (John 5:28-29).  It sounds a lot like a Romero-esque scenario in which “the dead will walk the earth,” EXCEPT THAT THEY WON’T BE DEAD.  The difference between reanimation–when corpses become mobile–and resurrection–when formerly dead people live again–couldn’t be more pronounced.

So when you watch The Walking Dead tomorrow night and you see all those rotting bodies stumbling around outside the gate of the prison where our friends are holed up, don’t think for a minute that this is what the Bible means when it talks about the defeat of death.  There won’t be anything creepy about the resurrection, just like there isn’t anything creepy about having an Easter sunrise service in a cemetery (I saw a sign for one of those while driving past Alta Vista, VA, yesterday).  And when you attend a church service tomorrow morning, as I hope you do (whether it’s at sunrise or not), don’t think for a minute that Christ’s resurrection was just a past event that’s nice to remember but that has no effect on the present or future.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” I Corinthians 15:58

Ghosts by Gaslight

Last night my brother Mark and I went to our second Gaslight Anthem concert, this one in downtown Raleigh’s tiny Lincoln Theater, a perfect venue for getting up close and personal with rock and roll.  On the way home, I remarked that I’ve noticed that The Gaslight Anthem’s songs are constantly referring to ghosts.  Mark added that they tend to write about radios a lot as well.  I’ll let Mark treat the symbolic valences of radios (maybe he could do that on his podcast, Does Anyone Really Need to Hear This?), but let me give you a few of my thoughts on the ghost imagery in the Gaslight canon.

First of all, it’s everywhere.  Here are just a few samples from last year’s album Handwritten:

  • “I danced with your ghost” (“45”)
  • “All of our heroes were failures or ghosts” (“Biloxi Parish”)
  • “I already live with too many ghosts” (“National Anthem”)

I’m sure a thorough or even a cursory listen through the catalog would turn up many more examples.

Invariably, these ghosts aren’t spirits of dead people returned to complete unfinished business.  In the Gaslight Anthem universe, which looks a lot like a Christian universe much of the time, the dead go On (to echo Albus Dumbledore).  This is very clear in the masterful requiem “The ’59 Sound” (“when we float out into the ether/into the everlasting arms”) and in “Biloxi Parish,” one of the few almost cheerful songs on the new album (“when you pass through from this world/I hope you ask to take me with you/or that I don’t have to wait too long”).

No, the ghosts in The Gaslight Anthem’s repertoire are memories–not mere memories, for as the songs heart-wrenchingly demonstrate, memories are powerful and, far too often, malevolent.  I can think of only one example in which ghost imagery is positive, and it’s “Biloxi Parish” again.  In that song, which I think is highly romantic, I don’t think the line “I will eventually haunt you” is meant to be sinister.  But that’s the exception.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the main theme of all of TGA’s music is figuring out how to go on living in the shadows of a devastating past–the shadow of a failure of a father, the shadow of a burned-out New Jersey factory, the shadows of girls named Virginia and Maria.

The ghost references go all the way back to the first album (“like I was a ghost in your dreams” in “Red in the Morning”) and are used to convey a number of different ideas.  For example, “Old Haunts” (which I always thing of as The Gaslight Anthem’s more depressing answer to Bruce Springsteen’s already-sad “Glory Days”) is about people who voluntarily become ghosts by refusing to move forward, always falling back on “if you’d have known me when.”  Even when they’re not using the word “ghost,” The Gaslight Anthem are singing about ghosts: “Keepsake,” the saddest song on the latest album, is about exorcising those angry memories–or, to use the song’s own metaphor, burying them deep at the bottom of a river.  Another theme addressed without explicitly employing the ghost imagery, though the allusion is certainly there, is the determination to avoid creating haunting memories for others.  This is why the speaker in “The Spirit of Jazz” asks so earnestly, “Was I good to you/the wife of my youth?”

If all these ghost lyrics were accompanied by minor keys and funereal tempos, they would be maudlin.  But many of The Gaslight Anthem’s most haunted songs are among their loudest, fastest, and most danceable.  Part of this, I think, is defiance: Hey ghosts, you can’t stop me from playing rock and roll.  But also, maybe–I don’t want to presume to read something that isn’t there–maybe there’s also some hope for what we’ll find after we hear our “favorite song one last time.”

The Bad Guy Report 2012

This past Saturday, after I watched Skyfall for the second time, I had some clever thoughts that I believe deserve to be turned into a blog post.  I realize that it’s a little late to be doing 2012 year-in-review summaries, but in my defense, several of the movies I’ll be referencing are probably still in your local cheap second-run theater.  So here it is: The Bad Guy Report.

The year 2012 proved interesting in the villain department.  For example, in The Amazing Spiderman, we saw Luna Lovegood’s dad stop trying to recreate the lost diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw and move to bigger, higher-tech mad scientist projects, which led to his turning himself into a Godzilla-type creature who enjoyed ravaging New York City.  (By the way, the actor in question may have roles he’d rather be known for than his ten-minute appearance in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, but I persist in calling him Xenophilius Lovegood because it’s a lot easier to pronounce than his real name, Rhys Ifans.)

Speaking of summer supervillains, this year Batman finally met an opponent with an equally incomprehensible voice.  It’s a good thing most of the confrontational scenes between the Dark Knight and his nemesis, Bane (I guess I could have just said “his b/Bane”), involved more punching than talking.  Despite Bane’s sad backstory, Steelers fans worldwide will hate him forever for destroying Heinz Field just to prove something we already knew: Even a giant fissure opening up in the middle of the field couldn’t stop Hines Ward.

Moving on to movies upon which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deigned to bestow their notice, Django Unchained featured Leonardo DiCaprio’s first truly villainous role.  Seriously, Leo, you’re 38 years old; it was about time you played something other than a golden boy.  Well, to be fair, I suppose Howard Hughes wasn’t, strictly speaking, a golden boy; nor was that guy from Shutter Island.  But it’s good (in a troubling way, I guess) to see that DiCaprio can cross nimbly over to the dark side when called upon to do so.  From what I understand (I haven’t seen the film yet), he does it convincingly.  Oh, speaking of bad guys in Django Unchained, what’s this I hear about Jonah Hill playing a member of the KKK?  I didn’t think the Klan allowed Jewish participants, let alone sweet-looking baby-faced Jewish boys.  I’ll have to see that to believe it.

2012 was also an important year for bad guy philosophy.  Wreck-It Ralph is essentially an extended commentary on the interaction (and sometimes the vast disparity) between the roles we have to play and who we really are at our core.  You probably saw the trailer with the bad guy support group a million times, but the words of the hairy wrestler Zangief bear repeating: “You are bad guy.  But that doesn’t mean you are bad guy.”  (N.B. I never figured out what was so bad about Zangief, other than the fact that he left out his indefinite articles.)  And if you’ll indulge me in one more profound quote, this one from an unnamed zombie: “Good…bad…UGHHHH [zombie sound].  You must love you.”

Now it’s time for the bad guy move of the year.  You know, villains are just like professionals in any field; they exchange ideas through trade publications, discussion boards, etc.  (I was going to say conferences, but they generally don’t like to be in the same room with each other, except in the unusual situation described in the preceding paragraph.)  So some years, you might see two movie villains employing the same strategy, both to great effect.  The 2012 bad guy move of the year is as follows: Get yourself captured and placed inside a glass case right in the middle of the good guy headquarters.  Smile unsettlingly and taunt the good guys.  Eventually, when it’s too late for them to do anything about it, allow them to develop the inkling of the idea that you are exactly where you want to be.  Then, escape and wreak general havoc.

Does this strategy sound familiar?  It should, since it was used by two of the most memorable villains of the year, Loki in The Avengers and Silva in Skyfall.  I didn’t notice the resemblance until the second time I saw Skyfall, which is proof that 2012’s bad guy move of the year is fully customizable to a variety of personalities, styles, and situations–although it seems to work best for villains who fall into the category of mischief maker (as opposed to, say, mad scientist or power-hungry politician).  And now that I’ve mentioned mischief makers, it is perhaps beginning to dawn on you that a very similar strategy, though without the glass case, was used by the ultimate bad guy of the past decade.  Remember?  “I want my phone call”?  In case you need your memory jogged, I’ll close this report with a video clip.  After you’ve marveled at the brilliance of this truly frightening 2008 villain, let me know some of your favorite bad guy moments of 2012.