Friday, April 27, 2007

Steve Scott's "This Sad Music" as a Meditation

Many years ago as a young pup writer, I was music reviewer for Cornerstone magazine. And I reviewed many, many albums which I might or might not have liked that well. There were only a few, maybe as many as four or five, which I still today believe stand the test.

One of those came in 1982 or 1983, an intriguing looking album entitled "Love in the Western World." (Yes, the title was borrowed from Denis de Rougemont's book of that name.) Exit Records in California, an ultimately ill-fated label, nonetheless gave us such bands as the 77s, Vector, Charlie Peacock, and Steve Scott, the odd Brit responsible for LitWW. Scott, a sort of mix of Os Guinness and Lou Reed with a side order of Japan and existentialism / Lamentations thrown in, had created an album guaranteed not to sell in the cheesy contemporary Christian marketplace. In fact, CCM magazine at the time panned it as a disaster. (Intriguingly, Larry Norman's Solid Rock label had a Scott album recorded, but never apparently released it. But that's another story...)

I listened to "Love in the Western World," was awed by the lyrics as well as Scott's wierd musical sensibilities (he's backed by the 77s), and panned CCM mag while pumping "Love in the Western World" as an absolute gem. The starkly haunting musical / lyrical marriage of his unique new wave / spoken word sensibilities and an almost grimly realistic view of human agony, touched me deeply.

One song in particular, "This Sad Music," still best signifies to me Steve Scott's complete originality. (I may dedicate another blog entry to "Safety in Numbers," my close second-place Scott offering from LitWW.) I've looked now and again to see if the song's lyrics are on line. Apparently, they are not. So, I finally have typed them in myself while listening (hopefully accurately).

Here's the thing, though... I would like anyone else who remembers this album or lyric to please read the lyrics below and tell me what they got out of it. As I have listened, some 25 years after it was written and recorded, I find "This Sad Music" as riveting, painful, and troubling as it was to me way back when.

What I most noticed as I listened recently was the compassion -- an element so central to the work that it left me wondering how I'd missed it. I guess we all get a little more fragile, sad of heart, and so (prayerfully and hopefully) more aware of compassion / empathy when we see it than perhaps we were before such lessons came our way. Or, perhaps I speak only personally. Whatever... here is the lyrical portion of "This Sad Music" from the superlative album (now on CD w/ additional "live" cuts). I have formatted it in a manner which attempts to communicate a little of its aural impact, but will change or even delete it if Steve yells at me.


This Sad Music

The whales are dying now,
hurling themselves upon the beaches
black dice reckoned under the sun's watchful gaze

There's sweat on the preacher's brow
as he talks about damnation.
The whales are in love with no one
They wanted to die without explanation

He mops his brow and quotes Malcolm Muggeridge
on - quote -
"the collapse of western civilization"
- end quote -
and the book he waves in the air
is as black as whaleskin

He urges people to "make their decision"
and the whales have made their decision

An awful silence surrounds them
Like a ruined castle they lie
still, passive, beyond explanations

Beads of sweat on the preacher's brow
like small clear animals clinging to a rock face
or like tiny transparent whales
flinging themselves from the boiling seas of his eyes
into a slow, certain dying

The sad music in their brains, a piper's lament
from that old castle in the mist-thickened night

THE HUMAN IMAGINATION!" shouts the preacher

His voice is a door slamming shut
the sea's noise is a vast intake of breath
a gesture in a room to break the silence
now the whales have broken the silence

They are the color of the preacher's harsh words

The white foam rushes to embrace them
like mother and father
The whales do not want to know, and now

There are people sprawled on the beaches
chained together by "HUMAN IMAGINATION"
All the music has bled out of them,
drained from the ends of their fingers
splashed from the loudspeakers of their wallets

And at the end of the service, people walk forward
Perhaps it is "the collapse of western civilization"
that moves them
or the sad music of their slow, certain dying
that guides their feet

And at the end of this poem
a strange light comes off the bodies of the whales
gathering up the shadows like driftwood
and splashing them against the far walls

you would think the shadows would make
the words there hard to read
However, I find it's at a time like this
I see the writing clearest of all

(c) Steve Scott 1983

Thoughts, anyone? Meditations?

More on Steve Scott:
Wikipedia entry on Mr. Scott (a.k.a., "The Duke of Drone")

I will attempt to review a book of Steve's soon, and should have done it in tandem with this. But one must write when the muse strikes what the muse would have one write.


John Smulo said...

I didn't know all of this about Steve Scott. Very interesting. Steve's a pastor at the church where I became a believer, and I bumped into him at the Lausanne Forum for World Evangelization in Thailand a few years back. He's very gifted.

RCM- Steve said...

Hi Jon,

Wow, this brings back memories. Glad to hear you value Steve's Love In The Western World. I tried to find my album tonite, but wasn't successful. I'll look another place tomorrow.

I worked with Steve at Warehouse Ministries over 25 years. He's a really super guy. You probably have email addresses for him; if not you can reach him at

Was a big fan of Cornerstone Magazine, loved what you guys were doing at JPUSA, and always had fun when the RezBand came and played at Warehouse.

Also enjoyed your interview over at John Smulo's blogsite the other day.

My best to you, brother. Keep up the good work.

Steve Recher

Whisky Prajer said...

I read this yesterday, shortly after listening to The Police's "Driven To Tears." My wife is in Kenya at the moment, and both songs are resonating deeply (well ... lyrics only, in one case). Top-of-my-head response to Steve's words: I'm thinking our piety is inadequate to the task of redemption. So is our civilization, for that matter.

Would very much love to hear this.

joe said...

Steve Scott -- "Love in the Western World." How did I forget about that when I went digital with my music. I've got to get that into digital format...

Thanks Jon!

Dwayne said...

Wow! I remember this album. Bought it in the early 80's. Totally redirected my opinion to what CCM was. Why drink milk when you could have steak?

At the time most CCM was Sugar cane in Cellophane and was marketed purely by the JPM (Jesus per minutes) in the lyrics. This album smashed all that for me and still is the watershed for everyone else.

Surprisingly, today's CCM is still lacking depth for many of its artists.

Unfortunately, my LP was in a small flood years ago. I haven't tried to see if the disc is playable.

Anonymous said...

Massive fan of Steve Scott here.

LITWW absolutely blew me away when I first heard it, I played it over and over an just soaked up the stark spiritual reality of it like a sponge. I called him about 7 years ago asking permission to re-record some of his tunes with my band and he was very kind about it and a little surprised it seemed.

I had a friend burn my LP I found on EBAY (I think) onto cd and have been enjoying it all over again. As a Christian and a musician/song writer this music is so inspiring...

Bill Compeau-
Bassist/Vox for kinAxis
Guitarist for Territorial Chant
Windsor Ontario