Shipwrecked Faith from a Shipwrecked Church
Reflections on the book of Jude
Seven Minutes and Eleven Seconds of Coolness
“Na, na, na, na… na, na, na, na…na, na, na, na, hey Jude”
The Beatles, Hey Jude
When I was a kid, I was a big music fan.
I loved it. I identified with it. I listened to it all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the kind of music fans that we have today. I never walked around the mall with headphones sticking out of my beanie in mid-July with this glazed-over, brain-dead, “Dude, where’s my car?” kind of blank stare on my face. And I’ve never broken into an air-guitar solo while jamming on my iPod in the Household aisle of Wal-Mart— looking more like a dying fish flopping around on a dry dock than a music lover.
No, when I was a teenager, the people who loved music collected music. They talked about music, they shared music— they were consumed with music. Music became our release, a catharsis, a way for us to communicate with, and make sense of, a very confusing world.
Music was much more than just entertainment.
For us, music made a statement— our statement. It was the chosen vehicle of our generation to collectively make our voices heard. It shaped our feelings, values and emotions. We allowed our music to define our morals and our politics and to determine, for us, the very nature of our cultural struggle.
Music was more to us than a song about such deep and moving social themes as, “My humps, my humps, My lovely lady lumps.”
But not all music was equal.
In the crowd I ran with, my peers, there was a definite pecking order in music styles and tastes— and no deviations were ever allowed.
Simply put, to be cool, to be in the “know” with my friends, you had to be into the Beatles. John, Paul, George and Ringo. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. The Fab Four. The Mop Tops. Sergeant Pepper and the Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Our guides on the Magical Mystery Tour.
They were our answer to crew cuts, parental authority, puberty, and the Vietnam War.
If you were into the Beatles, you were super cool, admired, popular, and accepted. You were on the “A” list of people to know and to be seen with. If, on the other hand, you owned vinyl from the likes of the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons or the Hollies— well, you were ugly, had bad breath and would someday grow up to work at McDonalds.
Well, after all, the Beatles were cool.
We watched them evolve, album after album, from four young men from Liverpool, with their strange “Moe of the Three Stooges” type hair cuts to living icons of our culture and heroes of our generation. We saw them embrace and experience life in ways we never could, and then we eagerly listened as they told us about those experiences in the songs they wrote. They were the proverbial Pied Pipers and we, it seemed, were just a bunch of willing mice.
Whatever they were into, we were into. They set the standards for our young lives.
As their sweet, boyish, innocence faded with time— so did ours.
We were with them when they seemed to find such joy in the simple things of life— like having a girlfriend, or the thrill of singing, “I wanna hold your hand.” And, years later, we were still with them when their lyrics became darker and more sinister:
Yellow matter custard
Dripping from a dead dog’s eye
Boy, you’ve been a naughty girl
you let your knickers down
I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’ joob
Looks like somebody was on drugs. And it wasn’t me.
They, like everything else in the 60’s, changed right before our eyes. What started out as good, clean fun soon digressed into Eastern mysticism, LSD and, in 1966, crystallized with the infamous, and quite stupid, quote by John Lennon:
“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus.”
Living in the Bible belt, you can imagine what happened.
Preachers began to rant and wail, Sunday after Sunday, about the evils of these four young men from the abyss and the very doom they would bring to the purity of our young people. Some called them agents of Satan, playing the Devil’s music. I remember some preachers even called them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
There was a swell, a grass-roots church movement of sorts to burn all our Beatle records because, as the preachers would say, “Jee-zus will not take second place to a bunch of long haired hippies!” True.
But personally, I resisted the urge to burn my records and foolishly dump years of allowances down the drain because some preacher told me I needed to. Who were they to tell me what to do? It wasn’t even Sunday. Plus, I figured if Jesus was God, He could pretty much take care of Himself.
A couple of years later even Charles Manson, during his trial for the Tate and LaBianca murders, prophesied about the coming race wars, the Helter Skelter as he called it, and claimed the Beatles, as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, spoke to him secretly through their music. Charlie claimed to be Christ and said the song, “Revolution 9” was his call to arms to end the world.
Really? Pretty stupid sounding stuff, even for a teenager.
All Charlie got for his troubles were multiple life terms in an 8 x 12 cell and a swastika carved in the center of his forehead— and a crude looking swastika at that. It looked like he carved it himself, left-handed, with a Bic pen, — while driving in rush hour traffic.
So much for the Manson family and the coming Helter Skelter.
The Pre-iPod Era
Back then, way before iPods and music downloads and iTunes, you had to buy the Beatles albums, like “Abbey Road” or “Let it Be” just to be able to hear the songs you liked. But to do this, you’d also have to shell out seven or eight bucks— which was a whole lotta jack back then. Especially when we would have to mow, that’s push mow, our neighbors’ football field size yard all Saturday afternoon for about $2.50.
So relatively speaking, Beatle albums were a major investment. Several Saturdays worth of work for 13, three-minute songs— nine of which you didn’t even want.
So most of us just collected 45’s. Do you remember them?
A 45 record was a simple, seven-inch, single, vinyl disk with the song we wanted on one side and a lame, utterly forgettable tune on the other. It was like the record company put the best and the worst songs on the album on the 45’s to cover both extremes, I guess. It was like they were saying, “If you turn the 45 over, you can rest assured that no song on this $8 album we want you to buy will sound any worse than what you’re listening to right now. So, buy with confidence.”
It was also like the artist really didn’t care about side B of the 45’s either. All they wanted was another hit off their bongs.
For example, and this is true, when I purchased the 45 of “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner, that’s before Ike took batting practice on Tina’s face and she dumped him for a solo life and a solo career— the song on the other side was the classic, “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter.” No lie. That was the name. I think I listened to half the song, one time.
Anyway, my prized possession during the fall of 1968 was the vinyl 45 from Apple Records, the one with the big, green apple picture on the front that was the recording of the greatest of all Beatle songs, Hey Jude. It was great. Amazing.
For me, it represented the pinnacle of their career.
And that particular song was different from all the others they had previously released. How?
First, it was not recorded on any album that was released that year by the Beatles. That fact alone made the song something of a novelty. Game show trivia sort of stuff. And second, it was long. Really long.
Seven minutes and eleven seconds long.
By radio play standards, it was as long as two Three Dog Night songs and a radio spot about a car dealership. And the Beatles, at this point in their musical life, simply refused to cut it down for radio play. It was kinda their way to “stick it to the man.” Whoever the “man” was.
Billy Joel, years later, sang about the same problem in his song, The Entertainer:
It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long
If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05
But, Hey, Jude— wow, seven minutes and eleven seconds long! Incredible.
Just sticking it to the man.
And, if you listen to that song today, there’s about four minutes of just, “na, na, na…” junk in the end. It’s not like there were any profound lyrics that communicated the meaning of life, the virtues of love or told us where the lost city of Atlantis was located. It’s just, “na, na, na…” kind of stuff.
I listened to that song, day in and day out, until the needle on my record player grew dull. In 1968, it was this one song that set me apart from all my other friends. It was my own way to “stick it to the man.”
None of my friends liked the song— it was too long, not enough Zeppelin style guitar, it was impossible to dance to and you couldn’t even buy the album with the song on it in the record store.
“Like, what’s with that?”
But for me, ah— it was the song that made me cool in my own eyes.
I memorized every nuance of the song, all seven minutes and change of it. I knew, as Jesus would say, every “jot and tittle” of the song. And I mean I memorized everything! It was almost like I had written the song along with John and Paul.
I knew every, “yeah, yeah” in the background or the “Jude, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy, ow, wahow!” stuff towards the end. When I was with my friends and the song would play on the radio, we would all sing together the first part and, as they dropped out one by one because they didn’t know the last four minutes of the song, I would sing louder and louder, proud, center stage, until it was just me and Paul “na, na, na-ing” along together.
I know it sounds strange, but I felt empowered, like maybe Paul McCartney and I were close, personal friends, like maybe we were somehow connected by this song, like maybe some of his coolness rubbed off on me because I could sing the “na, na’s” like he did.
I don’t know… it just felt like it made me matter to someone. Like we were kin or something.
Like… well, whatever.
Why am I telling you all this? Simple.
That was the first time in my life that I had ever heard the name Jude— way back when in 1968. In fact, that song made the name Jude cool to me, important, something that made my insides feel good and the corner of my mouth turn up when I said the name.
I like the way that name sounded.
Coming next – Introduction: On the Backside of the Bible