Tuesday, November 01, 2005

In Which I Praise One Christian Thing

No, not Shaun Groves, though every day, I'm moved by his bravery. I love Dorothy Love Coates's version of "Ninety-Nine and a Half." The song itself is fine, if not necessarily theologically sound, about how you have to get a hundred somethings (points, steps, I don't know) in order to get to Heaven: "You've got to get your hundred. Ninety-nine and a half won't do." But in the middle of the song, rising out of it like a fresh volcano out of the calm Pacific, is this bit that, I swear, when you hear it, will bring you to your knees:
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ. They cut off his head and they took his life. But when Old Death came round on that headsman's blade John looked at him and smiled, because his hundred was made. His head was exhibited on a platter in Rome, But God took the soul from the body And carried John home.
It's the way she sings those last two lines that does it. Everything in this section up to that point is a kind of monotone sing-song (I guess that might make it a duotone) and then she hits "But God took" and her voice just erupts into a kind of "fuck you* cruel world, I've got a promise from a man who will keep it" growl of joy. And when she sings "and carried John home," it brings me to tears every time, with it's passionate sure-footed hopefulness. Those last two lines are really theologically meaty, too, which is also why I love them--affirming a separation of body and soul, with the promise that what happens to the body is of little consequence to the real value of the person, and with the promise that this world is not the Christians' home. Anyway, check it out if you can find it. *Okay, sure, good Christians probably don't joyously sing "fuck you cruel world."


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