On ending the discussion, or not

Though I won’t always let comments thread necessarily go on forever (I closed the most recent open thread and the Goodmans discussion yesterday), you should probably know that telling me to close a thread is probably best way to guarantee I’ll leave it open at least a little bit longer.

This Goodmans discussion is perhaps the best example of why I err on the side of more rather than fewer voices in a conversation. Though the Goodman clan has a famous tendency to fight out their internal differences in very public and somewhat indirect or passively aggressive ways, I don’t think this dysfunction is an aberration in sg. In fact (and as I tried to suggest somewhat imperfectly here), my sense is that one reason the Goodman music and legacy gives rise to such an intense and contested bonds of affection among fans is that the Goodman family so powerfully exemplifies the religious and cultural life of so many southern gospelites: the submerged tensions and resentments and strongly held convictions, the barely hidden acrimony and disappointment, hurt and disaffection, ambitions and failed dreams. Fighting over Howard and Vestal’s memory becomes a proxy fight over the way we understand and interpret our own experience as it is bound up in the powerful music and memories of southern gospel’s legendary figures.

Evangelical culture generally and southern gospel culture especially are socially engineered to stifle dissent, punish a plurality of opinion and belief, and to reward reinforcements of orthodox ideas and doctrines, even when those ideas and doctrines are not nearly as stable or unified as most people pretend. Translation: people in sg want and need a forum in which to speak openly and candidly, and yes sometimes even a little pointedly, about the reality of ordinary sg life, even and especially when that reality conflicts with the sun-dial theory of religious living so common in southern gospel – only count the sunny hours! If there isn’t a way to confront and work through the less sunny parts of things in public discourse, then the companion forms of artistic expression become impoverished, and artificially narrow … all sunshine and roses, joyful noises and sundials, even though nobody lives that way all the time. This false way of talking about life has other effects: namely, our ways of responding to life in art risk becoming more willfully ignorant of precisely those parts spiritual experience that need to be given voice to in song. Discuss.

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  1. Tom wrote:


    I considered adding a comment to the Goodman thread, thanking you for having the integrity NOT to close it as others had repeatedly suggested / demanded. Then I decided it just wasn’t worth adding my comment to the catatonic cacophony.

    But now that you mention it, I want to publicly thank you for this occasion as well as all the other occasions where you allow the conversation to continue.

    And I think you’re completely on target with your analysis of evangelical and sg culture, most particularly your observation that “orthodox” evangelical “ideas and doctrines are not nearly as stable or unified as most people pretend.”

    They’re not.


  2. RK wrote:

    Life on the road for hundreds of days within a year (for many years) places an incredible strain on most any family, regardless of whether the travel is for Christian music, secular music, business travel, truck driving, etc. It simply breeds dysfunction.

    Throw in the rigidity of evangelical mores, the stifling of non-conforming expression, and the fishbowl existence of performers in the face of angelic expectations, and you get a perfect recipe for extreme dysfunction.

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