Thursday, July 23, 2009

Surfing with P.O.D.

You knew they had to have one of these, right? I mean, dreadlocked Christians? Where else are they gonna sing about? Newark?

"Breathe Babylon" is from P.O.D.'s pre-famous '96 album Brown, though once they became famous I think they re-recorded it, or at least gussied it up somehow. According to The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, "Breathe Babylon" is a "fan favorite." I don't quite understand that, but it's not an uninteresting song. (High praise indeed!) Notably, it connects the Babylon symbol to present-day Iraqi warfare in a most disturbingly militant way.

The Babylon in verse one is pretty consistent with Rastafarian use--an evil society of "graven images, golden idols, and false icons" that runs counter to God's "spiritual wisdom." P.O.D. will set up spiritual time bombs to destroy it. That's cool--but in verses two and three they start to draw out some political implications from their reading, and things get dicey. I think most of this is the fault of "Dirt," the guest rapper who does verse two:

"Decadent culture make you forget your spiritual priority" is standard symbolic stuff, but then our friend Dirt starts getting all righteous Rambo. Soldiers who are being "used by God" will "destroy you like Medo-Persia," which was the ancient empire that finally took down historical Babylon. But is Dirt merely advocating spiritual warfare?

I don't think so! Later in the verse he crows, "Present day Iraq still lies in ruins... Bumrushed, get crushed by us, this rescue invasion." I see. So back in '96, the key agents of God seem to have been George HW Bush and his neo-con cronies, who were doing God's work in the Middle East and received, as a divine reward, secured oil interests. And in the final verse, we learn that the people of God yearn for a "true democracy." Sounds like W was taking notes.

What on earth are these guys talking about? In a later song, "Tell Me Why," POD seem to take a more pacifist and questioning stance--"Why must we kill in the name of what we think is right?" That's more resonable--it's not that you never fight, but at least you give it some thought, question the whole enterprise, and don't claim that a 2,500-year-old prophet sanctioned your murder of some everyday Arab shmucks. So maybe "Babylon"'s militance is just Dirt talking--you know, you give the guy a verse, you don't really wanna interfere. But I'd like to think that this ominous bit--

Look to the sky, heed the warning
The shadow is coming, the shadow is coming

is P.O.D.'s exhortation to all the faithful, including their own sinful asses, and not just a (Toby) Keithian heads up to the Muslim world.

No comments: