Bands affiliated with Christianity are increasingly inclined to downplay their religious side. If you’re into Jeebus, you’re a right-wing lunatic, a pushy, deluded, intolerant, mouth-breather without a salient word to say. For that reason, many Christian artists employ pronoun obfuscation (masking love for Jesus as love for Jenny) and adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding creative intent. It’s surprising, though, that some among them endeavor to be truly Christ-like, and deserve at least the benefit of the doubt.
Aaron Weiss, singer and songwriter in Philly-based
MeWithoutYou—despite the slavish worship implied by his
band’s name—is one such Christian-not-Christian.
Frankly, I wouldn’t know about MeWithoutYou if their
publicist wasn’t less flack than fan. Her pitch was sensational,
but honest. Weiss and his bandmates might be
Christians, but there’s much more to them than that. They’re
freegans, fringe vegans who eschew consumerism as much
as adopting a cruelty- and animal-free diet. Freegans
forage—call it strategic dumpster-diving—for sustenance,
looking in supermarket and restaurant trash receptacles for
unspoiled, cast-off sundries, tossed because the freshness
or “born-on” date has passed. More importantly, my friend
said, the music kicks ass. As proof, she sent a link to the
band’s “January 1979” video on YouTube.
From an editorial perspective, the sensational stuff was enough. Plenty of story in Jesus-lovin’ dumpster-divers— even if the music wasn’t that hot, there’s a cheap n’ easy but compelling front-of-book piece: “MeWithoutYou’s Top Five Dumpster Dives: Where to Find the Best Unspoiled Eats.” Readers get a swift, satisfying read; band gets publicity, mag fills space with something besides ubiquitous Q&As and short profiles. But “January 1979” stands out on its own.
It starts with feedback, then a pumping bass line and
subtle atmospheric guitar chords prefacing a line sung with
manic pain: “January, 1979 / I saw a terrible crime / and I
couldn’t help but laugh.” The author’s cynicism and crisis
reflected the tortured writings of former Pedro the Lion
honcho David Bazan, who famously loved—and may have
left—the Lord. The rest of the verse runs past quickly, right
up to a left-turn refrain, a chant redolent of the sycophantic
lyrics of Christians bands that try to please the flock while
serving up ambush evangelism to secular fans. Weiss and
the band intone, “IIIIII will beeeeee your serrrrr-vant”
repeatedly—but it’s not an empty devotional.
“January 1979” is about what it means to want to be a servant
of God, and therefore a man, but also be keenly aware
of one’s own problems, and how we humans, self-centered
by nature, prioritize our own above others’. If Weiss is supposed
to be a servant, why didn’t he automatically serve?
Why did he laugh? Clearly, there is unspoiled meat in the
dumpster behind MeWithoutYou.
I was told Weiss might be tough to track down since, as
a freegan, he takes shelter where it avails itself and carries
no phone. Luckily, the band had a string of off days at home
in Philadelphia. I discovered, after trying his brother’s cell
phone, that Weiss was at his parents’ residence. Turns out
that he’s the only freegan in the band and currently wonders
if it’s not “a selfish pursuit.”
Huh? The principles of freeganism, and certainly true Christianity, entail selflessness. How could he live that altruistic lifestyle, forsaking the comforts of central air, fresh food, constant contact and a world of information at your fingertips, and believe he’s selfish? “It might be [driven by] my ego,” he explains—“it” meaning the endeavor to be Christlike, like it would make him “better than everyone else.”
That’s where Weiss and MeWithoutYou get really interesting.
Weiss admits he’s reconsidering freeganism because it
may actually lead him to a less-than-Christ-like end, ironically
trapped in pride. He’s not working an angle, playing with
pronouns, looking for credibility on two opposing fronts. In
fact, he—like Bazan—is on a constant quest for truth, trying
to be the best man he can be, even if that person is a nontraditional
version of Christ. Which, all told, wouldn’t be so
bad, ’cause Christ is just one role model in Weiss’ life.
“I was raised in a household where Judaism and Islam
were also taught,” he says. “I had a very well-rounded
upbringing.” As well, MeWithoutYou’s songs have always had
a foot in what Christians would view as the cultish world of
Sufi mysticism—even more so on the band’s new album It’s
All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright! (Tooth &
Nail). Telling title, huh? Well, Weiss sees the rampant lunacy,
deception, and surrealism of this life, and what some may
call the folly of belief—but that’s okay. By incorporating a
little of everything into his philosophy—and incidentally, his
music, which on the new record dials down the emo-indie
drama and mines the subtle, still textured, acoustic territory
of Neutral Milk Hotel—he feels he’s making progress in his
journey to “being the best person I can be.”
Maybe one day that’s what we’ll think of when someone
admits to being spiritual.
3605 S. State
Sunday, June 28