Get a bang out of life

This is my third commentary on extremism in Islamic culture, something that threatens the spirit of compassion that is at the foundation of Judaism, Islam and Christianity alike.

One year ago, MeShell Ndegeocello released an EP with five songs representing a stylistic departure from the music for which she was known. She is an artist in the deepest sense and never stands still musically, continually challenging us and our preconceptions. One of those songs, “The Sloganeer: Paradise,” is a high-energy, quasi-punk number with frenetic, restless drumming that opens with these words:

Get a bang out of life
Suicide, straight to paradise
If you’re the chosen why don’t you just
Kill yourself now, kill yourself now.

The sarcasm in the chorus is directed toward a would-be suicide bomber, but then MeShell takes us empathically inside the bomber’s head: “I hate all the beautiful people”; “Lord, they scorn and they mock me”; “The waves and swells soothe my dissatisfaction.” So we get a sense of what might be motivating this individual. The frenzy in the music expresses the emotion running through the bomber’s veins, the restless energy driving him or her to quickly get to paradise with its 72 virgins.

Another clue is offered with the whispered words “open up your legs.” Does this represent the repressed sexuality that beckons seductively, that must be denied, fueling the frustration? Perhaps there is even an unconscious double-entendre in “get a bang.”

That refrain, “Get a bang out of life,” functions like a recurring slogan, phrased in a way that parodies a television advertisement promising a hot love life if you use the right brand of toothpaste. With that one line MeShell mocks both the consumerism of capitalistic culture and the death-infatuated perversion of the Koran in Islamic culture.

The final words are sung in the form of a pleading. “Give me a sign, a sign, a sign.” Then repeated. But there is no answer, because of course Allah could not condone such violence. The music ebbs away like a dying animal. The drums fall out, leaving a raw, dirty buzz in the lower register. The song doesn’t so much end, or fade out, as expire on an unresolved chord. It’s one of the most effective and understated musical representations of anguish that I’ve ever heard.

The World Has Made Me... Just over a month ago, “The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams” was released, which includes the five songs from the EP plus eight new tracks. The music is brilliant, provocative, no holds barred. Stylistically it defies easy categorization, but it’s not a smorgasbord of styles. Rather, it possesses an organic wholeness, as if all the songs belong together naturally. If you’re musically adventurous, I highly recommend this CD.

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