Reflections on Grammy Nominees, Part 1: Mumford and Sons

We asked Christian Scharen, author of Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God, to write a few blog entries reflecting on the Grammy nominations.

This is the first of three posts.

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One reason I wrote Broken Hallelujahs was to offer a theology of culture that sees–expects!–God’s redeeming presence already at work in the world. Pop culture is not God-forsaken, despite the ‘constricted imagination’ present in some corners of Christianity which would say it is. As a case in point, I’m starting a series of posts here engaging some of the featured artists in the upcoming Grammy Awards, the recording industry’s major awards ceremony, on February 12.

First up: Mumford and Sons, the British folk-rock band that has exploded in popularity on the strength of their debut album, Sigh No More. Last year, they were present at the Grammy Awards with nominations in two categories: “Best New Artist” and “Best Rock Song” (For “Little Lion Man”). While they lost both, they did get a rousing set playing “The Cave” and then sharing the stage with The Avett Brother’s “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise” before both bands backed Bob Dylan on “Maggie’s Farm.” It is a rousing performance, worth a watch especially for “The Cave” which I’ll talk about next.

This year, Mumford and Sons are back with four nominations, all for “The Cave” and with the wave they are riding I very much expect them to win one or more. The nominations are for “Record of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” “Best Rock Performance,” and “Best Rock Song.” As an aside, I find it hilarious that a group that got its start in the London folk scene and that played “hoe-downs” in a barn in its early days would continue to get nominations as a rock group. As I’ve written elsewhere, Mumford and Sons are a spiritually deep band. Their music has its own energy, often rising to a joyous crescendo, drawing the enthusiastic audience into a kind of musical rapture, taken outside of oneself into another place.

While such energy can be bent or twisted towards unsavory and self-destructive ends in pop music, Mumford and Sons are an unusual example of a band that has lyrical depth, depth that repays listening and even study. Marcus Mumford, the lead singer and songwriter, is the son of Vineyard UK leaders John and Eleanor Mumford and the Scriptures are an obvious source of lyrics in some of the band’s songs. Others, like “The Cave,” are not as readily accessible. Yet “The Cave”, according to Mike who blogs at Laughter and Humility, seems to be at least in part a song about spiritual transformation, a story modeled on and even quoting directly from G.K.Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis. The lyrics of the song say:

“So come out of your cave walking on your hands / And see the world hanging upside down / You can understand dependence / When you know the Maker’s hand”

And in Chapter Five of Chesterton’s biography, he writes:

“Francis, at the time or somewhere about the time when he disappeared into the prison or the dark cavern, underwent a reversal of a certain psychological kind […] The man who went into the cave was not the man who came out again […] He looked at the world as differently from other men as if he had come out of that dark hole walking on his hands […] This state can only be represented in symbol; but the symbol of inversion is true in another way. If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasize the idea of dependence. There is a Latin and literal connection; for the very word dependence only means hanging. It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hung the world upon nothing.”

Should “The Cave” win at the Grammy’s it will be icing on the cake. It is a moving and powerful thing to see a band surfing a wave of mainstream popularity that can invite spiritual seekers into much deeper things through their art.

Next up: Kanye West.

-Christian Scharen