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What do Salman Rushdie and literary criticism have to do with rock music? For Gilmour (Call Me the Seeker: Listening to Religion in Popular Music), these things are very much related. The author believes that song lyrics can sometimes stand on their own apart from music, and moreover, they can reveal something about an artist's religious and spiritual views. This may not appear at first to be an enlightened perspective, but the author's artful use of Rushdie's fiction clearly shows how it is possible. The usual suspects in the religion and rock conversation (U2, Springsteen) are not as prominent, leaving room for more obscure but equally vital musicians like Daniel Lanois and Burton Cummings. Especially constructive is the chapter Outrageous Religion, about the influence of sexuality and the occult on some styles of rock music, such as heavy metal. The author also ventures into Hindu and Muslim influences on rock music, a foray that few scholars have attempted. His treatment enriches the dialogue between religion and rock well beyond the usual Judeo-Christian interpretations. Tune in, read on and enjoy. (Nov.)
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In this eclectic, engaging, and entertaining book, Gilmour doesn’t try to be comprehensive. His choices of musicians, songs, and albums for discussion reflect his age and personal tastes, he admits. He does something else, too, that proves controversial in some quarters; he reduces albums and songs to lyrics, largely stripping them of their musicality. He firmly believes that lyrics can stand alone as texts; hence, his approach to music here is primarily literary. He focuses on post-Woodstock music because it represents a generation shaped by an anti-establishment, nonconformist attitude. But what really appeals to him is the religious terminology and imagery he finds pervasive in post-1960s Western pop music, from George Harrison and Bob Dylan to Kanye West and Alicia Keys. Among specific works he discusses are Harrison’s posthumously released Brainwashed; Neil Young’s Prairie Wind, in which Young responds to 9/11; and Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, a harsh examination of “church life” in North America. He also assesses the social-justice work of U2 and Bob Geldof. --June Sawyers