Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

How Not To Get By During Holy Week

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For the past week, I have been obsessed with a single song off the freshly-released album by England’s indie band, the ebullient and bubbly The Go! Team. Catching me off guard while listening to KEXP online, this song floored me with its Age of Aquarius choir grounded only by an infectious drum track and ear worm chorus. This is not the kind of music I like. It’s not just super-cheerful. It’s downright joyful. But I couldn’t escape it. I just sat there, captivated, almost wanting to raise my hands in some imagined Brady Bunch choreography complete with swaying dance steps. 
When I looked and saw the title, “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate),” I gasped. And I knew why I found the song irresistible. In 1997, the New Age cult Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide, leaving for the rest of us their message that they were abandoning a doomed Earth to meet up with a UFO following the Hale-Bopp comet. It was an incredibly sad and strange story when the news broke. Identically dressed in black sweat pants and crisp, white Nikes, their upper bodies were covered in purple sheets as they committed suicide over the course of three days.  
It’s no mistake, then, that The Go! Team’s album, the scene between, was released on the anniversary of the day Heaven Gate initiated their exit from the material world. And this one song sounds so optimistic. But the lyrics are so very, very sad when the greater context of the event is known. It’s like the Children’s Crusade, it’s so upsetting. I do love songs that sound so happy, yet mean so sad. But I didn’t expect this.
I keep singing along with the chorus, as far as I decipher the words. 
I remember the past, diving into the future
I hang on from the past, diving into the future

Taking the only way we know
Taking the only thing that matters
Taking the only way we know

Taking the only thing that matters

It’s so final and deliberate. Heaven’s Gate still believes they are on their way, when, in fact, they are dead. They are singleminded in their focus. There is only one way for them. Only one thing that matters. So happy. Come on, everybody! Join in!
I think that it bothers me because I have such a hard time with “the only way” and “the only thing.” And there is no anxiety in this song. No hesitation. This song is so cheerful, it’s infectious. You want to sing along, to be a part of this. Join the chorus. Eat the laced applesauce. Drink the vodka. Go to sleep. 
It is Maundy Thursday, our day of betrayal. We betray ourselves, we betray our friends, we betray our faith, we betray our God. More than one death will come of this. It’s a time of dirges and regret. It’s going to be one of a few late nights, this week. Hold on a bit. Eat the bread. Drink the wine. Stay up a bit longer? Don’t go to sleep. 
Yeah, it’s weird to juxtapose this eccentric sci fi death cult from twenty years ago with the Triduum, but there you go. That’s what happened this year. But I think it lays bare that this week is horrific and can not be saved or salved with cheerful praise songs of divine victory over death. There is a shared, though distinct, absurdity in all of this, though. I think that the nation was troubled by that tragedy. It was a clear bright spring. The deaths were clean and orderly. Methodical. Planned. Deliberate. It took place in sunny California. And Holy Week is such a fuck up of disorder and confusion. Everything is overturned. Enter the week riding triumphant on a stolen colt, end the week dead and abandoned by your friends and God. What happened here? 
Really, this is the question we can never stop asking ourselves: What happened here? The Go! Team’s song never asks that. But we must. Because this week must continue to confound us. If it ever gets easy, so obvious, then we’re doing something very, very wrong. 
Click to listen to “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate)”

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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

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