Ain’t Misbehavin’

“If the right words existed,” the old saying goes, “the music wouldn’t need to.” This is basically scripture to those of us who practice a spiritual relationship with music. Just as religion is supposed to connect people to a world beyond this one, music reveals thoughts, feelings, and insights otherwise unknown to language and therefore to us. Music does what lucenti describes. It lights up the darkness.

Growing up, the leaders of the Mormon Church promised me a spiritual awakening. They pledged that one day, when I was worthy, I would find sanctuary where a “still small voice” would speak to me from within and confirm that the church was true. But I discovered pop music instead. My church leaders accused me of drowning out that “still small voice” with the wails of Led Zeppelin’s anguish, the crunch of Alice in Chains’ guitars, and the menace of Skinny Puppy’s calculated noise. In reality, I scaled a different peak and discovered another spirituality at least as meaningful as theirs.

But sitting back to judge the church that pop music built as somehow superior to the church that Joseph Smith, Jr., built would be an exercise in prejudice. In a world where “everybody loves to judge, everybody thinks they’re clean,” it might be best to follow the advice, “judge not lest ye be judged” (unless, someone is actively and demonstrably perpetrating harm, that is). In any case, the church that pop built is about as systemically sexist and misogynistic as the Mormon Church. “In an analysis of the top 600 songs from 2012 to 2017,” the New York Times reports, “[a] study found that of the 1,239 performing artists, 22.4 percent of them were women.” Speaking to Vice, one industry-insider observed that as late as ten years ago, mentioning feminism could wreck a musician’s career.

Remember when Jesus cleansed the temple of merchants and money-changers? Yeah, maybe we need the ghost of Nina Simone to subject some record company executives to her infamous marxist rage. “I might be feeling good, but you’re about to feel really, really bad.”

I looked at my own listening habits and realized, unfortunately, that I am part of the problem.

Of the twenty-two bands I mention by name in this post, one of them (Against Me!) is fronted by a transgender woman, two of them (IAMX and Placebo) are fronted by gender queer but mostly male-identified singers, while the rest of them are fronted by men. Of the ninety-two total band members, only seven of them are women. My own listening habits are profoundly sexist. That is not to say I don’t listen to and enjoy a lot of female artists. But for the most part, I have uncritically let the industry influence my taste in music to such an extent that testosterone dominates my playlists.

So, to combat the sexism in my church, I have made an intentional effort to listen to more female artists, and so far, I’ve kind of loved it. At first, I thought, the only way I’m going to connect spiritually to my music is if I listen to what I love most, most of the time. But my more intentional musical choices have actually enhanced my overall listening experience. To give you an idea of my musical taste, I’ve attached a playlist below. If any of you have recommendations based on what you hear, let me know, and I’ll give it a listen.

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