Monday, October 11, 2010

A Change of Heart for Belle & Sebastian

My first exposure to Belle & Sebastian was their song 'If You're Feeling Sinister,' where lead singer Stuart Murdoch speaks about how irrelevant the church is to young people. Here are a few excerpts from the song's lyrics:
Hilary went to the Catholic Church because she wanted information
The vicar, or whatever, took her to one side and gave her confirmation
Saint Theresa's calling her, the church up on the hill is looking lovely
But it doesn't interest, the only things she wants to know is
How and why and when and where to go
How and why and when and where to follow
The song concludes:
But if you are feeling sinister
Go off and see a minister
Chances are you'll probably feel better
If you stayed and played with yourself
Needless to say, Murdoch portrayed the Catholic church in a not-so-flattering light. This song, in fact, caused me to think of B&S as a pretty godless band. More recently, however, NPR did an interview with Stuart Murdoch *where they asked him about the seeming lack of faith in 'If You're Feeling Sinister.' Murdoch responded:
Yes, a startling lack of faith. When I wrote that song, I was writing from the perspective of somebody who was trying to work things out. Put it this way, I was like a young, fairly hip, 19 or 20-year-old punk who was knocking about Glasgow. But I went to church. I didn’t see any other hipsters or punks at church, so I was maybe kind of writing about the folks that I knew, and my friends. And perhaps, sort of rightly so, I could see why there might be this wall, this divide between them and the church.
In 2004, Stuart Murdoch did an interview where he discussed his interest in attending church:
I'm not actually a Christian with a capital C. I'm still asking questions. But I had this time when I found myself singing all these old hymns in my kitchen and I couldn't work out why I was doing it. Then one Sunday morning I got up, looked at my watch, and thought, 'I wonder if I could make it to a church service?' It was so welcoming. It just felt like you were coming home. Twelve years later, I've never left.
In the more recent NPR interview, Murdoch then talks about how he now goes to church on a regular basis and has grown considerably less cynical:
I slipped quite easily into it and it’s a thing that’s never left me. And if you have a thing in your life, which is quiet obviously the biggest thing thats happening, you can’t stop thinking about it. And you really shouldn’t stop talking about it. Else, you know, we’re not in Communist Russia in the ’70s, you know...You know, I want to talk about the things that I’m feeling. And if I have a force working inside me and something I think about on an hourly basis, then that’s what I’m going to write about.
In a fine contrast, the new album from Belle & Sebastian (which you can listen to at NPR for free until tomorrow when the album is actually released) titled Write About Love has quite a few songs which portray a positive vision of God. I'm not saying that Stuart is a Reformed born again believer, but it is very encouraging to see people I once thought of as godless pagans surprising me. One song, in particular, is called "Ghost of Rockschool":
I’ve seen God in the sun
I’ve seen God in the street
God before bed and the promise of sleep
God in my dreams and the free ride of grace
Master I love from the ground above
There’s the stars below as my memory flows
Every picture frame is beating louder than time
Every clock in the hall is bending slowly
come on I insist have a drink have a sit in the bar
tell me all about your man and your hopes and the flaws of your life

you could love
after all that’s what you’re looking for
you can love
it’s a currency unspoken heart
but it’s hard to form a good opinion
if you’re gonna look at me that way
and it’s gonna cause a crisis
might just lose a little faith
don’t touch me
if you touch me, you could never go back

come on I insist have a drink have a sit in the bar
tell me all about your man and your hopes and the flaws of your life

*Many thanks to Mollie from 'Get Religion' for bringing the interview to my attention.


  1. Adam,
    Stuart Murdoch has never hid the fact that he was a Christian, or that he was actually a church attender (although they are not the same thing.) You cannot take one song written by an artist and assume that this is the belief that the man keeps to. Listen to song by B&S like ' The state I am in' and 'the Model' it has several references to God's grace and God's calling for the author of the song.

    I get a little sick of Christians quickly judging 'art' as pro or anti - christian, without really looking into the true meanings of the art or the artist.

  2. David,

    I have never considered myself an expert in Belle and Sebastian. I have always only been a casual listener. My apologies if I didn't take into account the entire breadth of Stuart Murdoch's body of work.

  3. Hey guys. Long time reader, first time commenter. I missed this post and (even though it's way too far down on the blog for my comment to be noticed) I wanted to comment.

    I'm a big B&S fan and am excited that you're engaging with them. I personally like 'If You Find Yourself Caught In Love.' Early on in that song it says:

    "If you find yourself caught in love
    Say a prayer to the man above
    You should thank him for every day you pass
    Thank him for saving your sorry ass."

    Even if you're not thrilled about the curse, that's profound truth, right? Later in the song they sing:

    "If you find yourself caught in love
    You should say a prayer to the man above

    If you don’t listen to the voices then my friend
    You’ll soon run out of choices
    What a pity it would be
    You talk of freedom don’t you see
    The only freedom that you’ll ever really know
    Is written in books from long ago
    Give up your will to Him that loves you
    Things will change, I’m not saying overnight
    But something has to give
    You’re too good looking not to live."

    I'm with you David concerning your frustration. I just read an article that wondered if Sufjan Stevens is a "Christian" because he says the f-word on his new album. The article was more concerned with "Who's In, Who's Out?" than any kind of deeper evaluation or appreciation. If you're "out" because of cursing, then I've got some problems...

  4. I noticed, Bryan, and I really appreciate you mentioning this song. Maybe I should have titled the post "I never really understood Belle & Sebastian."


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