My sister Paula lives in Nashville, TN, and teaches music there at an alternative high school. It’s not what one might think of as a traditional music class; the students spend their time learning computer software programs like GarageBand and Pro Tools, discussing contemporary music and writing their own songs.
One day last week, they were discussing Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, who died in 1994 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. At one point, Paula asked the class if they thought that Cobain’s demons contributed to the creativity of his music, but also might have gotten the best of him in the end.
The kids looked at her with blank faces, then one of them said, “What do you mean by demons?” Paula explained that we all have the potential for great good in us, but also the potential for bad, and that this “dark side” is often referred to as our demons. “Haven’t you ever heard that expression before?” she asked. Not a one knew what she was talking about. She explained how an artist’s creativity can be fueled by what troubles them, and how art can be a way of expressing the darkness in our lives. But even in the heart of the Bible belt, the concept of demons was just not clicking with the kids.
Rather than a lack of recognizing the good and bad, darkness and light that is so much a part of the world, I wonder if the students’ response was more due to the fact that, for the most part, we don’t use religious imagery in our common language anymore. Sure, the political debates this year are rife with talk of religion; but it’s hard to find any real depth in the rhetoric. It’s more like the elephant and the donkey butting heads against each other, using flashpoint words like “God” and “abortion” and “social justice” to make their respective cases. At the end of it all, what spiritual interests are best served here?
But back to the demons. I found Paula’s story a bit sad, because the language of religion is so very rich and descriptive of the human story. And while our religious imagination today is often tied to the language of quantum mechanics and chaos theory — quite a wonderful development, indeed — there is still a vast vocabulary shared with music and art and poetry. I hope we don’t lose that.
PS Your conscience — not your demons — is pushing you to vote this year. For help in discerning the who, what, when, where, and why of making a choice guided by a Catholic consciousness, see the Catholic Update Guide to Faithful Citizenship.
Photo credit: “Zombies Walking” by Victor Habbick, and “US Presidential 2012 Election” by nirots, both @ freedigitalphotos.net