I’ve enjoyed listening to music much longer than I’ve enjoyed reading books. Reading has only been an interest of mine for the past five years, especially subjects like philosophy, religion, and sociology. What I’ve found through reading books, though, is that it complements listening to music. The relation between books and music in terms of their content, especially lyrically, is undeniable. Even musically, there seems to be room for reading to influence listening, with pictures derived from words being transformed into pictures derived from sound. We end up with snapshots of the sublime and we meditate on them time and time again. For the true artist, art is in everything and everything is in art. How many songs turn the prose of dense tomes and treatises into the poetry of short and glimmering musical numbers!
The notes included below include my brief exploration into the topic of Christian literature/books that are made reference to in music by Christians, or at least “almost Christian” bands/musicians, because that debate just never seems to go away.
While the Bible has been mentioned too many times to count by Christian musicians, some artists have been especially artistic when it comes to applying Sacred Scripture to music. Just one artist that comes to mind is Soul-Junk, the abstract hip-hop project lead by Glen Galaxy. In 2007, Soul-Junk released 1959 which includes Psalms 1-23 each getting their own track. As well, in 2009 1960 was released, an album based around Psalms 119.
Based on my findings, one of the most oft-mentioned writers is C. S. Lewis. Heath McNease released two versions of his album The Weight of Glory, a singer-songwriter version (2012) and a hip-hop version (2013), named after Lewis’ essay and/or book of the same title. Similar to McNease, who discusses numerous works by Lewis on these albums, Deepspace5 member Sintax the Terrific lists several works in the song “Crumbs” on Unique, Just Like Everyone Else (2005). While these are two examples of C. S. Lewis mentioned in hip-hop music, he is mentioned in everything from calm indie to hard, screaming metal. Anathallo’s very first EP, A Holiday at the Sea (2003), is taken from a quotation contained in Lewis’ essay The Weight of Glory:
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
In 2013, metal legends Living Sacrifice had a song called “Screwtape” on Ghost Thief (2013), which is of course, named after Lewis’ epistolary novel The Screwtape Letters. Mike Hranica of The Devil Wears Prada claims that 2011s Dead Throne was influenced by the same book.
I should like to also make mention of a rarer category of books, namely, those of mysticism. While they are not mentioned nearly as much as the Bible or C. S. Lewis’ works, I believe that they are still important. One book that has made some waves is The Cloud of Unknowing, which was written in the Middle Ages by an anonymous mystic from England. While a complex work of literature, it generally focuses on God’s transcendence and how the intellect inevitably fails in reaching Him. In Sleeping Giant’s song, “Haunted” (2018), vocalist Tommy Green proclaims: “I can see Your face in this cloud of unknowing!” One can only guess that As Cities Burn had this book in mind when writing their song “Clouds” (2007): “I think our God isn’t God if He fits inside our head.” Another work of mysticism mentioned in a Christian song is “Dark Night of the Soul” (2005) by Shai Linne, named after St. John of the Cross’ classic text. While a good song, and not to mention a good book, it puzzles me why a reformed Christian would name a song after a book written by a Catholic mystic who was involved in the Counter-Reformation.
A couple of other interesting references come from Sintax the Terrific and Showbread. The first track (“Isaac”) on Sintax’s Simple Moves (2004) mentions Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard has had a profound effect on philosophy, and not only Christian philosophy, for he carries the title of “father of existentialism.” Regarding Showbread, they named a song on 2010s Who Can Know It? after a book written by Gregory Boyd, Myth of a Christian Nation. Kierkegaard and Boyd have both been controversial figures in the Christian subculture, having critiqued Christianity from the inside.
These are but some of the examples of references to Christian literature/books found in Christian music. From here, I invite the reader to discuss all things related to books and music in the comments section. Keep on reading and keep on listening; and perhaps, at the same time, if you’re especially talented.