Hozier and T. S. Eliot

Have you heard “Take Me To Church”?  I can’t get over the fantastic sound of this song.  It’s one of the very few recent hits that I listen to all the way through every time I come across it on the radio.  Here’s the problem: when I first heard it, I thought it was a metaphor for a cruel lover–someone who demands worship and sacrifice, but who’s so alluring that he can’t leave her.  Then I saw the music video.  The relationship in it is not depicted as twisted at all–it’s loving and mutual.  But it’s homosexual, and the video ends with a gang hunting down and viciously beating one of the gay men.  Oh well.  Apparently the “church” Hozier is referring to isn’t the singer’s unnatural obsession with his lover, but the Catholic Church.

Hozier is a well-spoken and intelligent-sounding guy, and I can surely understand his bitterness against the Church, because he grew up in the mess that is Ireland.  I don’t think it’s worth getting into a long refutation here, other than to say that his basic premise–that “an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation — that it is sinful, or that it offends God”–is obviously wrong.  (The quote is from his interview here.)  The Church’s actual teaching is that homosexual orientation is not chosen, and not sinful.  It is engaging in homosexual acts that the Church considers disordered, though she demands love and respect for homosexuals in any situation.  (Please see the Church’s teaching in the Catechism at the end of the post.)  It’s a sad fact that there are many Catholics who don’t understand this themselves, and who engage in acts of hate against gays; but that doesn’t justify attacking the Church herself.

Anyway!  What I’d really like to talk about is the way Hozier conveys his message.  I don’t think it’s my fault that I misinterpreted the lyrics at first.  They’re very ambiguous!  He seems to use “her” and “church” to refer both to the homophobic people who tell him he was “born sick,” and to the lover he “should’ve worshipped…sooner.”  “My Church offers no absolutes. / She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom.'”  Is this a protestation against the Catholic Church getting involved with what people do in the bedroom?  Or is it referring to his private religion of true love?  (“The only heaven I’ll be sent to / Is when I’m alone with you.”)  If so, why use “she,” when the video depicts a male relationship?  I’m having a hard time pulling out lines to analyze, because the themes are so interwoven.   (Here are the lyrics; what do you think?)  So I don’t think it’s really fair for him to pull out the blatant music video and explain “here, this is what the song is about!”  (Watch the video here, but be prepared for some disturbing content.)

If you want your song to be considered a form of art, the essential meaning should be accessible through the lyrics, even if it’s subtle and you have to dig pretty deep.  I’m pretty sure it’s just cheating to cram it all into the video.  It reminds me of T.S. Eliot, writing footnotes to his own poetry.

Ooh, I’m sorry, you’re soooo deep we couldn’t possibly understand you without footnotes?

It’s one thing to be esoteric, as a natural result of the profundity of your art; but it’s another thing to purposely be ambiguous, just so you can hit people over the head with the explanation.  Personally, I enjoy “Take Me to Church” a lot more than “The Wasteland.”  At least Hozier didn’t include any ancient Greek.

******************

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

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5 thoughts on “Hozier and T. S. Eliot

  1. I thought the same when I first heard the song! It was so catchy, and seriously one of the only recent songs I’d listen to the whole way through till I saw the video. No deep comments to add to the discussion, just wanted to say I love this post and all the others!!

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  2. After watching the video, my main thought is… What’s in the box?

    Yes, the lyrics are obscure. I would definitely say I picked up on an anti-Catholic Church theme, though, from pretty much the first time I heard it. “Tell me your sins so I can sharpen my knife” kinda screams of a bad reaction to confession.

    “It’s one thing to be esoteric, as a natural result of the profundity of your art; but it’s another thing to purposely be ambiguous, just so you can hit people over the head with the explanation.”

    There’s a third option. Gauging from my own attempts to write poetry, sometimes the result is obscure not out of deliberate intention, but because connections and references that seem obvious in my own mind are not obvious to others. This is especially true when talking about personal experiences; when trying to capture the mood or flavor or meaning of an experience, it can really mess with the flow to try to explain the facts and references. The obscurity isn’t intentional, and it may not be profound—it’s just personal.

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    • Yes, I think you’re probably right. It’s just…awfully annoying reading T.S. Eliot. Especially when you’re surrounded by people who think obscurity itself is profound, and go around trying to sound as philosophical as possible without really meaning anything. That was the general atmosphere at the college I went to.

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  3. well, hello. first i will say that i’ve enjoyed your posts & been reading you here and there, since Simcha introduced your blog.

    i will also first say that i enjoyed the song A Lot when it first came on the radio.

    But I must point out that you JUST did the same thing by letting your whole post be all artsy and then leaving the facts of the Catechism below for everyone to read. sort of. i might be stretching a bit. but doesn’t it seem a little parallel? which I am fine with. just saying, most people want to create something beautiful and maybe try to get a few jabs in and LATER, seem to get all high and mighty and intentional about what it ‘meant’…ok, i won’t say most people, i will say that dude. i think you’re giving him far too much credit, period. just a guy with some talent who could string words and sound together to make pretty (i’m over it now, but at first it was) music. what he was trying to say should be about as considered as he considered it himself: not much at all, obviously, as it is so muddy and half-assed.

    and our dear T. S. wrote in a time when a good footnote was appreciated! probably a polite submission on his part. anyway, i remember liking that poem in my apparently apocalyptic eleventh grade heart.

    he had to get em not with a bang, but a whisper!

    well, hello. first i will say that i've enjoyed your posts & been reading you here and there, since Simcha introduced your blog to the world.

    i will also first say that i enjoyed the song A Lot when it first came on the radio.

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    • Ha ha! I guess I deserved that! It truly wasn’t my intention, though! 🙂 I really didn’t want to talk about the homosexuality aspect of it–I wanted to talk about the art and interpretation of it–but I felt like it was irresponsible of me to bring up the subject without a clear statement on my belief, and the Church’s teachings. But I didn’t want it to swallow up the whole post, so I thought I’d just put my references at the end in case someone wanted to see where I was coming from.

      Now that you mention it, I realize I’m spoiled by google–back when Eliot wrote the Wasteland, people couldn’t look up all those references very easily, so I guess that’s why he put in the footnotes. Still…don’t think the ancient languages were that necessary. I probably would have enjoyed it in 11th grade too, back when I thought I was very deep. I do still like Prufrock! I don’t really want to read it very often, though. Thanks for your comment!

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