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Give Me Something to Believe In

Posted: January 6, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau, Editor in Chief

I've been thinking a lot lately about belief, and particularly its relationship with music. As 2001 rolled to a close, a number of events, all music-related in some way, have caused me to stop and reflect on the true power of music as a force for expression -- and as a belief system, of sorts, in its own right.

The first thing, oddly enough, was the release of Weathered, the third album by the Florida-based rock group Creed. I don't know your opinion of Creed, but it's safe to say I've never considered myself a fan. So Weathered wasn't something that was on my mind very much, until I was assigned to review it for another online entity for which I often freelance.

And damned if it didn't exert an odd hold over me. Maybe it had to do with my own personal circumstances -- at the time, I was still dealing heavily with the emotional fallout resulting from the very abrupt, messy and painful disintegration of a significant long-term romantic relationship. But for whatever reason, certain parts of Weathered struck a chord with me -- particularly the anthemic "My Sacrifice," which sounds rather obviously like a love song for Jesus. I'm not a particularly religious person, so on that level the song didn't resonate with me. But Stapp's expression of bedrock devotion, of his faith in the power of his relationship to the song's subject -- well, that stuck with me. I deeply envied Stapp that sense of certainty, of belief, in anything.

Also around that same time, I had the opportunity to see U2 in concert, during one of the last dates of its hugely successful Elevation Tour. Until that night, the impact of U2's deeply held spiritual convictions hadn't really sunk in. Yes, those beliefs are pretty obvious to even a casual listener. But until you're surrounded by thousands and thousands of screaming fans -- many of whom weren't even born when Boy was released -- on their feet, singing along to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," it doesn't hit home just how incredibly significant an achievement that really is. Particularly given that we're talking, not about a part of the stealthily burgeoning Contemporary Christian Music scene, but what's arguably the biggest rock and roll band in the world.

And then, of course, there was the passing of George Harrison, whose death was announced just a day or two before the aforementioned concert. I need hardly tell you that the man who wrote "My Sweet Lord," the man responsible for introducing the rest of the Beatles to Indian mysticism (and therefore, arguably, for helping to expand their minds, and thus the band's music), was a man of deeply held spiritual beliefs.

So all of these things were bouncing around in my head as November 2001 came to a close, little bits of a potential column percolating, waiting for a spark to connect them. It wasn't until a couple of weeks later, when another, much less popular musician was found dead, that I had the missing link.

On December 16th, 2001, Stuart Adamson, founder and singer of the Scottish rock band Big Country, was found dead, apparently by his own hand -- hanging from a noose in a hotel room.

I admit to having a deeper connection to Big Country's music than most people, for whom the band is notable only for its 1983 hit "In A Big Country." Unlike the vast majority of the music-buying public, I continued buying Big Country albums after The Crossing, the band's popular first release. But even I eventually strayed -- although the group released a handful of records in the 1990s, I own only a couple of those. Still, while I can't honestly be called a diehard fan, I do possess all of the band's early works -- The Crossing, Steeltown, The Seer and Peace In Our Time. In fact, Steeltown, the group's second album, is a personal favorite to this day, a very likely finalist were I ever to conjure one of those "Top 10 Desert Island Discs" lists.

And I'm not the only one I know with fond memories. A couple of days after the news of Adamson's death broke, a professional colleague of mine wrote me: "I remember the day I heard "In A Big Country" on the radio for maybe the third time. I was at my parents' house, in my bedroom, the opening of the song blew me away, and by the time the song was over I had my sneakers on and was already out of the house, walking to town (a mile) to buy a copy of the record." Another colleague went so far as to convene a (completely unofficial and perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek) New Orleans-based Big Country Fan Club.

This isn't all that noteworthy by itself -- many bands, especially those that have had only a brief taste of popular acclaim, retain small but devoted followings for years, even decades, after their day in the sun has ended. No, what's significant is the huge disconnect between Adamson's final actions and the nature of his music. It's all the more heartbreaking that a man who had made a career out of singing about hope and perseverance ultimately was found lacking in both qualities.

Music -- be it three-minute rock songs, Gospel spirituals or Native American chants -- is a powerful, even primal force, one that unleashes strong emotions. For most musicians -- the Creeds, the U2s, the George Harrisons, the Amy Grants and P.O.D.s of the world -- it serves as a medium for the expression of deep feelings, of love, faith, devotion. For many audiences, the medium and the feelings become intertwined -- music becomes a belief system of its own, something to be worshipped for its visceral impact, its power to heal, to connect, to inspire.

The search for meaning, the need to belong, is as old as the human race itself. We all need to feel a part of something, to believe in something perhaps bigger than ourselves. For some of us, it's music. For some, all you need is love. For others, faith in a higher power. Even atheists are defined by their beliefs. And in these uncertain times, some of us need that more than ever. So maybe the popularity of artists that provide a connection to that yearning isn't all that remarkable. Maybe what's remarkable is that we sometimes lose sight of that need, that we sometimes scorn artists who dare to put their beliefs out there. That one of those artists eventually succumbed to something -- alcohol, depression, whatever -- so much that he could no longer feel a connection to something bigger than himself. No longer felt a reason to live.

In his most enduring song, Adamson once defiantly sang, "I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered/but you can't stay here with every single hope you have shattered." In the end, he turned that lyric on its ear; instead of staying here and hanging on to hope, he decided he couldn't stay at all. And that's just as instructive as any uplifting Creed power anthem. As Poison once sang, "Give me something to believe in." Because the alternative, as we've been reminded, is death.

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