The Avett Brothers and How Beauty Can Be SimplePosted by jallston on Jan 30, 2013 in Blog | 2 comments
“I remember crying over you
And I don’t mean like a couple of tears and I’m blue
I’m talking about collapsing and howling at the moon
But I’m a better man for having gone through it.”
I can’t claim to have led such a dramatic life that any loss has left me “collapsing and howling at the moon.” But I have on occasion been severely disappointed, even to the point where I wondered if going wolf in the backyard would help me feel better. And I have been witness to people so crushed with sorrow that “a couple of tears and I’m blue” would have been a welcome reprieve. However, I didn’t find myself reliving past heartbreaks at hearing these words. I actually chuckled at them, because I was surprised and delighted by their simplicity.
When we hear songwriting so unassuming and genuine, so seemingly un-poetic, we are surprised to hear it work so well as poetry. It’s The Avett Brothers’ capacity to make the simple beautiful that compels me to go back to their music again and again.
A great example of this comes from their song, “The Perfect Space.” It explores the complexity of our often-conflicted desires, but it does so in language that a child could use:
“I want to grow old without the pain
Give my body back to the earth and not complain.”
“I want to have pride like my mama has
And not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad.”
The lyrics resonate with all of us who want our lives to look a certain way. But, living as we do in a broken world, we wonder if our desires can be achieved without making us feel more broken—like wanting to grow and old and wise, but not old and weak; or wanting to be proud, but not at the expense of humility.
The clearest expression of this conflicted desire comes in the lines:
“I want to fit in to the perfect space,
Feel natural and safe in volatile place.”
The song leaves us longing for the perfect space, where our purest desires can find fulfillment despite the reality of the world’s brokenness: goodness untainted by the badness that surrounds it. And yet the song also leaves us wondering if such a space can ever exist. The lyrics are simple, but they deal a poetic blow that is moving, profound, and even redemptive insofar as it makes us long for redemption.
If we have a desire to engage culture and move the world toward “the perfect space,” we would do well to understand that one of the greatest means of doing so is by embracing beauty within culture. We believe that God is the source of all things good, true, and beautiful. We believe that beauty, in whatever form, calls people to God and helps them imagine the world that ought to be. So we desire not only to ingest and experience beauty, but also to display it to the culture by our creativity and service. At the same time, it is important and freeing to remember that beauty, though sometimes elaborate and prodigious, is more often than not wonderfully simple.
A business transaction performed with integrity; a timely word, truthful and loving; food and drink prepared well; food and drink enjoyed well; children who feel loved enough and safe enough to play hard and laugh hard; a product made conscientiously and with quality: these are not things we typically describe as “beautiful,” but they may, nonetheless, seem so out of place in a broken world that people chuckle at their simplicity and their goodness. We may be tempted to consign a low value to such a victory, but these simple things are the origins of a trajectory that can only find its destination in the face of God. No vocation, no calling, no circumstance (no matter how seemingly uninteresting) is bereft of the chance to be beautiful, and thus to be redemptive.
Let’s take our cue from The Avett Brothers. Beauty is a powerful force for restoration. It can also be simple. And there is a day coming when the world that ought to be—will be. The world will be “the perfect space,” finally, truly, and wholly sacred space. May we have the humility to make the simple beautiful, and to grant our culture a foretaste of the world that will be.