The Common Good

Animal Collective: ‘With It’

David Portner of Animal Collective. Brandon Hook / Sojourners.

Oddly enough, whenever I think about eternal life, Animal Collective come to mind.

That might — well, almost certainly will — need some clarification because, as many Christians might be quick to point out, shouldn’t Jesus be the first person that comes to mind, or maybe living on some clouds in a golden city or something?

Yes and no. What comes to mind when I think about eternal life is painted by Frederick Buechner’s entry on the subject in his book Wishful Thinking, which I studied for a class in college. Buechner takes religious terms and eloquently and poetically explores what they might mean.

On eternal life he writes:

“What does it mean to be ‘with God’? It doesn't mean you have to be thinking about being with God, or feeling religious, or sitting in church, or saying your prayers, though it might mean any or all of these. It doesn't even mean you have to believe in God.

To say that a person is ‘with it’ is slang for saying that whether he's playing an electric guitar or just watching the clouds roll by, he's so caught up in what he's doing and so totally himself while he's doing it that there's none of him left over to be doing anything else with in the back of his head or out of the corner of his eye. It's slang for saying that the temperature where she is is about 40 degrees hotter than the temperature where she is not, and that whatever it is everybody's looking for, she's found it, and that if she were a flag and they ran her up the mast, we'd all have to salute whether we liked it or not. And the chances are we'd like it.

Being ‘with it’ may not be the same as being with God, but it comes close.

We think of eternal life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends. We would do better to think of it as what happens when life begins. … In other words, to live eternal life in the full and final sense is to be with God as Christ is with him, and with each other as Christ is with us.” (Beyond Words 107)

When I wasn’t chuckling to myself at everyone trying to dance to Animal Collective’s 9/8 time signature-driven “Lion in a Coma” a while back at the 9:30 in Washington, D.C., I was thinking about how engulfed in their music they were. If I remember correctly, they didn’t stop playing until the end of an hour-and-a-half show, at which point Avey Tare (David Portner) finally addressed the crowd to say “thanks.” Each song seamlessly floated into the next. I’ve never been to a Grateful Dead show, but I’ve heard it’s similar.

When I think of eternal life, I think of people who are “with it,” like Buechner mentioned. And Animal Collective are “with it” all the time.

The material from their newest album, Centipede Hz, isn’t as poppy or well liked as the hits off of their 2009 album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, which was evidenced by the fact that the crowd seemed to be view some of the Centipede Hz material as filler between Merriweather classics. And it was tough watching Portner sing a love song about his ex-wife (“The Purple Bottle”), no matter how good it is.

Animal Collective create intricate soundscapes that take themselves and their listeners into an experience that, whether they like it or not, is reminiscent — at the least — of an experiential look at eternal life that starts now.

Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.

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