With Apologies to Bob Marley: Redemption Songs

Redeem: transitive verb

1 a : to buy back : repurchase b : to get or win back
2 : to free from what distresses or harms: as a : to free from captivity by payment of ransom b: to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental c : to release from blame or debt: clear d : to free from the consequences of sin
3 : to change for the better : reform
4 : repair, restore
5 a : to free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby b (1) : to remove the obligation of by payment  (2) : to exchange for something of value c : to make good : fulfill
6 a : to atone for : expiate b (1) : to offset the bad effect of (2) : to make worthwhile : retrieve

Having been hosed down in Catholic teaching since conception, I suppose it’s inevitable that I’m fascinated by the theory of redemption. However, the idea of Jesus dying on the cross to redeem us/save us from our sins does not resonate with me on any level. Jesus seems too easy, which is perhaps the point: that there is a force of love and mercy so ginormous that it doesn’t matter how bad you fuck up, all will be forgiven. It’s an amazing and beautiful idea. I just can’t buy into it.

I’m uncomfortable with things that aren’t earned.

I think we have to redeem ourselves.

I have to redeem myself, anyway.

It’s a nebulous idea to me, redemption. None of the above definitions quite nails it. It’s more than atoning for sin, or acts of evil. It’s rising above the daily malaise and fuck-up-ery that keeps me from being my best me.

Music helps me feel a sense of renewal/possibility/hope/save-ability.  Feeling out music that has a redemptive quality is an oblique process. Generally these songs aren’t directly related to salvation. It’s just a feeling I get with certain songs that makes me think, “I can be okay. I will be okay. I will make myself okay.”  It’s such a simple word, okay. But as a concept sometimes it seems impossible.

Recently, I had a moment. They always come so unexpectedly.

I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never have.

I was feeling lowly, unworthy, useless. I listened to The Avett Brothers while I walked –  a song called “I and Love and You.” I seesaw on whether it’s a breakup song or if it contains the essence of redemptive renewal. A lot of redemption songs teeter on the edge of bittersweet, but ultimately hold themselves up.

This Avett Brothers song was appropriate for my interborrough travel:

“Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in

Are you aware the shape I’m in

My hands they shake, my head it spins

Ah Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in.”


I don’t know why this bridge crossing was redemptive.  It was dodging tourists and keeping my heels out of the wooden slats. I suppose it had something to do with the perfect blueness of the sky. A deeply richly blue sky always makes me feel that I am possible. That there is potential in my conceptualization of Megness.

This song, it’s how I feel a lot of the time. Raw. Like an open wound. I ruin things, I destroy my own potential for happiness, I sabotage myself in every way humanly possible. But I believe redemption is possible. I have to work at it. I have to focus on it. But I can do it.

I use music to buoy me up when I feel I might drown in my own failure. The only real thematic thread in the music is that of journeying, and in particular, of returning home after long travels. There is certainly a Prodigal Son vibe, which is ironic, because the Prodigal Son parable perfectly mirrors what I find so discomfiting about the greater Christian ideal:  the fuck-up who returns home and all is forgiven for no deserving reason.

A sense of home is deeply important to me.  It’s also something I completely lack.  My apartment is not home. My parents’ house is not home. I think people can be home, and I have glimpses of people who feel like home sometimes, but I don’t know that I feel like home to them, and the shutters close quickly on me.

These songs remind me that pain and struggle are necessary for growth.  When I lived in Los Angeles, I hated the constant sunshine. It’s so true that you need the bad to appreciate the good.  I don’t know why I have such difficulty translating this lesson to broader life – I get so bitter about the constant Sisyphean struggle toward success.  Of course, if one truly embraces pain, it wouldn’t really be difficult anymore, thus negating needing it to appreciate the blessings, and oh, do I smell burnt toast?

I started this “Songs of Redemption” list many moons ago, and it needs updating. My musical tastes have exploded recently, but I haven’t been focused enough in my listening to pick out a lot of alt/indie redemptively powered music.  So I’m asking you:  do you have any songs in which you can hear salvation?  What music makes you feel catharsis, like you can keep pushing up the road?

Here’s my list – so far:

  1. Save Me – Aimee Mann
  2. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Rolling Stones
  3. Blackbird – The Beatles
  4. A Sort of Homecoming – U2
  5. Don’t Look Back In Anger – Oasis
  6. Everything’s Not Lost – Coldplay
  7. Tiny Dancer – Elton John
  8. Long December – Counting Crows
  9. Learning to Fly – Tom Petty
  10. The Heart of the Matter – India.Arie version
  11. Arms and Hearts – The Hold Steady
  12. Slow Pony Home – The Weepies
  13. I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers
  14. Tea for the Tillerman – Cat Stevens
  15. The Wanderer – U2 featuring Johnny Cash
  16. Galileo – Indigo Girls
  17. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles

I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from Buddha lately.  Maybe that’s where my spiritual journey will take me next.

Buddha says, “Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.”

I’m down, Buddha. I’m trying.

Also: “It is better to travel well than to arrive.”

And so I travel on, attempting with every fiber of my being to focus on the journey instead of the destination.

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “With Apologies to Bob Marley: Redemption Songs

  1. Michael

    Both Sides Now – Dave Van Ronk
    Fake Empire – The National
    Forever – Chris Brown (seriously)
    Pretty Pathetic – Smoking Popes

  2. Clumsy – Our Lady Peace
    Breathe (2 am) – Anna Nalick
    Good Times Gonna Come – Aqualung
    Winding Road – Bonnie Somerville
    One Ray of Sunlight – Phantom Planet
    Breathe Me – Sia
    Cigarettes – The Wreckers
    And pretty much lots of Tegan & Sara

  3. Melissa

    Right now:

    The Beatles – Dear Prudence
    The Antlers – Wake
    K’naan – Take a Minute
    Paramore – Hallelujah
    KD Lang – Hallelujah
    Vampire Weekend – Run
    YES – I’ve Seen All Good People
    Ani DiFranco – Letter to a John
    Allman Brothers – Jessica
    Rusted Root – On My Way

  4. Judy Schadl

    The prodigal son is an example of a parent’s unconditional love and support. There is some love we can never earn or deserve, but we receive it anyway, UNCONDITIONALLY. God is such a parent. We can’t lose His love, although we may not accept it. But it’s there.
    Love,
    Mamacita

  5. Ryan

    Excellent list. Mine is by no means complete, but offhand…

    Peter Gabriel – I Grieve (UP album version)
    Peter Gabriel – Washing of the Water
    Peter Gabriel – Downside Up (OVO)
    YES – Wonderous Stories
    U2 – Magnificent
    DMB – Pig
    John Mayer – In Repair
    Sting – Wild, Wild Sea
    Ben Folds – Wandering
    Rush – Heresy

  6. I will probably ponder over my answer for a while, but here are a few. (I think some of them are worship songs, but I am redeemed, so that brings on worship)

    Matt DiVenti- She’ll Break Your Fall
    Chris Tomlin- Indescribable (esp the line “You know the thoughts of my heart, yet you love me the same”)
    Yes- Going For The One
    Beatles-Blackbird
    Frampton- Show me The Way
    Rush of Fools- When Our Hearts Sing

  7. Ryan

    All these yes fans!!! I’ve thought about this topic a lot since I first read it and also keep thinking o more songs, particularly Yes songs since so many of them are about redemption. Another that’s been bangin around my head lately is Jon & Vangelis – I’ll Find My Way Home. Likely cause I heard Mr. Anderson sing it this week. 😉

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