I mentioned Howard’s writing the other day. He did not disappoint with this critique of The Polyphonic Spree. He articulates some things about shared emotional/spiritual experience that I’ve long felt but never myself been able to put into words.
But because it carries the signifiers of New American Religion, it has an edge to it. So you have the choral robes, and the dechristianised hymns, with their pagan, numinous subjects – the Light, the Day, the Sun – and the slight sense of dissonance that produces, the slight feeling that this is somehow off, gives the whole thing a thrill, the slightest edge of the sinister. We’re afraid of cults, we are, but the cathartic act of participating in a sort of mass role-playing, of being in a Revival Meeting with no actual revival, has a frisson to it. A sense of the perverse. It doesn’t matter how goofy and benign the Polyphonic Spree were, their gigs felt the closest you could get to the hysteria of charismatic religion without having to believe. You could go wild, feel moved by the spirit, worship the sun, and possibly even have a transcendent experience, and then go home and, you know, not have to be in a religion.
(It also begins with a story about surviving a pentecostal meeting that I found somewhat humorous.)