the mysterious bodies of robbie williams

11 10 2009

There is the exciting, the dramatic, the wonderful. There is the tragic, the desperate, the dangerous. Then there is the in-between. The mundane. The ordinary. Which is probably what happens to most of us, most of the time. Maybe it is what we do with the mundane that defines how we lives our lives. One thing we can do with the mundane, the imperfect, the ordinary, is to pretend it is something more. Because after all, the mundane is a bit… mundane.

Spot the hype?

Spot the hype?

The X Factor is a great example. It turns a pretty mundane singing contest into something dramatic, over-powering, so stuffed full of hype and bright lights, loud music, choreographed cheering, enthusiastic voice-overs and scripted fall-outs between the judges that it appears to be exciting – and, if you like that sort of thing, actually becomes exciting. Is exciting.

Appearing on the X Factor and performing his new single “Bodies” was Robbie Williams. I like Robbie – he is on my list of interesting people to have dinner with. The over-hyped introduction seemed pointless because he needs no hype. He is cheeky, vulnerable and likeable, a born performer, and at his best definitely has the X factor so many crave.

So what is his new single about then? Called “Bodies”, the memorable riff is the unexpected variations of questioning whether Jesus really died for me. The song itself at first seems to be a version of the X Factor skill, making the mundane seem fantastic; in Robbie’s case, make something that is meaningless seem to be profound. However, looking at it further, there is actually something deep there, something of meaning that isn’t actually unexpected, coming as it does from the tortured soul of Robbie.

The X factor

The X factor

The bridge contains the key: “All we’ve ever wanted/Is to look good naked/Hope that someone can take it/God save me rejection/From my reflection/I want perfection.” The song journals his quest for purity, for peace, for a return to a “garden of Eden” or Buddhist-enlightenment-lite idealism where everything is good.

In the first verse he has seen the good things, and they have been taken away. In the second verse he is enjoying “living like a deity”, and he is not sure if it is anything to do with Jesus or not. The chorus refers to the Bodhi tree, sacred in Buddhism as the tree of enlightenment that the Buddha sat under. Then comes the bridge, about wanting to look good naked. I think Robbie has always wanted to be accepted for who he is; he has that need we all have for unconditional acceptance. He wants perfection; he wants his reflection to be perfect. Not ordinary. Not mundane. But perfect. His reference to Jesus dying for him is about that – he doesn’t feel healed, perfect, restored, so what was Jesus’ death all about?

compost of transforming life

compost of transforming life

Did Jesus die for him? I would say: of course he did. He would love to take and transform Robbie’s life – and ours – turning the mundane and ordinary, the painful and the tragic into something that is good, perfect – in religious language, sanctified. That does indeed come through Jesus death, and his resurrection. Not that we live like a deity; not that we reach some sort of divine enlightenment under a Bodhi tree; not that we become a part of God. But that we have the Spirit of God living in us, who transforms our lives like the gardeners compost, turning the dead and decaying into fresh, new life. Not raptured, as he sings in verse three, but transformed. That happens only as we also sacrifice, as we take up our cross and follow Jesus. In the Bible, it is called dying to self. It cannot come simply by wishing it to be true, but by earthy, sacrificial living. Then we can show off our beautiful new transformed and renewed bodies. In the power of the Spirit, that is true life.

Let’s hope this goes to number one – profound questions like these, mysterious as they are, should feature more often in our mundane and ordinary music charts.


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