O.A.R. and the “Duende”

I attended my first secular concert as a senior in high school. Up until that point, I had gone to a few concerts here and there, but only of the CCM variety; I wildly crowd-surfed at a Billy Graham crusade, and cried tears of joy (or guilt?) on the back row of a Steven Curtis Chapman concert. I even met the lead singer of Audio Adrenaline at Chuck’s Hamburgers after one of their concerts, and to my secret pleasure, he told me I should be a singer because my speaking voice was like his! In the quiet corners of my Subaru, I still hold on to that dream…

As a junior in high school, I approached a friend of mine who had begun dipping his toes in the dark, cool pools of unholy rhythms and lyrics. I asked him to burn me a CD of some of his favorite music. As I ripped the music onto my PC, I proudly and rebelliously titled the name of this curated album, “Secular Mix.” A tinge of pleasure and a hint of guilt rushed through my fingertips as I placed each song into this scandalous folder.

I wore out the speakers of my ’94 Pathfinder with these songs of teenage angst, love, and sex. When I hear one of those songs to this day, each word and beat flows through my senses, and the naïve wonder of a counterfeit transgression fills me with a subtle glee.

But, this concert in 2005 was something of a different sort, and for me, this band was of a different sort. While my original request for this other music was to fulfill my teenage rebellion quota against the Man (particularly, my perception of my faith), standing at the very front of the Gypsy Tea Room with a sharpied X on my clean, pristine hands, sin, guilt, and rebellion were far from my consciousness.

O.A.R. (of a revolution) was on tour for their Stories of a Stranger album. The first time I heard a song on this album, or any of their songs for that matter, was on the car ride to the concert, crammed between 7 other buddies, in a shabby, old Suburban we borrowed from one of our parents.

After the opening act left the stage – with their eccentric bassist (redundant?) who donned long, stringy hair half covering his tight, lipped eyes as he rocked the bass with legs spread like a sprinter on the blocks, but with shoulder arched back, keeping his body erect – the lights dimmed.

The energy pressed hard against me as O.A.R. walked onto the stage in the cloak of darkness. Bodies pushed slowly forward, and the raising smoke from the congregation formed silhouettes of the band and their instruments.

Bum, bum, bum-um began the bassist with a backbeat from the drums pacing in the background. A saxophone soon began mimicking the established beat, and an electric guitar jumped in.

Key change.

The lights shot up and glimmered against my eyes. The saxohphone took the lead and propelled the song into its first verse.

Eyes closed, with a slight sway to his hips, an expression of joy on his face, and a flicker of sorrow in his voice, the lead singer strummed his guitar and began to sing:

Listen here, this will only be
A small portion of your lifetime
That you’ll sacrifice for me

Ok, Marc, I will…

And I did for two hours.

Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’ So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. — Garcia Lorca

I experienced this duende that night in Deep Ellum. Lorca goes on to explain the force that provides the substance of art allows us to also escape from this world. In some ways, that is what happened to me as I felt, heard, and embodied this new, “secular” music – an escape. But, an escape is not simply a removal into nothingness. It is a movement into something else. Generally, I think Lorca would say you escape into the creation of a new form of art that flows out of this unexplainable experience. You are compelled to create something new with the hope of making sense of the duende’s work rising out of you.

While a new art form wasn’t generated out of my experience at the O.A.R. concert my senior year of high school, I was opened to something new: a new form of worship.

The duende has a limitless hold…[like] an authentic religious drama, where in the same manner as in the Mass, a God is sacrificed to, and adored.

At the foot of a secular Jew, soaked in the haze of sour smoke and pressured by a drunk 20something to to give myself to her for a closer spot to the stage, I adored our Lord in a completely foreign and uncommon way. In the midst of someone who let the duende rise up in them in order to create something beautiful, I experienced the “mysterious force” of God’s grace.

In the words of Marc, the lead singer of O.A.R., I felt, without consciously knowing in the words of their opening song, the deunde rising up in me a new way to worship. I plead without the use of words —

Reign on love
Reign on love
Reign on love
Reign on love

Come on down, come on down
Reign on, reign on
Come on down, come on down
Reign on, bring it down on me

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