Monday, January 09, 2006

Thoughts From the Moral High Ground

Here’s an interesting quote:

"A good artist should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable"

I’m not too sure just how I fit on that. I’ve thought about it for many years, even though I’d just recently heard it. But I’ve spent a long time contemplating the concept.

When I first thought I wanted to do LDS rock music, it was back in the early ‘80s. It was right around the time of my mission. For the next many years, I wanted to shake my fist at the Mormons and really rock their world. They were living wrong, and I was gonna show them just how!

In retrospect, it was a pretty typical response to life from a 20-something-er.

Over the years, I’ve decided that there’s some good to be said for making music that comforts the afflicted. Especially if I’m the one that’s afflicted. As I look at my best tunes, time and again, they’re written to teach ME something, to help ME get through a tough time.

Still, I do have a few “afflict the comfortable” tunes in my arsenal. “Millstones”, “Out of the Chapel”, “Dance With the Devil”, and a few others are all about shaking up the calm.

One of my personal all-time favorites, “Long-Haired Weirdo” is a classic example of Mark Afflicting the Comfortable.

But then, again, there’s a few I’ve written that comfort the afflicted as well. My newest one, “How Beautiful” is one of these. Both “Here in Me”, and “He’s Out There” are written that same way. With different approaches, lyrical and musical, you could also consider “The Taker”, and “One United Generation” to comfort the afflicted.

One of the problems I have with so much LDS art, though, is that there’s a strong tendency to avoid both sides of this particular issue and to simply “Comfort the Comfortable”. And while that’s nice and pleasant, it doesn’t make for great art.

Another problem I have with the original quote is that the REAL original quote goes like this: “In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.” It’s attributed to economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Guardian (London, 28 July 1989)

The problem that I have with that is that often in my life I’ve set myself up to crusade against something I perceived as wrong only to find out that I was the one wrong. Perspectives can change, points of view shift. What I thought was true turned out to be a shadow of a real truth.

So, I have to be more cautious now, when I choose my crusades. But, frankly, there are still some things that will get me up on my high horse.

Mark Hansen


  1. Long be my heart with such memories filled,

    Like a vase with roses long since distilled.

    You can break you can shatter the vase if you will.

    But the sent of the roses will hang around still.

    --Isn't that what your music is like?

  2. Wow, to Lisa!

    Mark, terrific post. I envy folks like you who hear unwritten words and music and who can take thier own and others experiences and somehow make them fit another being so well it does bring them comfort or challenge.

    I have heard that one can know the artist by what they create. I always put this in an Eternal or Divine case, seeing the world and knowing Who created it. I believe the world to be an amazing space, however it is varied and textured and challenging as well. There are storms and drought and on occasion nature shakes her fist. All of these things were created by the Lord; perhaps to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

    I think the challenge for s'mee is to make sure I do not cross the line from affliction or making aware to offence or mocking. It is difficult for me to do those within my art. I am better at copying than creating in this stage of my talent, but still must choose wisely.

    Thanks again for a wonderful and thought provoking post.



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