by James M. Manheim
"You know, Jan," the president of a Christian record label once complained to Detroit-area songwriter Jan Krist, "if you would just mention Jesus in your music, we could all make a lot of money." Instead, Krist parted ways with the label, and the only time Jesus gets mentioned on Krist's current album, Wounded Me, Wounded You, comes when she compares herself with a southern acquaintance who "sings about how he was raised / Singing songs of Jesus' love, living in a state of grace." Krist, on the other hand, comes "from the north, up near Detroit, Michigan / And I have struggled all my life, living in a state of sin."
Krist's music has affinities with that of Sam Phillips, who once sang that "I need love, not the political church." In one song she even lists someone who "prays to God / That his kingdom come" right after someone who takes a life or buys a gun. Love, usually imperfect, is her most common topic. "We all fail at love," she sings, "and that's just the simple truth." Once in a while, she comes up with a straightforward and powerful romantic image, such as "two hearts clicking like a hundred clocks."
God isn't mentioned much, either. Yet Krist hasn't renounced Christian ideas. All of her music has a spiritual undertone, and one way she weaves Christian themes into her music is quite unusual in the historical scheme of things. Reversing a practice used in music for centuries, going back to Johann Sebastian Bach, that appropriates music of secular passion to describe religious feeling, Krist sometimes uses religious concepts to describe love relationships. "Judgment Day" has the flash, crash, and thunder appropriate to its subject: "I can go to hell, that's what you say. / Here we are: Judgment Day." Her view of love's inherent imperfection always seems tinged with the idea of original sin.
Krist writes about a variety of other topics as well. She's
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