He don’t know what it means to love someone.

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– `Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” 

John 12:20-27

Ted Rodgers, of blessed memory, was a punk rocker. Somehow, the fact that by the end of his life he was teaching business accounting to MBA students at Emory University never diminished his punk credibility in my mind. That says something about Ted, of course, but it also says something about what it means to be punk. Scuffed Doc Marten 1460’s are perhaps a necessary but definitely not sufficient element to punk identity. True punk identity demands authenticity and commitment, and absent that, a person can only be described with the most despicable term in the punk lexicon: poseur1. Ted was not a poseur.

Neither, it seems, was Kurt Cobain. In the midst of his personal mental health struggles and addiction, Cobain was clearly concerned about whether his commitment to authenticity was something he could maintain. That he was true to the raw punk aesthetic which for so many of us served as a needed counterpoint to a seemingly vapid popular culture was clear to me when I heard the opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” come ripping through the radio speakers in my Chevette. How in the world did the music that propelled Ted, me, and countless other late adolescent boys into each other at high speed through the vortex of a mosh pit make it onto the radio?

Cobain may have wondered the same thing and worried that as more and more flannel shirts and Vans showed up in Pi Kappa Alpha houses that fewer and fewer of his listeners really appreciated the critique of popular culture that he was offering. Even worse, perhaps, may have been the possibility that somehow the critique was becoming the culture. Did they not understand that he was talking about them specifically?

From the account of his interaction with Philip and Andrew, it seems like Jesus may have had similar concerns about interacting with Greek life. He doesn’t even have to meet this particular fraternity of young men to sense that they might not be committed to an authentic journey toward the truth2. Once the poseurs show up, the scene is dead. Jesus can feel it slipping away.

This may sound like I have constructed an insufferable Hipster Jesus who was into Passover before it was cool. And yeah, maybe a little bit, but I think there’s something more to it. I’m suggesting that maybe Jesus didn’t want to be famous for simply being famous. (He was famous by this point. He had just ridden into town in a mock triumphal entry which may have served as a needed contrast to the vapid imperial culture.) This was not supposed to be about him per se, but about the reconciling work that is happening through him. It’s the name of love that he wants to glorify, not himself.

But that is not something the Greeks can simply put on like a pair of artfully torn jeans. They have to be willing to experience it in the vortex of life that sometimes sends us crashing into each other at high speed3. And once you’ve experienced it, the clothing becomes incidental to the expression. Take, for instance, a genre of music that could be perceived as on the pole farthest from grunge as one might find: country and western. We’re talking surface level popular perceptions here trolls, so don’t come at me with your Waylons and Willies.

Or maybe do come at me, at least with your Waylons. One specific Waylon, reincarnated in the voice of Sturgill Simpson. I don’t know what Sturgill did to get those vocal chords, but I hope it won’t involve radiation treatments at some future date. It would be one thing — a beautiful thing, but still a singular thing — if Sturgill Simpson used that voice to re-enact the music of Waylon Jennings for nostalgic fans. What he does, however, is commit the authenticity of that voice to a journey toward the truth, wherever it happens to be in bloom.

  1. I imagine Fred Armisen can render this term with more late 1980’s accuracy than any performer working today. ↩︎
  2. Having recently written about this authentic journey and the necessity of surrender that it involves, I won’t rehash that here. If you’re dead-seed curious, please check out this previous post. ↩︎
  3. Nothing says “love” to a late adolescent boy like slamming his body into that of his best friend, whether that takes place in the context of an athletic contest or a hardcore show. ↩︎