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[su_note note_color=”#d5d5d5″ text_color=”#91201f”]Mr. & Mrs. Garrett Soucy’s Wayword is graciously available free to Christ and Pop Culture members through our partnership with the artists.[/su_note]
With the arrival of electric technology, man has extended, or set outside himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself. To the degree that this is so, it is a development that suggests a desperate suicidal autoamputation, as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanism. – Marshall McLuhan
Wayword, an album by Mr & Mrs. Garrett Soucy, provides a contemporary liturgy for citizens of the digital world, believers and skeptics alike. The album takes as its text the work of Marshall McLuhan, an academic and media analyst who wrote Understanding Media, published in 1964.
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) is credited as being among the first theorists to recognize that technological immersion would have an altering effect on human nature. Even though McLuhan was well into middle age when he became a publishing sensation, hippies and other counterculture types loved him. This might have been because he was among the few members of the establishment who believed, just as much as they did, that the culture was undergoing a seismic shift — and because much of what he wrote sounds even better when read out loud after a nice long toke.With the release of Wayword, Mr & Mrs. Garrett Soucy give listeners a stripped-down liturgy that is perfect for the digital age.
Each song on Wayword, written and performed by band members Garrett and Siiri Soucy, takes McLuhan’s life of faith (he was a staunch Catholic) and work as its source. This ranges from direct McLuhan quotes (the “Living Conformists and Dead Troublemakers” of the first song’s title) to playing off his ideas on technology as an extension of the body. This is fitting, since the album debuted as a project at last year’s McLuhan’s Faith and Works Conference .
The strangest and best part about this concept album on technology is how low-tech it is, how very folk.The album sounds as if it was recorded in a prayer closet, lit only by flickering votives and decorated by a few hand-carved icons purchased on Etsy. The quavering vocals of Garrett and Sirri Soucy are usually accompanied by nothing more than a single guitar, the lines occasionally descending into something approaching a whisper. Even the relatively upbeat song “In Christ Is Where East Meets West”, with its organ-like accordion accompaniment, ends up sounding as much like a hymn as anything else.
The first prayer/song takes the form of a plea. “Don’t let the juggernaut roll over me”, the Soucys sing. Anyone who has spent time on Twitter understands this particular cry of the heart. This refrain is appropriate for the morning ritual of even the most profane: wake up, have coffee and beg the god of this age, technology, to leave one unconsumed. Don’t let the juggernaut roll over me.
The song goes on to identify specific exercises of restraint, from the vow to refuse to “buy clothes from anyone with a Grammy” to the lament brought about by an especially successful viral social media post. “With 700,000 hits, you’d think I remember what I said/read.”
A lament of the ephemeral, a longing for the eternal.
The album perfectly captures the weird tension that exists between the primitive and the (perceived) sophistications of life in the digital age. From the track “Ladies Or Gentlemen”: Update the Profile/ Alert the village/ I have created me/In my own image.
As those who give in to the urge to post regularly on Facebook can attest, the call to alert the village with updates from one’s quotidian happenings is endlessly compelling. Soucy’s line also neatly offers an allusion to McLuhan’s famous phrase, “global village” –which turned out to be an apt description of the world wide web if there ever was one.
Wayword, like McLuhan’s work itself, has a prophetic cast. The connecting thread between songs is the idea of the written word itself, the alphabet providing the first technological advance that took man toward the frontier of language. Technological advances are equated with progress, and progress is equated with something better. The Soucys point out that this is not necessarily the case. I don’t put my hope in the next generation. /I don’t think they have a better chance than mine./ I think somebody’d better tell them/That progress just means onward/They’ve been assuming/It means upward all this time.
So where do human beings go from here? What are we pressing towards (or away from)? With Wayword, Garrett and Siiri Soucy don’t provide answers, just ritual. Wayword is a liturgy that opens its service with the plea to keep the juggernaut at bay, and it closes with a benediction in the final track, “To Read Is to Guess”: It’s a perilous task/To respond when asked/In speech or in print. /The word and its might/Let there be light.
The final phrase of the album are the words that began it all in the Biblical account of creation. No matter how advanced we are, we are right back where we started: desperately in need of illumination. The Soucys sing each word of the last phrase of the last song on the album slowly, with all the finality, and maybe even resignation, of a prophet. Prophets know they will probably not be heeded, but are compelled to speak truth anyway. Let there be light.
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