RAW LIKE SUFI mewithoutYou

Pondering Aaron Weiss
and his Christian-no-Christian, freegan-not-freegan band.

 

By RANDY HARWARD

 

Christian-not-Christian bands are a dime a dozen these days,
now that calling oneself a follower of Christ carries automatic guilt-by-association:
If you’re into Jeebus, you’re a right-wing lunatic, a pushy, deluded,
intolerant, mouth-breather without a salient word to say. So that many
Christian artists employ pronoun obfuscation (masking love for Jesus as love
for Jenny) and adopt a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ philosophy ain’t so surprising.
What is, is that some among them endeavor to be truly Christ-like, and deserve
at least the benefit of the doubt.

 

Aaron Weiss, singer and songwriter in Philly-based
mewithoutYou-despite the slavish worship implied by his band’s name-is one such
Christian-not-Christian.

 

Frankly, I wouldn’t know about mwY if their publicist wasn’t
less flack than fan. Her pitch was sensational, but honest. Weiss and his
bandmates might be Christians, but there’s much more to them than that. They’re
freegans, fringe vegans who eschew consumerism as much as adopt a cruelty- and
animal-free diet. Freegans forage-call it strategic dumpster-diving-for
sustenance, looking in supermarket and restaurant trash receptacles for unspoiled
cast-off sundries, tossed because the freshness or ‘born-on’ date has passed. More
importantly, my friend said, the music kicks ass. As proof, she sent a link to
the band’s “January 1979” video on YouTube.

 

From an editorial perspective, the sensational stuff was
enough. Plenty of story in Jesus-lovin’ dumpster-divers-even if the music
wasn’t that hot, there’s a cheap n’ easy but compelling front-of-book piece:
“mewithoutYou’s Top Five Dumpster Dives: Where to Find the Best Unspoiled
Eats.” Readers get a swift, satisfying read; band gets publicity, mag fills
space with something besides ubiquitous Q&As and short profiles. But the song
was something else.

 

Feedback, then a pumping bass line and subtle atmospheric
guitar chords prefaced a line sung with manic pain: “January, 1979/I saw a
terrible crime/and I couldn’t help but laugh.” The author’s cynicism and crisis
reflected the tortured writings of former Pedro the Lion honcho David Bazan,
who famously loved-and may have left-the Lord. The rest of the verse runs past
fast, right up to a left-turn refrain, a chant redolent of the sycophantic
lyrics of Christian bands that try to please the flock while serving up ambush
evangelism to secular fans. Weiss and the band intone, “IIIIII will beeeeee
your serrrrr-vant” repeatedly-but it’s not an empty devotional.

 

“January 1979” is about what it means to want to be a
servant of God, and therefore man, but also be keenly aware of one’s own problems,
and how we humans, self-centered by nature, prioritize our own above others’.
If Weiss is supposed to be a servant, why didn’t he automatically serve? Why
did he laugh? Clearly, there is unspoiled meat in the dumpster behind
mewithoutYou.

 

I was told Weiss might be tough to track down since, as a
freegan, he takes shelter where it avails itself and carries no phone. Luckily,
the band had a string of off days at home in Philadelphia. I discovered, after trying his
brother’s cell phone (!), that Weiss was at his parents’ residence. Turns out that
he’s the only freegan in the band and currently wonders if it’s not “a selfish
pursuit.”

 

Huh? The principles of freeganism, and certainly true
Christianity, entail selflessness. How could he live that altruistic lifestyle,
forsaking the comforts of central air, fresh food, constant contact and a world
of information at your fingertips, and believe he’s selfish? “It might be
[driven by] my ego,” he explains. ‘It,’ meaning the endeavor to be Christ-like,
like it would make him “better than everyone else.”

 

That’s where Weiss and mewithoutYou get really interesting.
Weiss admits he’s reconsidering freeganism because it may actually lead him to
a less-than-Christ-like end, ironically trapped in pride. He’s not working an
angle, playing with pronouns, looking for credibility on two opposing fronts.
In fact, he-like Bazan-is on a constant quest for truth, trying to be the best
man he can be, even if that person is a non-traditional version of Christ. Which,
all told, wouldn’t be so bad, because Christ is just one role model in Weiss’
life.

 

“I was raised in a household where Judaism and Islam were
also taught,” he says. “I had a very well-rounded upbringing.” As well,
mewithoutYou’s songs have always had a foot in what Christians would view as
the cultish world of Sufi mysticism-even more so on the band’s new album It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a
Dream! It’s Alright!
(Tooth and Nail). Telling title, huh? Well, Weiss sees
the rampant lunacy, deception, and surrealism of this life, and what some may
call the folly of belief-but that’s okay. By incorporating a little of
everything into his philosophy-and incidentally, his music, which on the new
record dials down the emo-indie drama and mines the subtle, still textured, acoustic
territory of Neutral Milk Hotel-he feels he’s making progress in his journey to
“being the best person I can be.”

 

Maybe one day that’s what we’ll think of when someone admits
to being spiritual.

 

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