42. Song No. 304: “Amen,” Gogol Bordello
Pura Vida Conspiracy, 2013
As much as I love Gogol Bordello, I gravitate to one of their albums more than all their others combined, which has denied me the opportunity to love all of their stuff as much as it deserves.
I have only listened to Pura Vida Conspiracy a handful of times over the years, which I now know is criminally negligent. I love love LOVE the exuberant, unpolished and frantically orchestrated chaos of Gypsy Punks but getting to know the band as they matured and settled into a sound that’s as polished as they get has been such a treat. If Gypsy Punks was an all-out bacchanalia with some occasional though impassioned political discourse punctuating its hedonistic celebration of being alive and hot blooded, Pura Vida Conspiracy has channeled and redirected all of that controlled energy into what it means to be a living branch on the tree of life.
I don’t care for religion, but I mean that in the earthliest possible sense. I don’t agree with what society and power structures have done to religion, and the thoroughly modern weaponization of religious dogma turns me off from subscribing to one particular faith. I go through phases of looking for a Gnostic church near me but never really do anything with whatever information I find; a few articles had me immersed in Judaism for a spell not that long ago and I found a gobsmackingly tremendous amount of peace inside a synagogue because of it–which is to say that I am not hostile to religion, I just don’t see its place in my life. I guess I’m just apathetic to something that feels like it’s for other people more than it is for me.
But I love the palpable mysticism of Old World religions, whether it’s my husband’s family’s lapsed Catholicism having been refined into a superstitious but earnestly big-hearted appeal to influence the uncontrollable or the Eastern European version of that same impulse that weaves its way throughout Gogol Bordello’s music no matter the album. There is something magical about older, lived-in religion that appeals to me as the polar opposite of the WASPy sterility and religious hypocrisy that informed the Christianity of my youth, and I think it’s the honesty of being ruled by an otherworldly religion close enough to grasp at instead of dressing it up in inaccessible language and distracting formality and emphasizing judgement rather than unity that appeals to me, especially when matters of the spirit were never meant to be caged up indoors.
Religion couched in personal cycles exemplifies a big-picture connectivity that makes me positively giddy, and “Amen” beautifully honors the karmic recycling of the soul and the give and take that moors it to its kindred partners across every life they cycle through together, for better or for worse.
Much like the way the forest begins flat until it gains dimension and recognizable features with time, most albums don’t immediately assert their unique characteristics and charm. Like this one. And then “Amen” came on and it grabbed my attention with
Someone told me, ‘Every lifetime
We meet same circle of souls
To say thank you or to say sorry
And once again exchange our roles’
Ooooohhhh, the goosebumps this gives me. I love the idea of relationships evolving and shifting over and over with each lifetime. Atemporal bonds guaranteeing that two people snap back to each other eventually makes personal trajectories seem so much more deliberate and significant, and there’s something comforting in knowing that you don’t need closure in this life when you’ll meet again in the next one. And that suddenly limitless connection recontextualizes petty squabbles into the insignificant hiccups they ought to be.
And then I obsessively listened to the song so much that I started to find newly emergent and slowly familiar footholds, first in this song then among the album it calls home. Like, the song begins with this bit of poetry about never-ending cosmic undulations:
On meridians of madness
On the parallels of love
We try hard, run from each other
But our work is never done
MY HEART. THESE CHILLS. Goodbye is so much easier when you know it’s just a finite farewell that you’ll forget the pain of the next time you’re reintroduced. Thinking of relationships as living, breathing eternal works in progress is the kind of perspective we need more of it, both as a kindness to others and as a comfort to ourselves.
The whole album is filled with gems and the same lovely, comforting insights that punctuate “Amen.” Gogol Bordello is one of the few bands I follow on social media because I adore the messages and ideals they embrace and espouse, so it shouldn’t surprise me that OF COURSE they’re capable of lyrics that resonate deeply with me, too.