Sunday, February 19, 2017

Christina Grimmie Won't Be Invisible. Her Light Blazes On.

Christina Grimmie's first posthumous single, Invisible, was released by UMG/Republic Records on Friday. Along with it came news that Side B, the companion to last year's EP Side A, would appear next month.

The strong electronic music style represents yet another direction for her, and she takes hold of it with a wonderful brightness and originality. The large spectrum of sounds and variations of beat are a rich setting for her brilliant voice as it soars beautifully with all the colors and power and gracefulness we have come to know and love. And more.

It's an exciting introduction to this final phase of her musical career.

Then there are the striking lyrics to this anthem that rings with the persistence of someone who refuses to be put down by the negativity of another person.

The lyrics, indeed... wow! There is something deeply dramatic going on here.

The song is about a girl and a boy that she once trusted in some way, enough to allow herself to be vulnerable and open to him ("I thought you were worth it / Pulling back the curtain / I see why I was hurting, boy"). He tried to make her "disappear" or even die, at least metaphorically, but she insists that this is not going to happen ("I won't be another ghost / No, I won't be invisible / You see me everywhere you go").

Indeed, this "boy" is not the master of her existence ("I don't need your permission / to go on existing with or without you, boy"). She will not be defeated by his effort to put her down; rather she will go on with a presence that is stronger than ever. The bridge of the song is enough to give you chills down the spine. She sings these words twice, transitioning with a crescendo into the finale:

"I won't be diminished, eclipsed, or hidden
You're gonna see my light blaze black to life
Like the phoenix rise."

"You're gonna see my light blaze back to life like the phoenix rise."

On the surface this appears to be a song about a girl breaking free from a bad relationship that had descended to the level of emotional abuse, a girl who is determined not to be smothered by the boy who refuses to respect her humanity. Sure. I don't want to take anything away from this obvious meaning.

But it's striking how the life and death imagery is so strong. It's expressed as a struggle against being "eclipsed," becoming a "ghost," becoming "invisible." What is at stake is the determination "to go on existing" and to be the opposite of invisible, to be present, to have an impact on reality.

Then there is the phoenix. In fact, the phoenix is a powerful symbol both in classical mythology and in Christianity, where it is a reference to the resurrection, to the triumph of eternal life over death in Jesus Christ and those who belong to him. Indeed, the sharing in Christ's resurrected and glorified life has an impact even on this present age, and those who have gone to be with the Lord remain with us even as he remains with us in his presence and his power.

We're gonna see her light blaze back to life like the phoenix rise. Wow!

It's remarkable how this song resonates symbolically with the strange and awful event that took place a few months after it was recorded. It almost sounds like an "answer" from her in opposition to the inscrutable violence that tried to destroy her (and that, ironically, has made her in a very painful sense "invisible" to our earthly eyes -- because we walk in the darkness of faith, whereas she says "now you see me with the lights on").

In spite of the occasional spunky references to the "boy," it almost seems as though she is speaking to us, reassuring us, strengthening our hope in the One she has loved and continues to love. In another sense, we should remember that Christina lived her whole life 'opening her arms' with trust, letting herself be vulnerable. She was always offering herself, loving others whatever the risk might be. Of course, she was very human, with all the flaws and complexities of an ordinary life, as well as the beauty and special challenges of a prodigious musical talent: the ambition, the sensitivity, the energy, and the suffering that go with being an artist. And she had a unique gift and calling to communicate love with the simplest words and gestures, and the grace of a compassion and a companionship that reached out to people all over the world, that welcomed everyone but especially teenage kids who needed encouragement or who felt lonely, lost, hopeless, afraid, rejected, or forgotten. By living her life, by just being true to her real self, Christina made this love present in those very ordinary places where 21st century kids go to search for meaning and affirmation.

I tend to exaggerate things, and I don't want to do that here. I want to point to the mystery here: a grace that was "incarnate" in the real life of this girl from New Jersey, who was a regular kid with all the regular problems of any girl her age, all the incoherence, all the "shocking" mundane peculiarities of being human, along with her outstanding musical talent. I do not want to dress up Christina as an "angel" or a "saint" in the ethereal and distant, "unfamiliar" way we tend to think of such things. But I want to point to this secret fire, this extraordinary love that was inserted, like a hidden diamond, within all her ordinary human expressions, her quirks, her goofiness, her passion for music, her love for her family and friends and food and video games, her YouTube creations, songs, recordings, concerts, everything. This gift was easy to ignore or to miss entirely, but precious to those who discovered it.

This vocation that led her to invest herself so deeply, to offer herself in love, to take the risks of gratuitous love, must have weighed heavily on her in ways that no one ever knew. As a Christian, however, she knew first of all that she was loved with an everlasting love. This was the source of her hope, her courage, her willingness to keep getting up and keep going, to be faithful to her vocation, to risk letting her "light blaze back to life" even when it was painful. Christina was hurt in many ways in her life, and no doubt made plenty of mistakes and bad judgments, indulged in vanity and folly, committed sins and begged for forgiveness. We all carry the treasure of Christ's love in our frail earthen vessels. Christina carried this treasure that was luminous and radiant for the sake of the world; she carried it in her utterly fragile humanity, entirely dependent on His grace every day. She was called to be a witness to this great love, and she often fell short but she never gave up. And in that final moment, in the face of violence, she didn't give up. She opened her arms. She refused to be invisible. She refused to stop loving.

Getting back to the song: it's as if she is reassuring us with these words that she hasn't stopped loving with that remarkable, unconditional love that even now personally touches people. Her light still blazes. She shines on, this bright beautiful star.

Of course, I'm not saying she intended to convey this level of symbolism when she originally wrote the song. All these images work on the most obvious level of meaning as strong and dramatic metaphors. I wouldn't blame anyone if they said, "Hey, Professor JJ, come on... aren't you stretching this a bit too far? It's just a dubsteppy pop song... a three minute song, a dance song, it's fun, it's spunky, it's a bounce-back-after-a-bad-relationship song. Aren't you just over analyzing it? You know, like you tend to over analyse everything!"

Am I? Well, it's true that I over analyse things. It's also true that reality is mysterious. In any case, I'm not the only one listening to this song and going, "What? Whoa!" Ultimately, I don't believe in mere coincidence in this strange universe. In any case, I think we're glad to hear her sing these words of tremendous affirmation at this time. We're glad to hear her voice.

She's still surprising us even now, this "blazing light" that keeps shining.