Thursday, August 10, 2017

Christina Grimmie: The Sorrow Remains

I was going to write some notes on the posthumous album of Christina Grimmie tonight. But after two months of listening to the music, it's still hard to articulate my thoughts about it. The range of emotion evoked by this album remains overwhelming for me.

I cannot get beyond the aching, poignant perception of these last recordings: the combination of amazement at a stunning artistry in the process of blossoming into maturity and the pathos of the awful silence that haunts these songs, because we know that she will never sing them live or cheerfully appear on YouTube and dazzle us with stripped down piano-and-vocal versions of any of them.

Her family and friends did a remarkable job putting together some of the songs she had prepared in the period prior to her death 14 months ago, when she was murdered by a deranged gunman at a meet-and-greet. The result is a rich musical achievement that solidifies further her legacy, but is not currently receiving the attention it deserves.

The album appeared on the eve of the first anniversary of Christina's death, charted on iTunes for a short time, and then (it seems to me, at least) disappeared from the view of the music world. Maybe we're not ready for it yet.

Team Grimmie is more ready and more appreciative than anyone. But even Team Grimmie--her dedicated international following, her group of "frands" (as she always called them) who connected with her through YouTube and digital media and at concerts, who supported and (being mostly teens) emulated her--is still processing the traumatic and strange experience of her death at the age of only 22.

Older folks are less ready. It is perhaps especially hard for old music hacks like me, who are parents of teenagers, who were stunned when they realized that this sweet kid on YouTube was doing something unique with the contemporary pop music that had never interested them before, bending and stretching it in new ways by the sheer force of her enormous talent and the radiance of her personality.

How do we get used to her death in the face of the powerful vitality of this new album?

If you love Christina and you love music, you can't escape the rush of questions about the fragility of life, the value of art, and the meaning of death when you listen to it.

In light of these aching questions, the album is appropriately titled All is Vanity (from the book of Ecclesiastes and the tattoo on her forearm). It is a collection that brings together several of the distinctive styles that Christina was developing in the last years of her tragically brief career. She always loved electronica, and the tech music comes out as her main template here. We might miss the simplicity of her melodious piano arrangements, but not really, because all the songs are driven by her soaring voice.

Contemporary pop and EDM styles are harnessed to create the atmosphere for her vocals which combine a classic, soulful R&B sound with her utterly unique stratospheric sonic gymnastics. She croons and hums and belts up and down her three-and-a-half octave range (and more) with a flawless pitch and the vocal control that Graham Nash thought was so remarkable that he described it as "insane" on season six of The Voice.

The result is that a great vibe runs through the whole album. Sometimes you want to dance. Other times you want to hum, to swing, to close your eyes and move your head. You feel alive. You're glad to be alive.

But life is such a fragile thing.

For this century, for this era, June 10, 2016 is "the day the music died."

Christina Grimmie believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death, and so do I. There is much consolation in knowing that in death "life is not ended but changed." Faith, hope, and love give rise to the lively confidence that now she lives, truly and personally, in Christ. In His heart, she can have a new and wider and more profound capacity to touch the lives of all the people who love her. 

In a sense she is more than ever the companion she always wanted to be, the friend of every person who was moved by her passion for music and life, of every person who ever approached her or hoped one day to approach her or wish they had approached her after a concert when she remained at the venue as late as necessary to greet everyone who wanted to see her. She offered her life to inspire people, to welcome strangers and reach out to them with love and with all the vulnerability that entails. And she died with her arms wide open, offering that love to a stranger.

How can such love end in frustration? Thanks be to God, we don't have to be buried under the weight of such a question. Our hope in Christ includes an ongoing (even deeper) companionship with her.

But this companionship is now hidden in the mystery of God, and is silent to our earthly ears. Faith does not make this silence go away. It does not eliminate the poignancy and the tragedy of the silencing of Christina Grimmie's beautiful voice.

So it is that this album brings a touch of sorrow to my heart. I know it will not last forever, and even now it is mixed with an inexplicable joy and peace, as well as a gratitude for a collection of terrific music. 

And yet the sorrow remains, and it must be allowed its space.