Augustana Leaves the Burbs

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Does it work to NOT see even though we know other things exist?

I’m moving to the suburbs of Chicago in less than a month. If you’ve never been there, the suburbs are nice. The towns are nice, the restaurants are nice, the people are nice, the cars are nice, the lawns are nice, and if the suburbs were a band they’d have released Augustana’s Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt. The album is just flat out “nice,” with its melodic piano and acoustic guitar riffs, its catchy harmonies and even catchier choruses.

But listen closer; lead singer/songwriter Dan Layus calls this “the real Augustana.” The sound might be nice and catchy, but the message isn’t. There’s plenty of bitterness and cynicism in lines like “‘Cause I believe in the Lord, but he don’t show up anymore,” “I said hell is so close and heaven’s out of reach,” or “If you can’t love babe, then you can’t hurt.”

And that’s the thing about the suburbs-they exist to buffer. They keep all the “bad things” of the city (the poverty, the crime, etc.) away from me. But as Generation X has grown up, the “out of sight, out of mind” technique hasn’t had the same effect. The generation that first experienced the internet in their teens has seen enough of the world and with age is learning that the pleasantries of the suburbs are just a candy coating.

This seems to be a bit of what has come to pass for Augustana. Lyrically they grew sick of “living in the suburbs,” because as we all come to find out sooner or later, the world is larger than the suburbs. That doesn’t necessarily make the suburbs “bad” or “wrong” (at least I hope not since I’m moving there), but it does make it only a glimpse of the larger picture. The problem occurs when we try to convince ourselves that this glimpse IS the full picture, or that it’s as much of the picture as we need to see. This might be why Layus calls Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt the “real” Augustana-its more than just a slice of the picture.

Augustana formed at Greenville Christian College, which is famous (relatively speaking) for its Contemporary Christian Music major. The band dropped out after their sophomore year, but maybe never really left their schooling in CCM. It might be an overstatement of say that Layus and Augustana have walked away from Christianity, but I think it’d be safe to say that they’ve walked away from the culture of Christianity. And I’m not sure I can blame them.

The culture of religion tends to be like the suburbs, we distill the difficult parts, we try and make things as pretty as we can and eventually we begin to see that segment as the entire picture. But in a world where genocide is happening in Darfur, school shootings are happening in Virginia, floods destroying Iowa and I don’t see myself as responsible to anyone but myself, the entire picture tends to press in on us rather quickly. And when the entire picture comes into view after we’ve only been seeing our suburban and religious cultural segment it seems like a much fairer statement to say, “I believe in the Lord, but he don’t show up anymore.” Still, the band named themselves after a Latin word that means “a small glimpse of hope” and as Layus sings, “all I have are the way things go.”