Bonnie "Prince" Billy: There Is No God / God Is Love

His God is "that which puts mouth on cock and vagina". Eat of my flesh indeed. Transubstantiation never sounded so appealingly weird.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy

There Is No God / God Is Love

Label: Drag City
US Release Date: 2011-06-12
UK Release Date: 2011-06-20

Let's take the expression, "God is love". What does it make you think of -- some radiant Christian theology about the relationship between human beings and each other and their Lord? And what about the phrase, "There is no God" -- does this seem to carry the opposite, atheistic implication? Or perhaps mentally you add the phrase "but God" to the end and think of the Muslim expression, "There is no God but God (Allah)".

Well, a close listen to Bonnie "Prince" Billy's new vinyl 10" charity single would have you scratching your head in your search for meaning. It's not as if Billy's just rambling, although he does that too -- his first word after he sings the title of the A-side, "God Is Dead" is that notorious conjunction of escapist rhetoric, "but", which allows him lots of wiggle room. Billy seems to have little desire to be clear, an impression which is reinforced by the relatively lo-fi production values. He does seem to be having a good time. At times he even laughs on the disc, and even sings a line about God being found when one sings in laughter.

Billy mixes his religious philosophies together in his search for joy and pleasure. He finds God in the strangest places. While W. B. Yeats famously noted that "Love has pitched its mansion in the house of excrement", Billy takes a more oral approach. His God is "that which puts mouth on cock and vagina". Eat of my flesh indeed. Transubstantiation never sounded so appealingly weird.

The idea of connecting a holy being with human sexuality has a long tradition. Billy may be blunt, but he works from old conventions. He doesn't stop with God being sex or laughter; he notes that one dies while others live on, the multiplicity of the universe and the endless theories about what it all means. What if it's all a celestial joke? What if everybody's wrong? That's cool, because we can still enjoy our physicality and have a sense of humor about the whole thing. It doesn't matter what we think: what matters is what is real.

The B-side is spookier. "I am always scared", Billy confesses at the beginning of the song. He's frightened about meeting someone (God or a lover or a friend or some combination thereof -- which is not clear), but he knows the importance of being with another. He ends the song with a kind of desperate plea: "God is everything I have loved". The 45 seconds of sparse instrumentation that follows suggests that he's not really convinced by this. (It should be noted that he's aided by musicians Emmett Kelly, Ben Hall, Pete Cummings, Peter Townshend, Billy Contreras, Cassie Berman and Rachel Korine.) He would like to believe God can be found in his personal dealings, but he's also aware of the narcissistic implications of such a thought.

Billy has a social conscience. The profits from the sale of this single go to Save Our Gulf to support the work of seven Waterkeepers (activist members of the environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance) on the Gulf Coast who were directly impacted by the BP oil disaster, and to the Turtle Hospital. In the end, who knows what Will Oldham really thinks? Bonnie "Prince" Billy is just one of his many personas. The intimacy of this recording suggests the singer means everything he says. Perhaps he does, or perhaps his message is simpler than that: We should laugh about the absurd nature of our existence, he says, and donate money to make our environment clean and help our fellow beings.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.