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.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.