Thursday, January 9, 2020


Since my commute is considerably longer than it once was, I've recently spent a lot of time in my car rediscovering music on my iPod that I haven't listened to in a while. Last week, a particular song cropped up in my shuffle that took me back to the tumultuous days when my departure from Mormonism was still fresh. 

Pain of Salvation's "Undertow" was my favorite song for many years because it spoke to the conflicted, melancholic, self-loathing, self-flagellating, resigned state of mind that I inhabited before I was able to find some peace and some independence.  It was reassuring to hear this song and realize that its content brought back memories but didn't stir much in me as far as my current feelings are concerned.

I still enjoy the music itself and I still hold that Daniel Gildenlöw's performance on this track is an excellent example of why he deserves to go down in history as one of rock music's all-time greatest vocalists, but listening to this piece no longer entails the same raw emotional ravaging for me that it once did. 

Here's Pain of Salvation playing an arrangement of the song live:

And for anyone not particularly interested in the music, these are the lyrics:
Let me go
Let me go
Let me seek the answer that I need to know
Let me find a way
Let me walk away
Through the Undertow
Please let me go

Let me fly
Let me fly
Let me rise against that blood-red velvet sky
Let me chase it all
Break my wings and fall
Probably survive
So let me fly
Let me fly

Let me run
Let me run
Let me ride the crest of chance into the sun
You were always there
But you may lose me here
Now love me if you dare
And let me run

I'm alive and I am true to my heart now, I am I
But why must truth always make me die?

Let me break!
Let me bleed!
Let me tear myself apart I need to breathe!
Let me lose my way!
Let me walk astray!
Maybe to proceed...
Just let me bleed!

Let me drain!
Let me die!
Let me break the things I love I need to cry!
Let me burn it all!
Let me take my fall!
Through the cleansing fire!
Now let me die!
Let me die

Let me out
Let me fade into that pitch-black velvet night
There is so much about this song that felt like a perfect representation of what I felt.  The concept of an undertow, of course, illustrates the feeling that a strong negative influence beyond my control was carrying me to an undesirable destination.  But this song also expresses the sentiment that maybe I deserved what was happening to me.  Maybe I'd be okay, but it probably wouldn't matter if I wasn't.  Perhaps the suffering I was going to experience was my penance for whatever I'd done to put me in this position (a key line in this song is why I named a fictional death metal band "Cleansing Fire" in my book Their Works Shall Be in the Dark).

But all of this anguish and self-devaluation encapsulates a theme of optimistic searching that, notably, doesn't have the chance to become fully fleshed out in the song.  Though in the opening stanzas the narrator sings about seeking answers and flying and riding the crest of chance, the desires for punishment and abandonment and even death are what dominate the song through its climax.  And that was very much the headspace I was in during that year or so when I still lived with my parents, didn't attend church with them, and barely spoke to them.  As much as I wanted to frame my new life as a search for my own answers and an exciting foray into a fresh philosophical frontier, my daily existence was so depressing that I kept coming back to thoughts of worthlessness and of a desire to break, bleed, drain, and fade—especially since I thought I was being true to my heart but the truth I was discovering felt like (to again blatantly reference the lyrics) it was making me die.

Pain of Salvation has, as far as I know, zero connection to Mormonism whatsoever.  So of course these kinds of emotions are not unique to people who have had their faith in the Mormon god come crashing down around them.  It's both tragic and absurd that any human being ever experiences feelings like these.  I don't know who or what may have prompted Daniel Gildenlöw to write this song, but any person or organization that elicits these kinds of sentiments should have some serious explaining to do.

And I hope I make this point as often as I think I do, but I didn't actually have it as bad as others have.  LGBTQ members or other stigmatized demographics within the church can suffer to the point of suicide.  Victims of abuse can be retraumatized by teachings that shift blame onto them or by policies that demonstrate a deafness to the realities they've endured.  Other members  confronting new truths they've learned have the added strain of possible separation from spouses or children if they follow where they believe their consciences guide them.  This song may speak to the bleakness and complexity of my emotional state circa 2007, but there may be plenty for whom the concepts conveyed in these lyrics are of a lower magnitude or a lesser intensity than what their personal stories contain.

When an organization can so often put its members into these kinds of crushing, devastating emotional conditions, it's wise to scrutinize that organization.  It won't always mean that the organization is inherently flawed (although that's precisely what I'd argue in the case of Mormonism), but it will likely mean that there are critical aspects that need to be improved, removed, or corrected.  The LDS church's black-and-white, uncompromising doctrinal dogmatism and its stifling, pharisaical culture are both in dire need of revision when the emotional content of a song like this one is far from the worst that can be inflicted on those who struggle to survive in the church and on those who struggle to survive an exit from it.

The undertow may be metaphorical, but that doesn't mean its effects aren't real to the people caught in it.  A church that hails its prophets as watchmen on the towers should really do a better job of posting lifeguards in the towers too.

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