The Vatican made news in 2010 when, out of left field, it released a list of its top 10 favorite albums of the rock-and-roll era. Five years later, the Pope himself is looking to join the Beatles and Oasis in the pop canon with an LP of his own, Wake Up! The album’s first single, “Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!,” features Pope Francis speaking over a proggy composition, obliquely recalling the slick music of Vatican-approved rockers like Donald Fagen and Pink Floyd, as well as the cathartic instrumentals of post-rock group Explosions in the Sky. Of course, one might wonder how — and more so, why — this project came about. For answers we looked to some of Francis’s previous statements:
On his motivations for making the album:
This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.
The root of this possibility of doing good — that we all have — is in creation.
Find new ways to spread the word of God to every corner of the world.
On the importance of music to his overarching work:
Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport.
On the implications of releasing an album informed by rock and roll, a genre once thought to be “the devil’s music”:
I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.
On the possibly vainglorious conceit of releasing a record in the first place:
An example I often use to illustrate the reality of vanity, is this: look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth.
Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.
On why he specifically addresses today’s youth in the lyrics of “Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!”:
Like good wine that improves with age, let us give young people this life’s wisdom. I’m reminded of what a German poet said about aging: “Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm” — “age is the time of peace and prayer.” We need to give young people this wisdom.
On working with Tony Pagliuca, the Italian prog musician who composed many of Wake Up!’s songs:
I like it when someone tells me “I don’t agree.” This is a true collaborator. When they say “Oh, how great, how great, how great,” that’s not useful.
On the album’s general interest in prog, psychedelic, and similarly “mystical” music:
I love the mystics; Francis [of Assisi] also was in many aspects of his life, but I do not think I have the vocation and then we must understand the deep meaning of that word. The mystic manages to strip himself of action, of facts, objectives and even the pastoral mission and rises until he reaches communion with the Beatitudes. Brief moments but which fill an entire life.
On Wake Up!’s other musical influences:
I love tango, and I used to dance when I was young.
Wake Up! comes out November 27. Will the critics who pan it go straight to hell?
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