So, yesterday was a slow day at work... the first truly slow day I've had at work since moving to this location. I spent the morning searching the web for free Mountain Goats MP3s and found over 30 of them. Most of these are live recordings from various concert venues, plus a few demos and outtakes from earlier albums. About half of the material I found was of songs I'd never heard before, the other half was familiar material with a new twist. "Delaudid" performed solo with guitar instead of the orchestrated cellos of the album version was raw and gripping, but the original version of "Coroner's Gambit" was awful--the lyrics are the same, but the music is too driving and uptempo for a song about death. It's interesting to see where the creative process led both these songs from thier original forms.
But the song that stuck with me is one called "Elijah." This is also from the Coroner's Gambit album, and when I've listened to it in the past I've been intriqued by what the lyrics possibly meant. I assumed it was a song about reincarnation, because I've been listening to it without noticing the title. As an MP3, the title is showing now as I'm driving around in the Scion and, duh, the song isn't about reincarnation, it's about Elijah. He was a Biblical prophet taken up into Heaven who supposedly will return to announce the arrival of the messiah. The song refers to setting out an extra plate--I think this is an actual Jewish tradition, to leave a plate out for Elijah during the celebration of one of their holidays. (I don't know which one, alas... all I know about the tradition I learned from the Saturday Night Live where Jerry Seinfield plays Elijah showing up for dinner. He asks the teenage daughter of the family to answer three questions: "First, are you a virgin?" She "Yes." "Then forget my other two questions.") In any case, this got me thinking that people probably do carry on this tradition, after almost 3000 years of Elijah failing to show up, just as Christians still fervently believe Jesus might show up any minute despite his 2000 year delay. And, rather than striking me as silly or absurd, it strikes me as beautiful, this human ability to believe fervently in the impossible (or highly unlikely).
The ability, even the need, to believe in impossible things is, after all, the very thing that makes all fiction possible. I couldn't make up stories, write them, and have people read them and like them without that important bit of wiring in the human brain that allows us to regard the imaginary as being as real as the real. I'm currently reading "Snow Crash" by Neil Stephenson. It's the sort of book that, while I'm reading it, I'm actually drawn into a second reality where the characters seem like living beings and the imagined settings seem quite solid and real to me. When I put the book down, the illusion vanishes, of course, but it's still a pleasurable experience.
So, perhaps religion can be viewed as fiction that people can't put down. Or, perhaps good fiction is a little, temporary religion that makes you believe in a new creation if only for a few hours.