Weiss's Words: A Theopoetic Lyricism of mewithoutYou
In this eighth section of my paper, “Metaphoring Manifold: The Plurality of Theopoetics,” I discuss the lyricism of Philadelphia’s finest, Aaron Weiss. Weiss is mewithoutYou’s vocalist and writes some of the most allusionary and poignant lyrics of our time. From his background in all three Abrahamic faiths, Weiss effortlessly and poetically places different faith traditions in conversation with one another, thus exemplifying the pluralistic nature of theopoetics.
Because of his multi-religious background, most of the Aaron Weiss’s lyrics in mewithoutYou are largely influenced by the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In addition, there are some Buddhist and Hindu references as well. Of the Islamic influences, Sufi poet, Rumi, makes the most appearances. Even early on in the band’s career, during the heyday of evangelical underground music, mewithoutYou tiptoed the boundaries by referencing Rumi. In the band’s first album, [A→B] Life, off of Christian label, Tooth and Nail Records, Weiss unapologetically leads off the album with yelled words from the Sufi poet: “Let us die, let us die and dying, we reply.”
However, Christianity is not left out of Weiss’s lyrics, as he melancholically opens their sophomore release, Catch Us for the Foxes, with an allusion to Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, “Why burn poor and lonely? Under a bowl or under a lampshade.” This album, perhaps unlike any of their other albums, references words from the New Testament most.
Listeners are then immersed with Judaism on the band’s closing track on their third album, Brother, Sister. Weiss sings, “In a sweater poorly knit and unsuspecting smile. Little Moses drifts downstream in the Nile. A fumbling reply, an awkward rigid laugh and I’m carried helpless by my floating basket raft.” In the opening lyrics to the track, Weiss midrashically relates his own experience of being lost after the loss of a love to that of Moses set adrift. Not only is the Jewish tradition referenced at the closing of the album (and it is throughout the rest of the album as well), but the title of the album itself is in reference to a verse from the Hindu epic, Bhagavad Gita.
The band’s fourth album, It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, explores teachings from Sufi mystic, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. The album’s mostly exclusive foci on the Sufi mystic’s teachings alienated much of the band’s still evangelical fanbase. This alienation climaxed with the album’s closer, entitled, “Allah, Allah, Allah.” The lyrics in the song pantheistically explore seeing God in all things, from blades of grass to everyone we meet.
mewithoutYou’s fifth album, Ten Stories, takes a lyrical departure from the previous albums. It centers a story of a traveling circus’ train crash in 19th-century Montana. Therefore, the album is uncharacteristically void of religious themes; however, the closing track repeats throughout the entire song words referenced from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: “all circles presuppose. They’ll end where they begin. But only in their leaving can they ever come back round.” While not explicitly religious, these lyrics, regardless of Weiss’s intention, can be interpreted quite easily as death of God theology.
The band carries the existential theme from “All Circles” to its next album, Pale Horses. Weiss explores finitude and the impending apocalypse throughout this album, culminating in the face melting closer, “Rainbow Signs.” The song references the Genesis story of Noah’s Ark, in which God sets a rainbow in the clouds as a sign of God’s covenant with Noah. From this Noahic allusion, Weiss apathetically sings “no more water, is the H-Bomb next time?” Weiss dreads sarcastically that despite God’s promise to Noah to not drown out the world again, God may deem the hydrogen bomb acceptable. Later in the song, the music crescendos into a cascade of noise with Weiss indiscriminately speaking Shema Yisrael in Hebrew and a Quranic prayer in Arabic in the background.
mewithoutYou’s latest album, [Untitled], brings the band’s lyrical discography full circle from their first release by referencing a quote from Rumi once again: “Out beyond ideas of righting and wrongdoing, there is a field.” Rumi follows this statement with “I’ll meet you there;” however, Weiss spins the statement into a question: “Will I meet you there?” The Rumi quote and Weiss’s question beg the listener to lay aside religious division in order to fulfill the call for unity.
In fulfilling the call for unity between the religious pluralism represented in mewithoutYou’s lyrics, Weiss does so not only poetically but gracefully. When listening to the multitude of religions represented in Weiss’s lyrics, one quickly realizes the sheer ease with which he can integrate a plurality of religious themes and texts without erasing the otherness of each religious tradition. Therefore, Weiss’s lyrics highlight the way in which the plurality of theopoetics can be exemplified.
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