Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jonathan Fire*Eater -- "The Shape of Things That Never Came" (1997)

I go to the Cathedral on Christmas
The candles and the gilded robes
All the girls with cheeks red from kisses
The incense smells a thousand years old

Two famous British cathedrals -- Canterbury Cathedral and Winchester Cathedral -- were the subjects of a recent 2 or 3 linesClick here if you missed that post.

Last month, I visited the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral, which is the seat of both the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.  (Both the Bishop of Washington and the Presiding Bishop are women, by the way.)

The seal of the Episcopal
Diocese of Washington
The National Cathedral is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world.  The top of the Cathedral's 300-foot tall Gloria in Excelsis Tower is the highest point in the District of Columbia.

Unlike England, the United States has never had a state-sponsored church.  But the Washington National Cathedral -- which is officially the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul -- was conceived of as a "great church for national purposes."

The Washington National Cathedral
It was the site for the funerals of Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford, and has hosted memorial services for Presidents Harding, Taft, Coolidge, Truman, and Nixon, as well as for Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and many other prominent Americans.

My first abode in Washington was an apartment in a drab building called the Chancery, which was directly across Wisconsin Avenue from the National Cathedral:

Chancery Apartments
Construction on the National Cathedral began in 1907 and ended 83 years later -- in 1990.  Decorative work is still ongoing, as are repairs necessitated by a 2011 earthquake.

The "Gloria in Excelsis" tower
(which is currently under repair)
The National Cathedral features intricate woodcarving, murals, mosaics, numerous carved-stone gargoyles and grotesques, and over 200 stained-glass windows.  (By the way, all gargoyles are grotesques, but not all grotesques are gargoyles.  A gargoyle is a type of  grotesque that has a spout intended to divert rainwater from the roof of a building.)

Perhaps the most famous stained-glass window in the National Cathedral is the "Space Window," which includes a fragment of lunar rock in its center.  (In the picture below, the lunar rock is the small dot in the center of the red circle.)

"Space Window"
One of the most notable stone carvings on the exterior of the building is the "Darth Vader Grotesque," which was sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter.  Over a 20-year period, Carpenter sculpted the models for some 500 of the stonecarvings that adorn the National Cathedral.

My in-laws commissioned Carpenter to do a bust of my oldest child -- who was their first grandchild -- about 25 years ago.  This priceless work of art is currently doing yeoman duty as a bookend:

Today's featured band -- Jonathan Fire*Eater -- was either the beneficiary of a lot of hype and hyperbole, or the victim of said hype and hyperbole.

After putting out an album and a couple of EPs on small indie labels, Jonathan Fire*Eater became the object of a major-label feeding frenzy.  The band eventually signed with the brand-new DreamWorks Records label, which was the musical tail on the movie-producing dog, DreamWorks Studios, which was founded by media moguls Stephen Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg (former chairman of Walt Disney Studios), and David Geffen (the founder of Asylum Records and a successful movie producer in his own right).

Over the years, David Geffen's labels had released records by megasuperstars like John Lennon, Elton John, Cher, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Nirvana, and Guns 'N' Roses.  Jonathan Fire*Eater had at most one per cent of the commercial potential of recording artists like those, and its one (and only) DreamWorks album -- Wolf Songs for Lambs -- was praised by the critics and ignored by the public.

All five members of Jonathan Fire*Eater attended St. Alban's School, an elite boys' school that is located on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral, which is the cathedral referenced in the lyrics quoted above.  (We'll learn all about St. Alban's in the next 2 or 3 lines.)

Here's a fan recording of a live performance of the song -- the damn copyright lawyers took down the album version that used to be up on Youtube:

Click below to order "The Shape of Things That Never Came" from Amazon:

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