A Certain Luminosity: Hanson and String Theory

By | October 27, 2018



If you know it, as some of my colleagues do, then you are younger than I am, but older than our college students.

I am not, perhaps, the normal audience for Hanson.

That’s my loss as I discovered in Houston on October 23, 2018.

Let me report that this is a 1990’s band that has held up well and worth a look if you missed the 1990’s due to work or not yet being born.

Do not worry Hanson fans: they get you, while entertaining and illuminating us.

If the audience reaction in Houston was normal, then their tour celebrating twenty-six years as a band gave the fans what they wanted. There was more to the music than mere fan service, there was a certain luminosity. Even MMMBop is a song that asked questions about love, whether it endures, and how a person can know if this love, this relationship will endure to old age.

That’s about all you can ask (intellectually) of a song that is danceable. MMMBop is Plato compared to Tall Paul. 

It is hard to be part of the sound of a decade and find the eternal things, but my brief conversation with the Hanson brothers was a sign pointing to a greater reality. They were bursting with ideas, eager to discuss books, and my only regret is not having more time to roam over the Jungian psychology, the banality of evil (Judgement at Nuremberg), and the comparative cultures of Oklahoma and West Virginia.

When a brief conversation leaves me with a book list, I have met kindred minds. The concert was just as layered. Briefly, one of the brothers began to reflect on the difference of working with instruments like the violin that can only play one note at a time and keyboards that have broader abilities. I wanted to learn more about the differences and what they had discovered.

This was a band thinking, laughing, playing, pondering: serious without being sonorous. They could MMMBop and close with a number with hints of the Apocalypse. These were boys become men who retained a luminosity, a light intrinsic to souls created in the Image of God. That sounds grand, but this certain luminosity was confident enough to be earthy, as humans are earthy, while pointing to more as our hearts contain more.

This is a group with members that effortlessly switch instruments and stretch themselves. As support, the Houston Symphony added musical depth and Stuart Chafetz conducting while having a grand time. This concert was fun and thoughtful, for many in the audience nostalgic , but never tired.

Our family with the Hanson family!

What did I learn?

There is a crabbed soul that can only know the pop music of his own youth (Styx and U-2 bookmark my young years), but despise the rest. Ignore those fools and learn to love the best of each generation: Bing, Ella, Sinatra, Cash, Paul Simon . . . The joy is endless.

Music has the ability, like a Platonic dialog, to be only understood if we leave our time and go to a particular place: the 1990’s for some of Hanson, ancient Athens for Plato. We cannot ever quite be there if we were not there, but if the music is good enough, then we can gain access to something outside our own experience. The best pop musician can produce a time machine: Glenn Miller and his orchestra is a train ride to the first half of the American twentieth century.

There is more to music, however. Every decent popular song has been confirmed by many souls to touch on some eternal longing. Even Tall Paul makes us dance, sing, and look for love. This is an eternal thing for humankind: was, is, and will be (however transformed) in the World to Come.

Plato and the Gospels teach us that music carries luminosity, the soul that learns harmony, gains light. There is an uncreated light that sits above everything (or so Plato and even wiser people have said) and that light is a harmony that is so tight that it becomes One.

I am pleased to report that my world and jollification are broader now, including the artists of Hanson. Buy a ticket or their music and learn pleasantly.

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