Continuing my track-by-track appreciation of Lana Del Rey’s newest album, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd…
Track 5: ‘Judah Smith Interlude’
The fifth song on Lana Del Rey’s new album is likely to be the most controversial and divisive thing on it. This is a five-minute sermon by megachurch pastor Judah Smith set to lovely piano and guitar accompaniment by Jack Antonoff.
Judah and his wife Chelsea are the young, internet-friendly church leaders who run Churchome, a large Los Angeles congregation attended by many celebrities (Justin Bieber even brought Judah onstage to speak during a concert).
The Smiths have made controversial statements about homosexuality and abortion (or at least statements in keeping with most Christian beliefs on those topics) and have been accused of pursuing personal glory (a charge that can and should be leveled against any megachurch pastor). Giving a prominent position to a such a polarizing figure is a little cringe, especially for an artist with a large gay fanbase.
I’m a proud atheist, but I’m not going to dismiss this track out of hand just because I’m not a fan of organized religion. I’m sure I’ll skip it when playing the album most of the time, but that’s because I’d rather hear Del Rey sing than Smith preach, no matter how pretty the music.
This first time through, though, I think it’s worth a little attention.
I’ve read some reviews of the album that suggest the sermon is presented ironically. After all, it’s a screed against lustful thoughts coming right after a song about the “experience of being an American whore.” And Del Rey can be heard throughout, laughing, muttering, and perhaps lightly ridiculing the pastor.
But the fact that Del Rey attends the church, received permission from Smith to use his sermon, and credits him as a featured artist on the album’s cover makes me think this excerpt is presented in good faith (excuse the pun).
I’m most fascinated by the final lines of this track, in which Smith says of his relationship with God: “I used to think my preaching was mostly about You. And you’re not gonna like this, but I’m gonna to tell you the truth. I’ve discovered my preaching is mostly about me.”
This strikes me as a sentiment Del Rey probably shares when it comes to her music. Her songs have become increasingly personal and therapeutic over the years, and I’m sure she has worried less and less about what the fans want as she has poured more and more of herself into her art.
Don’t you understand what that means?
It means quit lusting after your neighbor
That’s a heck of a life
You get to love your children in front of you
You get to love—
You have to talk to somebody
“I want a new life”
“I don’t love my wife anymore”
“I don’t love my kids anymore”
“I’m missing out on life”
They’re usually my age
Does that sound like love?
It’s a life dominated with lust
And for too long, they’ve been holding on
And finally, they just get weak and they say
“It doesn’t matter anymore”
And the Spirit of God says
“I’ll infuse you with desirеs for what you have
And what’s in front of you” (Yeah, yeah, yеah)
(Desires for what you have)
So, as He works deep in your heart
As you call out to Him and say
“I’m here, do it in me, Man”
“Help me want what I got”
“Help me love what’s in front of me”
“Help me want more of my wife and more of my friends”
“And help me serve the city I live in and not wish it away and hope I can move”
“Help me, God”
“I wanna be a man in love, not a man in lust”
But you’ve gotta do that
So I bring you to this verse and I’m done, I’m done
Psalms, chapter 8
And you know where I got this verse?
This is gonna sound crazy to you, but I’m gonna tell you the absolute truth
It’s gonna make me sound so spiritual, I’m looking forward to it
I woke up this morning and God said, “Check the Bible app”
I don’t know if it was God, but it felt like
In my head, I thought if I hadn’t checked the Bible
I’m gonna speak to you from the verse of the day
That means I don’t have to do anything
I don’t have to look anywhere, I just get to the verse of the day
So I get to the verse of the day
And here’s the verse of the day, today, in the Bible app
Look at this (That’s cool)
“Look at the splendor of the skies
Your creative genius glowing in the heavens
When I gaze, when I gaze at Your moon and Your stars
Mounted like jewels in their settings
I know You are the fascinating artist who fashioned it all”
When I look up and I see such wonder and workmanship above
“I have to ask this question”
“I’ve gotta ask this question”
Compared to all this cosmic glory
“Why would you ever bother with puny, mortal man?”
Ooh, don’t get me started
I could preach for another hour on infatuated
Or be infatuated with Adam’s son
“Why are you so infatuated with me?”
You’re the star creator, You’re the ocean maker (Yeah, yeah)
You’re the whale creator, you’re the rhino designer
Who, who are you? (Rhino designer)
And then it goes on in verse 5
And it says
“Yet, what honor You have given to men
Created only a little lower than Elohim”
Which is the name of Creator God, Artist God
You wanna call God “Artist”?
At some point tonight, before you go to bed, go, “Yo, Elohim”
And He’ll hear, “You’re the best Artist ever”
“Little lower than Elohim, crowned like kings and queens with glory and magnificence
You have delighted, You have delegated to them
Mastery over all You have made”
You have made me a partner with You
I used to think my preaching was mostly about You
And you’re not gonna like this, but I’m gonna to tell you the truth
I’ve discovered my preaching is mostly about me
Certainly a break from Del Ray’s melancholy songs, but rather self-indulgent and certainly not something I would need to hear more than once.
Interesting to hear some of the possible context behind this interlude. It certainly didn’t make my “liked tracks” list – but it was intriguing all the same.