Janis and the Heavenly Blues Band

In spite of the title, the Pondering Pig is attempting to to explain the difficult Psalm 4 in some meaningful way…

Class, open your books to Psalm 4. Notice the word ‘Selah‘ repeated over on the right hand side. Vas eez deez? Jimmy?

“Well sir, Selah is a little town about 200 miles west of here. My Aunt Minnie lives there. Sometimes she takes me for ice cream.”

Excellent answer! Jimmy wins. Because nobody really knows what its original meaning was. See Wickipedia article. Personally I go with the group that thinks it means “band blows a chorus here”, and that’s my assumption for this post.

I think to get under the skin of the psalm we need to take it out of the Temple music context. Who knows how they performed these things three thousand years ago? So let’s imagine we’re listening to Billie Holiday or someone like that. She sings the first part up to Selah, then the Duke Ellington Orchestra kicks in and we can let our minds relax and float downstream until we understand what Billie was singing about.

If that’s how these psalm songs work, then the first bit to understand must go like this…

Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?

SELAH! Ok, Boys – Go!

So now the boys are playing and we’re pondering. Now that I think about it, Billie would never command God imperiously like the Crown Prince, or like Mama when her little Octavius comes home late for dinner. She’d be sweet talking her way into God’s good graces if she could, so I guess this singer is not really like Billie Holiday. Maybe Janis Joplin would be a better choice.

In fact, here we are suddenly at the heavenly Avalon Ballroom and Janis has just come up for the first set, backed by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Raelettes…Janis starts out bold…

Answer me when I call, O God of my right! Big exclamation mark. The audience is already excited. Wow! Janis is screaming out her frustration – “Answer me, why don’t you answer me when I’m talking to you? Why you giving me the silent treatment?

We talking ’bout my right here!”

God of my right? Hmmm. Billie thought she had a right to sing the blues down by the river. She probably thought she had a lot of other rights too, but Janis says she has one big right. One big right that God is responsible for and God’s not talking. That’s all we can get so far, but whatever this right is, she is seriously disturbed about it.

By the way, in case you have actually opened your Bible are are reading along, note I am using the New Revised Standard (NRSV) version again. I like it cause it knocks you around a little bit. The popular New International Version (NIV) is a little too wishy-washy for me (O my righteous God) and the New Living Translation, which is a great help sometimes, makes too many assumptions about what a line might mean, like here (God who declares me innocent). I prefer to make my own assumptions. I think the NRSV tries to keep to a straightforward translation of what the Hebrew says. Or such is my hope.

O God of my right, answer me when I call! Now the stage lights shift and, through the magic of heavenly scrims, Janis is now sheriff of Tombstone Arizona 1880 doing her big Western number. “You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.” She’s singing her big agonized prayer as only Janis can. “You gave me room to move before. Remember back down at the OK corral when the Clancy Brothers were coming and I was wearing the silver badge and all the schoolmarms were counting on me? You gave me room to move, room to maneuver, they never got the drop on me. They dropped and me and my boys were standing with nary a nick. And all the townsfolk got to go swindle the cowpokes again in safety.

Why don’t you do that this week too?”

Now the Raelettes come in and they are singing God’s part. We get to hear God reacting to Sheriff Janis David’s prayer and this is what God is thinking:

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
You talkin’ shit and I get the blame.

“How long guys like you gonna make me ‘shamed of you? You talkin’ like your troubles are my fault, but you know what? Your whole life is a lie! What you like is when the schoolmarms all stand around you and want your autograph for being so wonderful and you’re basking like a sea lion on Seal Rocks on a sunny day.

“OK, so I saved the town from the Clancy Brothers, it’s true. And I let you take the credit. How come, since we’re talking about credit here – you don’t give me none any more?”

Selah. Now the Paul Butterfield Blues Band takes their break and Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop trade amazing licks while we get to ponder these lawman prayers. ( I’m actually in heaven as I think about this. Elvin is still with us but Mike Bloomfield, the greatest Jewish blues guitar player of all time, is thrilling the lucky guys at the big Avalon Ballroom in Heaven.)

Continued next post.

Thanks to Robert Altman for Janis and Universal Home Entertainment for the Raelettes (they’re not the real ones)

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3 thoughts on “Janis and the Heavenly Blues Band

  1. Good pondering bro’ Pig. I can visualize the Psalm 4 setting easily – maybe a little too easily – using this lively mental imagery you provided. Janis Joplin! Who’d of thought? And at the OK corral. This is ingenious.”O God of my right!” might possibly mean “O God of my right hand!” Also, “Thou hast given me room when I was in distress,” may mean “I was in distress and You just let me struggle – hey, hear my prayer, please, be my right hand.”Waiting for more.


  2. I am enjoying (and I mean REALLY enjoying) your exegesis of the Psalms. It is far too easy to not think about the Bible, especially for pastor’s kids like me who grew up breathing, eating, and dressing in the Scriptures.


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