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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, November 11, 2006
    Exodus and a bloody God
     
    Fascinating that the old, old story of the Exodus should resonate so much with contemporary artists, musicians and filmmakers. The Margate Exodus has been well-reported; briefly, a community arts project making connections between the ancient scriptural tale and the story of today's asylum-seekers and refugees finding some sort of home in that delinquent English resort town.

    The Plague Songs cd draws on some great talents, each of them taking as the theme for their composition, one of the ten plagues which beset Egypt millenia ago. So King Creosote relates the tale of the plague of frogs; Imogen Heap sings about the glittering cloud of locusts; Scott Walker bathes in the darkness and Brian Eno (assisted by Robert Wyatt making quite convincing buzzing noises) deals with flies.

    It's fascinating stuff, not least because it seems that for some of these artists this is their first brush with the vengeful God of the Old Testament. And, very understandably, most of them don't like him. For the horrors which that God visited on the Egyptians, these artists berate him, are scandalised by him, and (in the case of the Tiger Lilies) pronounce his own death. I share their hope that that particular God is dead, the God of blood who slaughters enemies. Sadly (reading Melanie McFadyean's description of the horrifying treatment of asylum seekers in Britain in this week's LRB) I don't think he is.

    Because of the mess of confusion this causes (Isn't this destroyer the same God I'm allegedly following? Weren't the plagues not a liberation but an unholy horror, how can the Exodus be good when it was birthed in the blood of innocents?) and despite the intelligent artistry at play in the Margate project, I still find Diamanda Galas's Plague Mass the definitive treatment of this subject. Because it is a complex and truly terrifying piece of work, as you'll see if you look at her interpretation of the old exile song, the album's ultimate statement, Let My People Go.