Exploitation of religion for personal gain did not begin with Donald Trump or the current Republican party. It goes back to the time of Christ himself. But it’s become an American pastime as rich and widespread as baseball or systemic racism, thanks to the likes of such charlatans as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, and Joel ‘my teeth are so bright they’re a road hazard’ Osteen.
Over the last year and a half, Donald Trump has been suckling at the teat of the religious right with aplomb, from appearances at anti-LGBTQ organizations to constantly reminding people that The Bible is his favorite book (and that he doesn’t know a single passage by heart) to choosing a man who caused an AIDS epidemic in his own state when he was governor as vice president. Trump played the religious right like a harp from hell (to borrow a rather biting quote from Danny DeVito in Batman Returns), convincing them that a conniving, vagina-grabbing, misogynist adulterer was somehow the better choice for president than the woman who’s currently becoming a pastor. Trump may not know how to quote The Bible, but he sure knows how to exploit it.
Soundgarden recorded “Jesus Christ Pose” in 1991 for their breakthrough album, Badmotorfinger. Only a few years had passed since incidents such as the Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals were top stories, convincing the public that televangelists were hypocritical and disingenuous in their faith, concerned primarily with bilking their viewers, which consistently largely of the Midwest working class and little old ladies who wanted something to do with their retirement funds. Whether it was their devastating hateful homophobic rants about AIDS or their numerous extramarital affairs, t.v. preachers were rightfully considered a stain on the moral fabric of America. And yet, they still found and are finding audiences.
“Jesus Christ Pose” is one of the angriest songs I’ve ever heard; the guitars and drums are fast and furious, like the musical equivalent of a stampede. And then, after a minute or so, comes the voice from on high, like a freight train running through your senses:
“Aaand you staaare at me in your Jesus Christ Pose…”*
Chris Cornell was renowned for the authority and intensity he could conjure in his vocals, his well-honed distortion and grit skills adding power and weight to his already commanding voice. On “Jesus Christ Pose,” he sounds like he’s trying to level a small town with his voice. The anger is palpable. I don’t know if Cornell was necessarily a Christian, but he did speak highly of Jesus Christ, and is certainly incensed at what’s going in his name.
Most of all, “Jesus Christ Pose” is about calling out the martyr complex used to gain sympathy with the gullible, who beg for money in the name of God so they can fuel their hedonistic lifestyle under the guise of piety. Chris is having none of that shit.
The most biting passage in the song’s five minutes comes in its final verse, where Cornell asks pointedly whether these heretics are willing to make any real sacrifice:
“Arms held out
In your Jesus Christ pose
Thorns and shroud
Like it’s the coming of the Lord
Would it pain you more to walk on water
Than to wear a crown of thorns?
It wouldn’t pain me more to bury you rich
Than to bury you poor.”*
The song ends with one of Cornell’s most insane screams, a culmination of the anger and rage he’s been conveying throughout the song.
“Jesus Christ Pose” became an instant classic, perhaps second to “Black Hole Sun” as the band’s most recognizable song. The controversial video, which featured the band performing in a desert amidst flashes of subliminal religious imagery, was banned from MTV, giving the song even more notoriety.
“Jesus Christ Pose” is a song the band performed regularly right up to Cornell’s tragic passing in May; he never did a version where he didn’t sing the lyrics with conviction and venom, probably because the song has never stopped being relevant. Thanks to the current political climate, it will likely be for another 25 years.
*All credit goes to Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, and Ben Shepherd, Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management US, LLC