The great thing about music is that it sometimes gives us windows into other worlds from the safety of our living rooms. Case in point, Rodney DeCroo's "Like Jacob When He Felt The Angel's Touch".
Would you rather get a crash course on the bible and all its hellishness from a year of Sundays in a Southern-Baptist church? Or would you rather get a Cole's Notes briefing on violence in the good book from DeCroo, who's established himself as one of the city's most evocative storytellers.
After you've watched the video, get the backstory to the songs and video below in DeCroo's own words.
RODNEY DECROO talks about "Like Jacob When He Felt The Angel's Touch"
I grew up in western Pennsylvania in the bible-belt. My family were very strict, fanatical Christians. They were the type of fundamentalists that thought there wasn't enough bible or belt in bible-belt. My mother used to read us biblical stories every other night before bed. On this particular night it was a story about how God came down one evening and told his pal Abraham to sacrifice his son to him- and by sacrifice I mean he wanted him to kill him. I guess God wanted to see how obedient Abraham was, how much he loved him. Just like the Greek myths, there's a lot of fathers killing sons stuff in the bible both Old and New Testament.
So, Abraham says "Yeah, sure, no problem." and takes Isaac out for a little trip and ties him to an altar, pulls out a knife and raises it up into the air to plunge it into his boy. My brothers and I are looking nervously at each other because things aren't going so well for Isaac. Then my brother Lynn asks "Mom, is this a good thing that's happening? and she replies "Well, honey he loved God so much he was willing to kill his son." Now my brothers are looking at me , I'm looking at them and she goes back to the reading the story.
Fortunately we find out that an angel appears just before Abraham murders Isaac and says calm down there slugger, it's just a test. Don't kill your son. And then because he was willing to slaughter his own son God gives says his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. God always seemed to insist on sadistic terms before he hands out the blessings.
So after my mom finishes the story and puts us to bed my brother Chris whispers "What happens if God tells mom 'It's time for a sacrifice'?" As you can imagine things were weird in our house. Abraham was supposed to be the hero in this story but I thought he was a homicidal lunatic. I couldn't help but see it from Isaac's perspective. I always identified with the bad guys and the losers in the bible.
The heroes always seemed to be real assholes. I mean King David steals a loyal soldier's wife by having him killed. And don't forget David kills his son Absalom, though it's an "accident." And Jacob is a real prick. I felt for his brother Esau because he gets ripped off by Jacob who steals his birthright by tricking their blind, dying father. Jacob's a total con man, a snake oil salesman and God sets him up for it. And poor Esau disappears from bible. I liked to imagine he traveled around the desert like a bad ass nomad -- kind of an old testament Mad Max -- robbing Jacob's sheep herds and caravans every chance he got!
But the whole point of what I'm going on about here is the story the song is based on. See, one night Jacob is fast asleep and this angel shows up and says "Hey buddy you have to fight me!" So Jacob's like "Let's get it on sucker!" and they fight all night long but it's a draw. As the sun comes up, just before the angel quits he touches Jacob's hip and wounds him so badly Jacob will have a limp for rest of his life. But then the angels says "I gave you this wound so that you'll never forget this night that I -- as a stand in for the big guy -- kicked your ass) but because you fought me God is going to give you the good stuff."
God always came across to me as this omnipotent bully who won't hand out favors until he demonstrates his power over you. But the character in the song Like Jacob When He Felt The Angel's Touch is defiant. He says "No, I don't concede, I don't like you, I'm going to get you in the end. He's more like Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost, who for me is the true hero of that epic poem though that was never Milton's intention.
Clearly that sort of defiance doesn't work so well in the world, refusing to concede to authority, injustice, but those are the characters I tend to love. I always admired their defiance, outrage, audacity and integrity. But you know, things often don't go so well for them just like character in the video...