PM Dawn And The Gnostic Revival

When I was growing up, I was deeply moved by the melancholy songs of a duo named PM Dawn. Their first hit, a song called “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss,” mixed R&B and new wave, sampling Spandau Ballet’s hit “True,” and was a song sufficiently pop to be covered by the Backstreet Boys on their first American album. My favorite song of theirs was “Looking Through Patient Eyes,” which I saw as a plea for a lover’s understanding. When PM Dawn was popular in the 1990’s, as I was growing up, I saw them as writing sublime and transcendental odes to romantic love–I was an amorous teenager prone to see everything in the light of romance anyway, and the fact that the songs were very clearly love songs did not in any way hinder my speculations. Since they have not been popular more than a decade, I had largely forgotten about them until a high school acquaintance of mine posted the video of “I’d Die Without You,” their biggest hit, on her Facebook profile. Then, remembering how much I had liked them once upon a time, I researched them a little bit to see what they were all about. I was very surprised by what I found, especially in light of my interest in Gnosticism.

It would appear, given a closer examination to PM Dawn and their music, that the band was self-consciously Gnostic in their approach to music. The songs that I had taken as odes to romantic love, when examined in a different light, instead become mystical odes to divine love, complete with the idea of an ecstatic union between God (and Jesus Christ) and the believer, as portrayed by PM Dawn. What I had taken to be secular songs were in fact deeply religious songs–heretical even–showing the deep Gnostic roots in much of the black church (and, it should be admitted, much of the white church as well). How could this be? How could I have been so misled about the pining, melancholy odes to love that had been all over the radio during my teenage years? And how could this fact seem to so singularly escape the attention of others, who have been too busy insulting Christian rap to examine the pleasant romantic songs on their Adult Contemporary radio? It is hard to say.

Nonetheless, my suspicions were first raised when I began to examine the titles of PM Dawn’s albums, something I had not known before when I listened to the radio and only heard the songs. PM Dawn’s four albums of original material have the following titles [1]: “Of The Heart, Of The Soul, and Of The Cross: The Utopian Experience,” “The Bliss Album…? (Vibrations Of Love And Anger And The Ponderance Of Life And Existence),” “Jesus Wept,” and “Dearest Christian, I’m So Sorry For Bringing You Here. Love, Dad.” With the exception of the title of their third album, which is a straightforward translation of John 11:35, the shortest verse of the Bible in English, the albums all appear to be very mystical odes. The first album title appears to be a very mystical meditation on the cross, the second album title is a weighty and philosophical neo-Platonic ode to examination of emotion and the meaning of existence. The fourth title seems to reflect the Gnostic hostility to the world and the desire of the Gnostic “Christian” to be reunited in a mystical union with God in the pleroma. Needless to say, being somewhat familiar with Gnosticism, my suspicions were raised by these very confusingly long and very philosophical album titles.

In looking at some of the song titles, my suspicions were further raised. What had been originally labeled (at least so far as I was aware) as innocuous songs had all sorts of ominous theological baggage when examined anew: “Sometimes I Miss You So Much,” a straightforward song about missing a lover, or so I thought, was now “Sometimes I Miss You So Much (Dedicated To The Christ Consciousness).” Dedicated to the Christ Concsiousness? What? More about this will be said shortly. “Don’t Cha Think” became “A Watcher’s Point Of View (Don’t Cha Think).” Who are the watchers? Suspicions about these songs made titles like “Looking Through Patient Eyes,” “Gotta Be…Movin’ On Up,” “Reality Used To Be A Friend Of Mine,” and “Downtown Venus” more suspicious. After all, what had been a quirky song with an odd title, namely “Downtown Venus,” took on more sinister aspects when one understood the Gnostic tendency to reinterpret pagan deities in light of mystical understanding. “I’d Die Without You,” became seen as more of an ode to the mystical feeling of union with God (and the feeling that death would result from separation from that mystical union) rather than being dedicated to a lover. “Ode To A Forgetful Mind,” and “Looking Through Patient Eyes” took on aspects of asking God to be patient with a wayward and disobedient believer, looking for the “eternal security” as being one of the saved. At this point I was seriously concerned, so I decided to take a look at the song lyrics and samples.

Since PM Dawn is far too prolific of a band (with four albums of original material) to go through in detail, let us be content merely to indicate their Gnostic leanings (even if they cannot be entirely proven) through two additional means, having already seen that the titles of songs and especially albums are very suspicious from a religious point of view. Let us first look at the issue of sampling, and how the samples used in songs indicate potential esoteric meanings. Then let us examine the lyrics of one song to see how Gnosticism helps the song make more sense. Through these means we hope to indicate, even if we cannot prove, that PM Dawn was acting from a Gnostic worldview in recording their music.

First, let us examine the subject of samples. As previously mentioned, “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” uses a sample from Spandau Ballet’s “True [2].” This sounds suspiciously like considering the mystical union of a believer with God to be the only worthwhile “truth.” At least this is one way of looking at it. “Looking Through Patient Eyes” contains a sample from George Michael’s “Father Figure.” This is worthy of some comment. “Father Figure” is a slow-tempo but deeply disturbing ode to pederasty (“but sometimes love can be mistaken for a crime” as a sample of its lyrics), and to sample such a song that blends the sacred and profane love, a serious problem in ancient Greece (and in British public schools, as well as the modern Roman Catholic Church), signifies an almost sexual union between man and God, a very Gnostic ideal. The fact that the song “Looking Through Patient Eyes” has so much “Christian” iconography suggests this Gnosticism is intentional and not merely accidental.

Let us also look briefly at the lyrics to “Sometimes I Miss You So Much.” The lyrics of the song are follows [4]:

There are only whispers and shadows for me
The way things are and the way things are
And with this I blow a kiss to disaster
Because I wish to perfect my heart…
I gotta check my mind…
Am I in tune with you?
Do we connect within the realm of the gods?
Electric word “life” that means forever
and thats a mighty long time when you’ve kissed divine
So divine…as with you
The Christ within will come in the clouds
Trusting “divinity is always with me”
Trusting “this is the here and now”
Mercy’s right…I gotta check my love
and I’m trying to do as such
I don’t let the demons get me down
it’s just that sometimes I miss you so much…

I can envision all things to life
I can understand realistic ways
But I invent the next phase in forever
I like you, rewrite the next page
It’s so pristine…it’s so untouched
I’m an emmaculate sign of devotion
Still unseen…I’m thinking so what
Bless me cursed with colorful emotions
God said “I guess you don’t know I’m you
because you know the entire 360”
A Christ that’s me
A Christ that’s you
Reguardless…constantly within me
I’m so not responsible for this
I’m just a man in love with so much
I know love…you’ll always be with me
It’s just sometimes I miss you so much.

What do these lyrics say? When we know that the song’s full title is “Sometimes I Miss You So Much (Dedicated To The Christ-Consciousness),” we may better understand. We see that the mystical desire of the singer to perfect his heart, despite the “demons” and “disasters” involved with living life in the material world, is not a desire to transcend sin, but rather to transcend the physical and be united in heaven, for eternity (involving an immortal soul, if the lyric “life that means forever” and “connecting with the realm of the gods,” a reference to the pleroma, can be believed). This song is full of Gnostic imagery, from the reference that God says that the singer knows the 360 (i.e. the fullness), in the mystical connection with God that seeks to leave the mortal prison and go to the “realm of the gods” in heaven. This is classic Gnostic heresy, covered with a surface layer of Christian language to cover the heavily Greek paganism that lies beneath. Additional clues are in the lyric “I’m so not responsible for this,” as the singer attempts to escape the responsibility for his fallibility by appealing to the compartmentalization between inner spirituality (a focus on devotion) and outer sin that is typical of Gnostic heretics.

This song is a Gnostic ode to a desire for eternal security despite the awareness of sin, and a desire not to be held responsible for mistakes but to abandon the physical plane of earth and to exist in pure spirit in bliss with God forever, tapping into the wholeness of that mystical union while escaping all connection with the earth and with the concerns of the law. Intriguingly enough, this song shows the insecurities of the Gnostic in not knowing (because faith is based on an emotional level rather than the fair and just standard of God’s law) whether one is in tune with God because of the absence of open and honest standards to judge by, only the subjective feelings of an inconstant heart and wayward mind. Thus insecurity about one’s spiritual state, even after one has believed in such heretical beliefs as “eternal security,” is a part of the Gnostic religious package.

We can understand from the foregoing why PM Dawn had little or no street appeal. Their lyrics and ideas come from a Greek-inspired Gnostic heresy that, while popular in the churches, was not grounded in the hard knock life of the streets. The philosophical and mystical concerns of PM Dawn were far from the reality of life in the ghetto, and so those more interested in singing about money, women, and violence were not interested at all in the beautiful but intellectual and esoteric songs of PM Dawn. The initial popularity of the band, and their relatively popular radio career suggests that the marketing of their singles as romantic odes gave them fans (such as myself) who were unaware of their real ambitions and worldview but drawn to their heartfelt and melancholy odes to love. It is simply that we mistook the love for being romantic love, and did not see it as a mystical Gnostic union between God and enlightened believers. Knowing that makes the songs far more sinister, and far less enlightened, than they were in the much more innocent days of my youth. It is disturbing to think that a band had popular success for the better part of a decade singing Gnostic hymns without anything seeming to be the wiser about it–even though their album titles (as well as some of their lyrics and some of their song titles) virtually gave the whole game away. Are we that clueless about Gnosticism [5]?

Examining the apparent Gnostic roots of the music and lyrics of PM Dawn reminds me that there is little in this world that is untouched by sin and corruption, and that remaining vigilant against heresy is a terribly difficult matter. It is also a reminder, if any were necessary, that the Gnosticism opposed by the early apostles (like Paul, Peter, John, and Jude) was something that could appear very beautiful and very moving. It was not all blatant immorality and evil. In a world where there is a great deal of such open immorality, it might be appealing for many (it sure was for me as a teenager) to listen to music that stands in obvious opposition to such immorality, unaware that it too contains an evil of a different sort in its anti-physical mysticism that is merely Gnosticism in a more intellectual form. But we should not be surprised, for if the demons appear as angels of light, certainly heathen religious songs can appear to be very beautiful and sublime as well, can they not?

[1] http://www.discogs.com/artist/P.M.+Dawn

[2] http://www.discogs.com/PM-Dawn-Set-Adrift-On-Memory-Bliss/master/121067

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Looking_Through_Patient_Eyes

[4] http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Sometimes-I-Miss-You-So-Much-lyrics-PM-Dawn/FA01EBF790F0E12C48256A1A0042E8FD

[5] Well, not everyone is clueless about the Gnosticism of PM Dawn’s work:

http://wurzel-power.blogspot.com/2010/01/15-years-on-pm-dawn-jesus-wept.html

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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