Gavin Bryars Feat. Tom Waits - Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (Long version)
For the esoteric pick of the week we’re going with Gavin Bryars and his epic 1993 remastering of his 1975 composition Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.
When I first heard Jesus' Blood it was as an employee at Tower Records. There was a promo version of it, so I put it on late one night in the store. The few shoppers still in the store thought it sucked. They bought their Stone Temple Pilots CD and got the hell out.
Jesus’ Blood became our closer CD at the Sports Arena Tower Records. We’d put it on about a quarter to midnight (closing time) and wait for people to complain about how repetitive it was, buy their stuff and leave. It was beautiful.
We never got past about 20 minutes into the CD but one night I realized that the music wasn’t repetitive. I took the CD home, put "the cans" on, and laid down on the living room floor. I listened to the entire 73 minutes and had a profound musical experience.
The piece is based on a recording of a street tramp singing a tune about Jesus’ blood. Bryars had taken the recording and put it on a loop and then added accompaniment to it.
The music which accompanies the tramp is almost always changing in its instrumentation. The original version was limited to the length of a side on an LP.
For the 1993 version, the format was CD and Bryars expanded the length of the music by almost three times and added Tom Waits to sing a duet with the tramp.
The idea of Jesus’ blood never failing might not make sense to everyone. I feel as though this piece of music exceeds the confines of Christianity if we just frame it up a little. Jesus’ blood represents someone who has made a sacrifice for you without expecting anything in return.
This is an event which has almost never happened to any of us. When has anyone ever made a sacrifice for you without saying that you “owe them one”? The other idiom associated with this is someone taking the fall for you but making sure you learn your lesson and never put them in that position again.
It is the sacrifice without any strings attached which makes the story of Jesus so appealing. You might think I’m crazy because Christianity is full of “strings attached.”
However, Jesus doesn’t come back from the dead and say, “You guys owe me, now do what I said to do.” It’s just not there. Yes, Christianity is full of all kinds of manipulation but the one thing about it that can be said to be pure is the idea of Jesus' blood.