"Like a Laptop Messiah..."

Please be sure to see the caveat at the end of this post. Elizabeth and I had a date night tonight to see Girl Talk at the Variety Playhouse. Girl Talk is the pseudonym for Greg Gillis, a Philadelphia DJ and First Amendment activist who makes incredible dance music by sampling (without permission) from a whole swath of popular music. "Soulja Boy" plays over Thin Lizzy's "Jail Break"; Salt n' Pepa wrap over Dee-Lite mixed with Nirvana. Given the preponderance of rap lyrics, it's far from family-friendly, but it's amazing in artistry. Every listen reveals a new layer.

The concerts feature Greg in the center of the stage bouncing over his laptop as he layers new songs. It's like having a party with a famous DJ. And here's where it gets interesting: Greg works hard to de-centralize the whole thing. Half the audience is on stage; he throws out beach balls, giant balloons. He stage dives and surfs the crowd for a while. He dances with the people who surround him. He really, really seems to be enjoying himself. At one point, as the music pounded, he called to the audience to turn and face each other and dance. "You don't have to look this way. This is a party." One fan brought a pumpkin carved with the Girl Talk logo and gave it to him. He held it and danced with it for a while, and then sent it out into the crowd, where people were holding it and snapping cellphone photos of each other with it.

In short, the whole event was primally post-modern and 21st century web 2.0 "world is flat" kind of stuff. Music that shouldn't go together (judging by the genre-fying effects of radio) does, and the crowd is full of people who are fans of all the genres. Greg is more shaman than priest, less offering a concert than channeling energy and sending it out to the crowd.

I couldn't help it; as I watched the whole thing unfold (and realized how old I am compared to the audience), I couldn't help but put my professional hat on. What does this kind of performance reality say to the church? The traditional service, which gives the preacher "center stage" for twenty minutes a week is so alien to an experience like that I had tonight. And for those who are fans, those in the audience, I'm guessing that tonight struck them as far more authentic than what they might find in churches on Sunday morning. Information is meant to be shared; we're part of the experience; the person at the center of it all is there to rechannel the energy of the place away from himself.

A spiritual experience? I wouldn't go that far. It was a great party. But is there something to be learned here?

Extremely Large Caveat: Girl Talk's music isn't for everyone. You can download his music for free online. But here's the warning: lyrically, it can be fairly explicit and offensive. It's not for the faint of heart at all.