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Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused? (Part I of II)

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Sam Sparro is an intriguing character. Everything about him seems not exactly mysterious, but at least somewhat cloudy: his name, age, heritage, sexuality, religious influences, musical pedigree, lyrics, intentions, and sense of humor are all cloaked in one way or another. Even his album cover is a bit disguising.

And then there’s his music.

Don’t even try to define that.

House?…Soul?… Spoof?…Funk?

Electro?…Disco?…Religious?…Pop?

Electro-soul spoof-disco-pop mixed with religious- funk-house??? It’s enough to make you crazy.

Or maybe it’s just plain fun. Because when you get past Sam Sparro the man, and instead just focus on his music, things can get extremely enjoyable. But whether or not Sparro wants his listeners to ignore his upbringing, lifestyle, and motivations in order to just hear his music is up for debate. Though I think he’d like us to be able to understand him, I’d still love the chance to ask him how he feels. But there is one thing about Sam Sparro that is neither mysterious nor cloudy, complex nor confused. In fact it’s not even remotely questionable:

“Black and Gold,” the first single off Sparro’s just-released eponymous first album (Island 2008), is absolutely and completely undeniable. It is currently sitting at Number Two on the UK Singles Chart, bested only by the musical atrocity that is “4 Minutes” from Madonna and Justin Timberlake. (What? Bitter? Who, me? Nahhhhhh.) Sparro’s voice is remarkably dark and soulful, especially for a young, white, hipster-looking kid. He sings with a tinge of yearning and palpable sense of urgency — when Chaka Khan first heard Sparro sing years ago she’s said to have exclaimed, “Damn! That white boy can sing.” — and the accompanying beat is utterly infectious. It seeps slowly into you, and doesn’t leave easily.

Now I’m not claiming “Black and Gold” is a great song, or even a good one, though I happen to think highly of it. It’s just that you can’t deny it. It’s insistent. Kind of like “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John — you may not even like their music (I don’t) or the song itself (meh), but there’s just something about it that ropes you in a little bit no matter what you do. The same is true of Sparro’s “Black and Gold.” You don’t have to be a loyal customer of whatever kind of music it is that Sparro is selling, you just can’t help but buy in, even if only for a second.

Listen to “Black and Gold” @ Last.fm (Oh, and don’t forget to crank the volume)

Watch the video for “Black and Gold”

Okay, now that I’ve just done the literary version of passing Go without collecting $200 dollars…..let’s back up to the very beginning and try to clear up some of the aforementioned cloudiness surrounding this interesting new artist. First of all, Sam Sparro’s not his real name. It’s Sam Falson. Second, though his birth date is listed as November 8th, 1984 (making him 23), Sparro’s website lists him as 25. Third, despite having the Number Two single in the UK, Sparro is not English, but Australian, born in Sydney. And despite being born Sydney, Sparro was raised in Los Angeles. But then he moved back to Sydney briefly. And then to London. Oh, and then back to Los Angeles. Right…

And then things start to get interesting. Sparro’s father, Chris Falson, is a gospel minister/singer/songwriter — he writes and produces mostly gospel music — who, it has been written, “sounds like Bob Dylan on a gospel tip.” (Wow. Nope, not going there. But you can find his music on fine sites such as WorshipMusic.com). Mr. Falson also worked with Maranatha! Music (“Serving the Church with the Song of Faith”) for five years while Sparro was growing up in Los Angeles, and according to M!M’s website, there are over 120,000 church “gate-keepers” that have attended their workshops. I don’t know what that means, but it sure sounds scary. (Maybe that’s just because I’ve seen Jesus Camp).

Now, why do I bother you with this useless information? Good question.

The first reason is simple: Intrigue. Right up until the day Sam Sparro’s self-titled album dropped (April 28th) his Wikipedia page listed him as being “openly gay,” and cited a recent magazine article as the source of the information. Yesterday, however, this claim, and the citation that came with it, was removed entirely. (Hmmm…cloudy indeed). Thus, I couldn’t help but wonder if Sparro was actually gay or not, and whether his (allegedly) being gay clashed at all with his “gate-keeping” father’s Church-driven ideals.

So I went digging, and in short order found the magazine article in question. It’s from the March 27th, 2008 issue of Boyz: Passionate About Gay Life. And Sam Sparro is on the cover. In the interview, Sparro refers repeatedly to his “boyfriend” of two years, a stylist and artist, saying, “Oh, we’re a couple of gays.” And when asked if his record label, Island Records, discussed “the gay thing” with him, Sparro responded, “My stance on the whole thing was, this is me! I was already pretty set up with the direction, the music, and how I was presenting myself, so it was kind of like, take it or leave it.”

So I guess that about settles it.

But the second reason I bothered looking into Sparro’s father is that after numerous listens to Sparro’s album, I started to hear references (I thought) to religion, God, faith, spirituality, and evolution in his music — even on the song I feel is so universal it gets everyone somewhere, “Black and Gold.” So when I confirmed the “openly gay” claim, a hundred questions flooded my head.

I wanted to know — needed to know — was I listening to a religious album? If so, do I want to be? Have I been duped? Is this some kind of neo-gospel music that no one told me about? How does Sparro reconcile his homosexuality with his Christian beliefs, if indeed he has any? Is his father, the minister, okay with Sparro being gay? Does his father know? (Or is he about to find out?) And what about the other set of lyrics on the album that I could swear are either drug references or sexual references? Or the songs that just seem like pure jokes or total spoofs? (More on Sparro’s other songs in Part II). Do those void the idea that Sparro might actually be singing about God and Christianity?

My confusion only deepened when I saw the Maranatha! Music (the company Sparro’s father worked for) logo, an outline of a “Dove,” which M!M’s website proudly proclaims is, “One of the most widely recognized logos in the world.” Why? Scroll back up to the beginning of this article and look at the upper right-hand corner of Sam Sparro’s album cover. Though it’s clearly a different design, the coincidence is kind of freaky. And I couldn’t help but wonder if that connection is, at least in part, how Sam Falson the unknown L.A. barista, became Sam Sparro(w) the international gay popstar. But if it isn’t merely a meaningless coincidence, which it could well be, is it an homage to his father’s work, or a “fuck you” to it? And more deeply, is it an homage to the Church, or a “fuck you” to it?

Maybe cloudy was an understatement for this kid.

More Internet digging was done (Warning: digging was deeper this time), but to little avail when it came to finding instances of Sparro clarifying any of my myriad questions. Except (of course) in regards to his insta-hit, “Black and Gold.” In a March 2008 interview with British music website Noise Makes Enemies, Sparro talked about the inspiration behind the song: “Well, I was looking up at the sky one night, feeling a bit tiny and alone, and all I saw was black sky and gold stars — so that inspired the song. It’s really about trying to find God.” (Italics mine). Though it certainly doesn’t make me like the song any less — I still can’t stop listening to it — just as I thought he might be, Sparro is indeed referring to God in the chorus of “Black and Gold:”

‘Cause if you’re not really here, then the stars don’t even matter / Now I’m filled to the top with fear, that it’s all just a bunch of matter / ‘Cause if you’re not really here, then I don’t wanna be either / I wanna be next to you…Black and Gold, Black and Gold, Black and Gold.

But it seems clear that Sparro is more than just “trying to find God.” He’s terrified that God might not be here, and is directly connecting the value or worth of his own life to God’s very existence. Perhaps a bit dramatic for my taste, but quite obviously a rather darkly looming question for Sparro.

Armed with Sparro’s confirmation from the interview, even the opening lyrics of “Black and Gold” suddenly sounded more like an Evolution/Creationism reference to me: If the fish swam out of the ocean, and grew legs and they started walking / And the apes climbed down from the trees, and grew tall and they started talking / And the stars fell out of the sky, and my tears rolled into the ocean / And now I’m looking for a reason why, you even set my world into motion. Interesting.

And then of course there’s the line that hangs in the air like a giant white question-mark-shaped cloud: If vision is the only validation, then most of my life isn’t real. Yikes. Does this mean that because Sparro is unable to see God himself, he is unable to validate his beliefs? And that he considers God, or the idea of God, to be most of his life? Sparro seems like a young man desperately searching for answers, and obviously visual validation of God’s existence may prove to be…problematic?

Still, it sounds to me as if Sparro is not exactly a “believer” per se, and therefore not intentionally making “religious music” like his father. But rather that he’s grasping at or grappling with the religious ideals around which he was raised: God, Christianity etc. Whether or not the fact that Sparro is openly gay is contributing to his confusion in accepting a religion and/or a God that frowns upon homosexuality is something only Sparro can know, and I can’t speculate about. But something strong is compelling him to question his faith. And we’re watching it happen. Either way, this is heavy stuff for a hit pop song.

To be continued…..

(Check back tomorrow for Part II of “Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused,” where we’ll talk more about the music off Sparro’s brand new album, and less about the man behind it…..Hint: He’s not a one-hit wonder).

– Jonathan

Sam Sparro’s Official MySpace

Sam Sparro’s Official Website

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Written by Jonathan

April 30, 2008 at 12:52 pm

12 Responses

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  1. […] read last week’s post, “Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused? Part I of II,” click here to backtrack to it before reading Part II […]

  2. […] nearly the same quality, Munroe already reminds me a little bit of a more raw, less developed Sam Sparro. One other thing: Munroe even upstages Usher’s remix in one sense — he actually made an […]

  3. Sorry, just a quick point…

    “And then of course there’s the line that hangs in the air like a giant white question-mark-shaped cloud: If vision is the only validation, then most of my life isn’t real. Yikes. Does this mean that because Sparro is unable to see God himself, he is unable to validate his beliefs? And that he considers God, or the idea of God, to be most of his life?”

    Yea ok, good reasoning, but i see that to mean that whist people say that seeing is believing, if that were true then most of my life wouldn’t be real, as opposed to he can’t see god.

    And VERY quickly in reference to the gay thing, yea, so he’s gay, yea so being gay is a sin but it’s no worse than any other sin, the bible’s quite clear on that, it makes him no less of a christian that you or I. what makes the difference is what he chooses to do with that. some people are genetically gay, we live in a fallen world, these things happen, but he can either ignore that and stay clean as it were or he can choose to follow that and satisfy his desires by actually having a relationship with another man.

    Feel free to argue with me, but I’m in the least arrogant way intended, i am very sure that I’m right.

    God Bless

    Anstey

    May 18, 2008 at 4:28 pm

  4. Oh, Hello again, sorry i don’t mean to intend to bombard you with comments, i promise this is the last. I’m English, forgive me!

    Above you mention the resemblance between the dove in the logo and the bird in sam’s name on the CD cover. Now, obviously no-one can prove it, but i would be inclined to say that that would be more likely to be a sparrow (because of the name) rather than a dove.

    Good research though, I see what may have led you to consider that. But yea, that’s my opinion. sparrow not dove. 🙂

    Anstey

    May 18, 2008 at 4:39 pm

  5. It’s quite possible to be gay and Christian/have spirituality. It just depends on what faith/christian denomination you associate with if any at all, and how you interpret/read/understand your beliefs etc. All Christians interpret their scriptures to some extent, or else they’d still be calling people who eat shellfish “abominations” as this proclamations sits alongside the one about men sleeping with men being an abomination in the Bible (book of Leviticus).

    Pippin

    May 22, 2008 at 12:42 am

  6. wow this was so interesting to read, I have read in previous reviews about his religious side, but the point is that when I personally listen to the album and in particular Black and Gold, all I hear is a love song! Maybe it is love to God, but I see and hear it as love to another person.

    As for his music, it is very much influenced by soul and gospel and jazz, on top of the disco, funk and electronica. It’s a great sound!

    Elisavet

    May 29, 2008 at 5:18 am

  7. omg hees gay i think his music is really good ;d

    lacey

    July 7, 2008 at 6:03 am

  8. Black and Gold is a FANTASTIC song. I’m an student of Christian apologetics, so the lyrics carry special significance to me, as well as for anyone who’s ever asked, “God, are you there?”
    For quite a while I listened to it without paying any attention at all to the lyrics, along with all the other songs tagged “Electronic” I downloaded off the ‘net. I really didn’t know what I had. Then when I finally started paying attention, it hit me like a truck. This song is wrestling with some heavy, HEAVY stuff, the kind of question that for the most part stays out of the — forgive me — shallow world of pop music.

    If life is an accident, does MY existence have any significance at all? If mortal life is all there is, and my life only matters if it influences the course of future events, how do I know those future events matter? Does anything at all have any significance whatsoever outside of the Divine? Moreover, can scientific fact disprove the existence of a being who must necessarily exist beyond the realm of the scientifically testable?

    ’cause if you’re not really here
    then the stars don’t even matter
    now i’m filled to the top with fear
    but it’s all just a bunch of matter

    If this feeling of “something beyond them” is nothing more than an illusion, then do I even have free will? If there is no God, I have no soul, and am no more than “just bunch of matter.” “Just a bunch of matter” is controlled only by it’s previous state of being, it’s every change and action determined from the first instant of the Big Bang, therefore free will is no more than a cruel trick. But what is cruelty? By who’s standard is it judged? Is consensus of opinion the only source of Moral Law, barring a Divine Standard? Can there be ANY morality AT ALL under such circumstances? Why should Mankind’s collective morality be regarded as sacred? What is Mankind but “just a bunch of matter”? There can be NO MORALITY barring the existence of Deity.

    And finally, the great grieving, driving conclusion: isn’t nonbeing preferable to such a pathetic shell of an existence? After all, what is existence? What am I but a particular arrangement of “a bunch of matter” that shall continue to change and evolve. If consciousness is nothing but an intermittent state between Oblivion and Oblivion, why not hasten that final, empty state of nonbeing, and speed the dominion of the only force worthy of worship, barring God Himself: Entropy the All-Devouring, the Force that ultimately foils all of mankind’s grand schemes. (rhetorical)

    Each question flowing from the next, if ONLY people would stop long enough to THINK! Forgive me, I digress.

    Overall, an absolutely ASTOUNDING piece of work. I only wish that more people struggled with these greatest of questions, gained a little perspective on existence, and gained Hope that these is something more, Someone more to everything that we understand and wonder about. Gay or not, and no matter where he is in his (or isn’t) in his faith walk, Sam Sparro has earned a great deal of respect from me, and may God bless him richly in his search for answers.

    tl;dr version:
    Good song, big questions, such as many found here:
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org
    God bless you all.

    Howard

    July 22, 2008 at 12:40 am

  9. At Anstey, First of all before I say anything else being gay is NOT and I repeat is NOT genetic in any way what so ever, it is just like every other sin, it is a choice, you choose to lie, you choose to steal why should being gay be any different choose to be gay!

    You are right no sin is better or worse than any other sin, in God’s eyes sin is sin, some one who commited a murder is know worse than someone who stole. Sparros homosexuality can not be reconciled with his christianity. I know that a lot of christians have sinned, but it’s one thing to be a christian and repent from your sins, and its another thing to be a christian and continue to live in sin, knowing that you are living in sin and not trying make an effort to change it.

    At Howard, I can understand that some christians may struggle with some of the questions you drew out from the song ‘Black and Gold’. But their is no need for a christian to question the existance of God or the purpose of themselves, when all the answers you need are in the bible. There was no big bang, the book of Genesis tells us how God created the earth. There are some things that are difficult to interpret in the bible I know, that is why developing a close relationshipn with God and having faith in him that he will not let you be mislead (by making a wrong understanding of his word).

    Rebecca

    September 6, 2008 at 12:05 pm

  10. Oh I forgot, God Bless ya all! x

    Rebecca

    September 6, 2008 at 12:07 pm

  11. He is saying quite clearly that if reality is only based on what is reducable and “seen” then his whole life has been false because he’s based his life on what he’s “felt” vs what he’s seen or proved – feelings are his facts.I can’t believe the meaning of this song escapes anyone?? the whole theme of the song seems to point out the uselessness/emptiness of a life that is based only on what is rationalised and seen.What a wise kid to articuate all this in a few minutes.

    He is also portuguese descent they have more black dna than any other european group [9-28%] he has obviously inherited something of it.He actually looks exactly like my cousin who is a 1/4 black.Its the mega mouth.

    Kate De Fontaine

    October 20, 2008 at 3:36 am

  12. Actually, it’s not a sin to be gay. Anywhere in the Bible that looks like it is is a mistranslation: say for example ‘homosexuals shall not enter the Kingdom of God’, this was translated from arsenakatoi (abusers of themselves with mankind in the KJV, wjicg in 1958 was translated to homosexual due to the bias of the translators of the time. In lev 18 to say it’s an abomination for man to lie with man meant ‘against tradtion & culture’ for a nation trying to procreate!! I could go on and on, but no where in the Bible condemns loving gay relationships. God bless

    Rebekah

    January 16, 2009 at 9:16 am


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