Feedback with Lizi von Teig: The Spiritual Philosophy of Pat Schneeweis

 

The evolution of Pat “the Bunny” Schneeweis is something that endlessly fascinates me. Few interviews with him exist, none about his religious beliefs, but his lyrics speak for themselves and can be viewed as an evolution in and of themselves. When he started recording as Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains at age 13 in 2000, he was a homeless heroin addicted teenager miserable and angry. This period of his life was so abysmal and unlike the person he would become, that later in life he would refuse to play songs from it because, as he explained in the Fistful of Vinyl interview, it was as if they weren’t even his. From this period to final release, a split album with folk punk rapper Ceschi, you can hear a profound change in spiritual and philosophical outlook. Although Pat never became a theist, his outlook on what a higher power could be and is went from a malevolent abstract force to an imperfectly moral force powered by the will of people.

As a disclaimer, when referring to the Almighty, I will not be using pronouns, as in English all third person pronouns are gendered (even “they” has a gendered connotation because of the recent embrace of it by non-binary people, which I support) and a God that is gendered is to suggest that there is a preference for one gender or another.

From the perspective of someone covering up their (often innate) deep psychological pain with drugs, God is nothing more than the cause of that pain. If the Almighty is the creator of all things, then that Creator also gave that person all the pain they’re covering up with their drug use. This is why, in Pat’s early works, God is frequently a chaotic neutral or chaotic evil force. In “Untitled” off Love Songs for the Apocalypse (2005), Pat riffs on Nietzschean theology singing “God isn’t dead, but I’ll get that bastard someday.” This is more meaningful than it’s inflammatory, contrarian phrasing lets on, as Pat is saying that the Almighty has caused so much pain and suffering that the Light is in fact a Darkness and should be purged from the earth. It suggests an omnipotent, omniscient, yet malevolent God, not unlike that proposed in Trudy Cooper’s comic Oglaf, where followers of the deity Sithrak believe that the Almighty will torment all people for eternity after they die, and that life is but misery that he (to use pronouns used in the comic) inflicts on humanity for his own pleasure.

By the late 2000s, Pat had significantly softened on his thoughts on God. In 2008, his project Wingnut Dishwashers Union, his theology resembles The Diggers of 17th century England than Nietzsche. In his song “Jesus Does The Dishes,” first released on Never Trust A Man Who Plays Guitar (2008), he sings “And y’know lately I’ve been thinking about/How I love Jesus/ Because Jesus was a dirty homeless hippie peace activist/and he said/”drop out and find God” to anybody who would listen.” This is a far cry from actual Christianity, as at no point does Pat say that Christ was Divine, but the fact that Pat likes him at all while acknowledging that Christ was a proselytizer of a benevolent God indicates that he is coming around to the notion that a higher power could help individuals.

In the same song, he explains a little bit of his own personal theology with the lyric “I don’t believe in God but I’m also not an atheist/Because the universe is chaos, but chaos plays favorites.” With this we can see he still has some sort of belief in an Almighty, but he doesn’t apply the same conviction about the morality of that force. He sees God as someone who prefers certain people and forces in the world, but not necessarily one that intervenes in every affair or one that has a particular moral compass, as implied in the lyric from “Untitled.” We can see his theology morphing already, just three years after that Johnny Hobo album.

In 2010, Pat Schneeweis went to a rehabilitation program in Arizona and got sober. Released from his old master of intoxicants, he found a higher power in people. He has never gone on record as being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, but references to AA literature are abundant on the 2011 album Live The Dream, such as the song title “More About Alcoholism” (the same title as a chapter in the book Alcoholics Anonymous) and the lyric about “my friend William[’s]” message of hope (as members of AA sometimes refer to themselves as “friends of Bill”). Regardless of his involvement in the group itself, the influence of the ideas and literature are clear, and that bleeds into Pat’s theology.

The album ends with “First Song Part 2,” and the last lyric in that song is one of the most beautiful pieces of theology ever recorded to music, “So maybe God isn’t the right word but I believe in you.” A very profound statement, in this we can see a natural progression in the six years since Johnny Hobo sang that first lyric I discussed, as Pat has ultimately found a higher power he trusts, and it’s other people. This lyric demonstrates a belief in the power of groups to influence change, a power so great that it might as well be Almighty.

 

Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.

 

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2 Comments

  1. A great analysis of the evolutionary changes in a young musician’s life! Thank you for seeing and sharing it with us.

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