I’ve been pondering weather over the last couple weeks, mainly because our weather has been less than pleasant lately. In the not so distant past, humans didn’t have expansive scientific knowledge and understanding of geography, an aspect of which is the study of weather. Instead, in seeking to explain natural phenomena, past civilizations attributed these extraordinary events to the will of the gods or other supernatural beings. By the time the Abrahamic faiths rolled onto the scene, the basic default was to presume that it was God who controlled the weather. During the Middle Ages, Christianity was widespread throughout Europe along with the idea of divine providence or God’s intervention in the universe. This led to the belief that God was an omnipotent force who judged each person’s earthly deeds and respectively punished or rewarded within the mortal lifespan. An assumption was then formed that it was God’s will that the poor were poor because they were being punished for their wickedness and that the rich were rich because they were being rewarded for their piety. Thus, bad weather was a result of disfavor from God.
Thanks to modern science, we now know why and how most natural phenomena occur. In the example of lightning, I know that lightning is basically over-sized static electricity caused by a build up of positive charges on the ground attracting negative charges in a cloud. The result of these charges interacting is a giant spark, which we refer to as lightning (I would like to thank and cite my 8th grade earth science teacher as the source of that explanation). Hurricanes are similarly simple when described through the eye of modern science. If you are more interested in how tropical cyclones such as hurricanes form, please check out this helpful NASA article. Unfortunately, knowing how these phenomena occur has not led to us stopping them from occurring nor erasing their disastrous impact when they do come in contact with humans.
A couple months ago, we, as a class, briefly discussed how weather can be depicted as villain-esque in some of Prince’s works. This makes sense when one considers the devastating impact Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans and the overall United States. Prince, as a native of New Orleans, has seen and felt the influence of that natural disaster, so it is no surprise that bad weather may serve as a villainous figure in his art. As a class we particularly looked at “Flambeau,” but I also noticed some bad weather in the piece “Second Line Rebirth” as well. In “Flambeau,” bad weather is personified into a villain in the shape of a tidal wave foaming in the background, actively driving the figures in the opposite direction. The tidal wave in this piece directly reminded me of Hurricane Katrina and similar storms that New Orleans has been faced with. I have no doubt that the tidal wave does serve as a menacing figure in this piece. “Flambeau” also features a lightning storm which sets the mood of the work further into that of a storm.
Meanwhile, in “Second Line Rebirth,” a bolt of lightning flashes in the background of a piece showcasing a funeral march for Brother John. Lightning is often used as a symbol of change, usually by a terrible event or due to negativity. In the case of both of these works, the lightning depicted is such a symbol: in “Flambeau” it is representative of the coming disaster of the tidal wave and in “Second Line Rebirth” it could be a symbol relating to the mourning of the death of Brother John.
To relate back to providence, while humanity’s wickedness can lead to bad weather, i.e. climate change, I would not call this an act of God. Though I have heard throughout my lifetime that the uptick in natural disasters is the result of a god punishing humanity for its sins, science shows that it is humans who are punishing themselves by destroying our planet. In an effort to find that Prince does not see all weather as bad and portents of doom, I looked for a more positive sign of change that the weather could represent in either “Flambeau” or “Second Line Rebirth.” In the latter case of “Second Line Rebirth” I found that the lightning could also further push the theme of rebirth. That is, one can also be struck by lightning metaphorically, meaning having a great idea or being inspired. As Prince was inspired by the life and work of Brother John, it makes sense that the lightning could be a strike of inspiration for the people celebrating the life of Brother John. Because of Prince’s religious faith I would be interested to hear what he thought of me bringing “Flambeau” and “Second Line Rebirth” into a discussion of divine providence. While I do not believe Prince intends to punish his subjects in any divine manner, I do wonder if he thinks our bad weather is a consequence for humanity’s sins.