On Paul’s Letter to the Romans

by Michael Hicks


When I read Norman Mailer talk about
“the swoops, spooks, starts, the masks
and snarls, the calm lucid abilities of sin”
I feel the erotics of correctness. The right
bumpiness and pin-pricks. If it’s a sin
to love a tingling necklace of nouns,
tie me to the stake. Then I read Paul
in his first grand slice of provocation
and mistrust, and can’t decide if sin for him
is (a) a slab of concrete with hopscotch
squares or (b) the black monolith Kubrick’s
apes adored in ’68. Straight up or lying
down, his version of sin’s too flat to seduce.
Real Romans knew sin in luscious 3D. Colossal
bronzes of Juno or Neptune or Pluto.
Winding catacombs of lies, sex slaves,
overtaxing, arson, and suicide. Icons
of many-scarred lords of war . . . oh yes,
at least Paul could offer his one-off of that.
But only as the reimbursement for sin.
Certainly not its wages. Which begs the question:
what’s the payback for mouthing the words
“letter” and “Mailer” in the same pun-scented
breath? Or does God grant parole for our
masks and snarls and calm lucid abilities?

Author, composer, and performer MICHAEL HICKS has been teaching at Brigham Young University since 1985. He has authored seven books: Mormonism and Music: A History (1989), Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions(1999), Henry Cowell, Bohemian (2002), Christian Wolff (co-authored with Christian Asplund, 2012), and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography (2015)—all published by University of Illinois Press—as well as The Street-Legal Version of Mormon’s Book (2012) and Do Clouds Rest?: Dementiadventures with Mom (2017), both self-published. His eighth book, Spencer Kimball’s Record Collection: Essays on Mormon Music will be published by Signature Books in 2020.

His historical and analytical articles have appeared in books such as the Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World and the Oxford Handbook of Mormonism as well as more than a dozen journals that include the Journal of the American Musicological Society and American Music, for which he was the editor from 2007-2010.

His poetry has appeared in various Mormon-themed journals and in the anthologies Cadence of Hooves (2008), New Poets of the American West (2010), and Fire in the Pasture (2011).

For more, especially about his music, go to michaelhicks.org.

Photo: “Roman Theatre, Pompeii,” by Domiriel