“Ritual Life” is the second song on Bachelors Anonymous’s eponymous six-song album, remastered and re-released digitally.
Bachelors Rob Berg and David Hughes met in Pasadena’s St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church choir in 1984. (See a previous post, How We Met, from which the following is taken.)
The two compared notes. They both had a reverence for the Renaissance music they sang in the choir. David was intrigued by Rob’s time as a Hindu monastic, having himself a shelf of Indi-pop records—rock music infused with South Asian influences—which would creep into the work of Bachelors Anonymous as well. Rob loved The Cure and The Clash. The two exchanged tapes.
As David recalls it, the to-be-Bachelors’ first collaboration was for a St. Philip’s summer 1984 event, perhaps a choir fundraiser. David’s mother Phyllis Hughes had been researching the family history. She’d come across David’s paternal great great great grandfather Daniel Vogel, born in 1795 in Mainzlar, central Germany, who had inscribed his Bible with a message that in the 20th century David and Rob couldn’t resist. They adapted two disparate translations, moved the punch line to the end, and recorded the narration’s backing tracks that later were repurposed as “Ritual Life,” the second tune in their first six-song cassette, which has been re-released digitally. The original, titled “Inscription,” is included as one of two bonus tracks on the new release.
David remembers that at some point Rob composed a melody atop the “Inscription” backing tracks and gave it a new title, “Ritual Life.” David was challenged to write the song’s lyrics, inspired in part by their choir’s weekly liturgies, having been away from any church for a decade.
John Callahan, interviewing the Bachelors about a year later, remarked, “That seems to be an area of your work that you [are] developing—the spiritual kind of thing…” to which Rob replied, “Yeah. Sexual spiritual. Razor’s edge,” in reference to an Upanishadic aphorism.
I dream tonight a litany by rote beneath a veil
I dream of muscled angels to wrestle and prevail
A dream of God’s accomplice who executes the Plan
There’s definitely something about an Aqua Velva man
Oh, in my ritual life I cross myself at will
In my ritual life, love’s a poison that doesn’t kill
In my ritual life I keep a vigil until…
I wake the same way on my back, a mumble on my tongue
To news of delinquent cherubim and how the West was won
With aching limbs I rise, my foe still on the bed
We each have occupations; he’s an angel, I give head
Oh, in my ritual life success is not my aim
In my ritual life we will not use first names
In my ritual life nothing is the same
I dream tonight a parlor game this wrestler has devised
A Ouija that’s consulted on occasions when I cry
This mesmerist is well rehearsed in all the acts of God
The pocket watch begins to swing as I begin to nod…
You’re at the sink, I remember
You’re at the mirror, I recall
You’re changing clothes, I’m distracted
You’re in the shower stall
We check the mail, discuss the weather
We spend all our time alone together
The burning book, the way you look
The cigarette, the silhouette
An open door, the barroom floor
The second glance, a mindless trance
A smoking gun, the purple sun
A silver shroud, the mushroom cloud…
Lyrics Reprinted by Permission
See album credits