Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tidbit That May Interest Only Me

Andrew Sullivan has been asking readers to submit their thoughts on which popular song is the most egregiously self-serving song ever, masquerading as a serious "message tune." My submission was Sting's "Russians," off his debut album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Offending lyric:

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy?
There is no monopoly of common sense on either side of the political fence
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too.
It was either this or "The Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston, but she didn't write that one, and I can't fault her for being an (over) interpreter of someone else's drivel. Sting, however, did write this piece of tripe and he deserves to be skewered for it. And for what it's worth, I'm a huge Sting fan; the masthead of my blog features a Sting lyric.

However, it was Andrew's latest post on this topic that captured my attention the most, since it takes on what to me is a sacred song: John Lennon's "Imagine." Having just been to the Grammy Museum over the Thanksgiving weekend, it hit me like a fist to read one reader's take on the song:
Banal, insipid, sanctimonious and ubiquitous - is any song of this type really more nauseating? The bit when he pityingly muses, "I wonder if you can" is particularly grating. No, John, surely I cannot reach such lofty heights of intellectual vision as you
have attained.

Since the song is a favorite of my wife's, I felt it my duty to defend it. Yes, it was a multi-millionaire's voice uttering the words, "Imagine no possessions." So, only a homeless ascetic has the required credibility to discuss ideas about how the world would be better if there were no possessions? Only an atheist can write, "Imagine there's no heaven?" An anarchist is only one who can write, "Imagine there's no countries?" Well, I was once a vegetarian (a vegan, even) and I can say from experience that I felt much better physically and emotionally when I didn't consume meat, but I decided to opt for convenience over optimal health. Does that make me less credible when I say that vegetarian diets are better than the typical omnivorous human diet? Balderdash! The beauty in the song is not in the messenger who delivers it. It is in the idea that there is a vision for a world far better than the one we have created, and in the challenge for everyone to think about that for themselves and try to create it, in a microcosmic way, for themselves and those around them.

However, the part that may only interest me in Andrew's post was the last line:
Musically, [the song's] sublime. And then you hear David Archuleta's version and you're back to cleaning the puke off your laptop.

The curse of American Idol. As a fan of the show for years, I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. I have not heard a single contestant's version of a single song (except perhaps for Carrie Underwood's version of George Michael's "Praying for Time") that ever came close to the original.

1 comment:

George said...

Gotta disagree with you on this one. When A.S. started the thread, "Imagine" was the first song I thought of. I was so glad to see that I wasn't alone. Now I have to admit that my disdain for the song was not just from its original context, (the cynical, superior, "I'm more spiritual than you will ever be" of "I wonder if you can.") but also from the way that it has grown, and is now used as a substitute for original thought. In the same way, while I absolutely adore Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Sia's "Breathe Me", when they are used over and over again in Television and Film as cues to make us think that something deep is happening, I begin to question the integrity of not only that program, but the artist.