Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Top 5 Romantic Songs... That Really Aren't.

Have you ever found yourself singing along to a song that you liked- only to realize that the lyrics were rather foul and repugnant? Such is the power of music. Let us explore five songs that are widely considered to be odes to love, but in reality are odes to mediocrity. Most of these ballads are relatively old, due in large part to the fact that I am relatively old, but even more so because it was during the 70s and 80s that a whole genre was dedicated this kind of slouching laxity. Below are the best of the best.

5. Sister Golden Hair - America

The band America is infamous for its bad lyrics (think: "Horse With No Name"). But this mid 70s classic really takes the cake; "Well I just keep thinkin' 'bout you; Sister Golden Hair Surprise." I can't tell whether this is a term of endearment, or some kind of heretofore unheard of pasta recipe. In any case, the tone of the lyrics would seem to suggest the former (though admittedly I am no cryptologist). Yet what makes this upbeat romantic ballad so unromantic is the way the man ultimately attempts to woo the lady; "I'm not ready for the altar, but I do believe there are times/ where a woman sure can be a friend of mine." Well, sweep the woman off her feet, why don't you? "I've been one poor correspondent, I've been too too hard to find, but it doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind." I'm sure that whoever this lady is, she can indeed take great comfort in knowing that she is floating around somewhere in the back of the mind of a guy who has not contacted her in God knows how long.

An important side note: One of the keys to reaching the desired poetical and lyrical sublimity is to use bad grammar and abbreviate words as much as possible.

4. I'd Really Love To See You Tonight - England Dan and John Ford Coley    

 We all knew that "playing it cool" was the approach that one takes when trying to attract the attention of a girl, but this duo brings it to new heights. With a remarkable air of disinterest (if not indifference), the protagonist of the song explains to this nameless girl that he would "really love to see her tonight", which would be fine if it ended there, but alas, it does not. Instead, he chooses to make his grand plans available to all; "We could go walkin' through a windy park, take a drive along the beach, or stay at home and watch TV, you know it really doesn't matter much to me". Impressively, the song gets even worse than that. "I'm not talkin' 'bout movin' in, and I don't want to change your life, but there's a warm wind blowing the stars around and I'd really love to see you tonight." Do you see rainbows and unicorns yet? I could be wrong, but I think he just tried to proposition her, while simultaneously suggesting that this was the most thoughtful thing he could do. Apparently even "movin' in" is setting the bar too high for this Casanova. Come on ladies, who could resist a man who wants to be with you primarily because there's a "warm wind blowin' the stars around."

3. Your Love - The Outfield

If you pay attention at all to the lyrics of this song, it is difficult to get around their crude and almost brutal tenor. On the surface, it may sound like a sweet ode to a girl, but dig just a little deeper, and you discover something quite reprehensible. It seems that his girlfriend Josie is "on a vacation far away", and that he wants the other object of his affection ("object" being the operative word here) to come on over so they can "talk it over". But there is one problem with this little liaison (beyond the infidelity part). It seems he "likes his girls a little bit older." I will leave it to the reader's imagination to figure out precisely what that means, but let us hope that it does not involve any statutory infractions. Judging by the way he speaks to this young girl, one wonders what type of person would even listen to him. "You know I'd do anything for you, stay the night but keep it under cover. I just wanna use your love tonight, I don't wanna lose your love tonight". Apparently the laws of contradiction do not apply to the Outfield. "I would do anything for you"... that is except treat you with any respect. "I don't want to lose your love... tonight." What an enduring sentiment! "And as you leave, please, don't forget to close the door." The only thing that could have made this more insulting is if he had asked her to get him a sandwich while she was up.

2. Amie - Pure Prairie League  

I don't know what it was about the music in the 70s, but there seemed to be a whole genre dedicated to romantic mediocrity. Music has always told the story of this or that "ne'er do well", but never had it so audaciously tried to convince us that women really don't want a passionate loving man so much as an existential coach potato. Maybe people mistook it as a kind of humble understatement about one's own expectations in a relationship. At any rate, this nonchalant attitude was indicative of what many felt at the time. Amie is no exception. Equipped with a pleasant laid back melody, and a quiet, if not shy, vocal performance, one could get the impression that this ballad is nothing more than a sweet, down home, southern-fried classic. What it is instead is the same old mealy mouthed indecisive half-plea to a girl to maybe come back to him; "Which way we should turn together or alone, I can never see what is right or what is wrong... I keep fallin' in and out of love with you... don't know what I'm gonna do." Well, it's good to hear your thoughts on the matter, and I cannot imagine that "Amie" would have the strength to resist such a heartfelt invitation to vacillate with you for all of eternity. The chorus is the most telling of all; "Amie, what you wanna do, I think I could stay with you for a while, maybe longer, if I do." Listen buddy, don't write a check that you can't cash. After all, how could any one hope to be true to a woman for "a little while," or dare I say it, "maybe longer."

1. Imagine - John Lennon


There are so many other songs that I could add to this list, like "Fooled Around and Fell in Love", whose first line is "I must have been through about a thousand girls", or the Police's "Every Breath You Take", which for them was a song about stalking, but for couples getting married, was apparently an ode to fidelity (you know like the kind in the novel 1984). Yet when it comes to the most romantic of unromantic songs, there is one more fabulously grandiose than the rest.  Though the song "Imagine" is not romantic in the traditional sense, it does have a romantic quality to it. Instead of proposing to a particular woman, Lennon seems to be "proposing" to all of mankind. When people listen to this song they get wistful, as though they were listening to a patriotic anthem of sorts. And when musicians cover this song, they play it as reverently as if it were a religious hymn. The truth is the song is neither. In fact, it would be more accurate to describe it as an attack on religion, or an attack on patriotism. The song begins with the fateful words; "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try". He might just as well begin with; "Imagine there's no Christmas... it isn't hard to do." The song promises peace if we will only "imagine" that there are no countries, no possessions, and nothing to kill or die for (one might be tempted to add 'nothing to live for' to the list as well). It seems the real heaven, according to Lennon, comes not from any tangible action, but from day-dreaming the material world back into virtual oblivion. The video is consistent with the lyrical narrative. In the beginning he and Yoko are walking through the fog; eventually they arrive at a house that "isn't" there- performing in a room devoid of colors- while dressed in white pantsuits. The piano sounds like it's under water, the vibe reminds me of a rainy day, and the music sounds too slow for its own good, but beyond that, the song is very upbeat and hopeful.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

5 Songs on the Topic of Abortion

Whenever the subject of abortion is broached in movies, TV, or music, it is generally not depicted in the most glowing terms. Even when it is endorsed, there is always a certain ambivalence about it, and even when it is considered a necessary evil, it is an "evil" nonetheless. Below I have highlighted what I think are five interesting takes on the topic of abortion from songs that enjoyed tremendous success despite their grim subject matter. Granted, there is a good deal of euphemism in some of these songs, but artistically this is actually quite effective:

5. Papa Don't Preach - Madonna

In the irony of ironies, Madonna was actually chastised by Planned Parenthood for realeasing such an "irresponsible" single and video. After all, they claimed, this was a story about a young girl who "should" be having an abortion, but has decided instead to "keep her baby". Stylistically and lyrically one of her more interesting songs, this 1986 hit depicts a teenage girl who goes out with the type of guy her father "warned her all about" (seems like some good advice, in retrospect). "...But my friends keep telling me to give it up/ Saying I'm too young/ I ought to live it up." In a startling affirmation of life, she not only concludes that she wishes to "keep her baby", but perhaps more impressively, she dismisses the typical arguments that are offered as a justification to do otherwise.

4. What It's Like - Everlast

This is the only song on the list that seeks to justify abortion. Profane in many respects, it does however offer some insight into the rationale of those who would make this "choice." The song consists of three stories that are intended to make the listener consider "what it's like to walk a mile in another man's shoes." In this sense the song is very engaging and even effective in its presentation. Indeed, we should always pause before we go about condemning this or that person, for we have no idea what they have been through. The second of the three stories is about a woman who is betrayed by a man not worthy of that title (his language is more colorful than mine). As a result, the woman feels that she is left with no other option but to abort her child. As she "heads to the clinic", she is apparently harrassed by a group of protestors that; " her a sinner, and they call her killer, and they call her a whore". No one should endorse this kind "sidewalk counseling", but neither should they endorse the position that one bad turn deserves another. Nevertheless, this is the argument that Everlast seems to be making. The video ends with a family encased in a glass room presumably laughing because they have it all, while everyone else stands on the outside looking gloomy. The moral of the story? Happy families should think twice about being happy, because it is not fair to be happy while everyone else is miserable.

3. Can I Live? - Nick Canon

Nick Cannon

I'm not a huge fan of Hip Hop and/or R&B, but this particular song approaches the issue from a most interesting angle- the angle of the unborn child. Based on events from his own life, Nick Canon depicts an unwed mother who enters an abortion clinic- only to have her future child plead with her to let him live. Like a spirit, he follows her through the halls of the abortion clinic expressing his fears over what is about to take place. And so as she lies on the table, he touches her womb and then disappears in a gold light as if to suggest that the fetus and he are one. Consequently, just before she has the abortion, she runs out of the clinic and into the street where she comes face to face with a choir of children singing; "Can I Live, Can I Live."

2.  The Freshman - The Verve Pipe

This pseudo-grunge hit from the late 1990s details a young couple in college who ultimately procure an abortion. The story is told from the perspective of the male who is still in a state of denial; "Can't be held responsible... she fell in love in the first place".  Overwhelmed by grief, he cannot fathom how any of this could have happened to them; "For the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins we were merely freshman". Perhaps one of the most interesting aspect of the lyrics, at least from a psychological standpoint, is the description of how each one copes with their pain; "His best friend took a weeks vacation to forget her; his girl took a weeks worth of Valium and slept, and now he's guilt ridden sobbing with his head on the floor, thinks about her now and how he never really wept". The woman is overwhelmed to the point of overdosing, while he attempts to avoid the reality altogether- though in the end he too breaks down. The last verse is quite arresting, especially as he describes the lasting effects of the abortion; "Tried to wash our hands of all of this, we never talk of our lacking relationship." Apparently this event has not only crushed his relationship with the girl, but every ensuing relationship as well. The video/song concludes in what appears to be a police station, where a whole slew of men are sitting at interrogation tables- but strangely no one is sitting across from them. It seems their own conscience has become a tribunal unto itself.

1. Brick - Ben Folds Five

Generally a band that is considerably more whimsical, Ben Folds (of Ben Folds Five) wrote this song about how he and his high school girlfriend procured an abortion. Once again, the story is told from the male perspective, and is no less tragic than the former. However, what makes this particular song so compelling is that he is only telling the story. In other words, he is letting the narrative speak for itself. In essence, it picks up where the Verve Pipe left off, describing the different ways in which the couple deals with their grief: "She's a brick, and I'm drowning slowly, off the coast and I'm headed nowhere." Each experiences despair in their own unique way. The music is haunting and beautiful, and the lyrics leave plenty of room for the imagination; "They call her name, at 7:30, I pace around the parking lot. I walk down to buy her flowers, and sell some gifts that I got" (it is the day after Christmas, and so he pawns some Christmas presents in order to pay for the abortion). In the bridge before the last verse, it describes how their decision has subsequently affected both parties; "As weeks went by, it showed that she was not fine, they told me son it's time to tell the truth. And she broke down, and I broke down, 'cause I was tired of lying." The entire song is like a death march. From start to finish the crash seems inevitable- ultimately revealing the strange psychology of a couple that in spite of all of the depressing consequences, are convinced that having the baby is a worse fate.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

10 Things Every Husband Should Know About His Wife:

When a man gets married (or begins a serious relationship with a woman), he should first and foremost recognize that he has his work cut out for him. And as sweet and pleasant as that initial encounter may be, if he is to succeed going forward, he must approach the relationship as one approaches learning a foreign language. Not only does he have to learn how to speak his lady's language, but he must also learn what is of essence in her particular "culture". Indeed, he must become like a student, taking notes so that the integration process might not prove to be too painful. This is not to say that a woman shouldn't do the same, but only that a man can only change what he is capable of changing, namely himself. Thus, I offer ten keys to understanding the unusual citizens of Womania:

10. Women Don't Want Your Honest Opinion:

If a woman asks what you think about anything relating to her person, tread very carefully. She may sound reasonable when she says, "What do you think about this dress... honestly?" or "How do I look?" but she may already have in the back of her mind exactly what she wants you to say, and if you fail to provide the proper response, then be prepared to suffer the (dire) consequences.

9. Sometimes There Is Just No Right Answer:

Somewhat similar to the previous example, there are occasions where no answer will satisfy. If you say "yes", then the answer is "no", if you say "no" then the answer is "yes"; and if you say nothing in the hopes of avoiding a potential conflict, then you will be accused of being disinterested, burying your head in the sand, or some other such cowardly act. If you accept from the beginning that there is no getting out of this bind, then when the accusations fly, you will be a lot more prepared to deal with them. Look, sometimes you just have to take one for the team, as Christ once did for his bride, the Church.

8. Winning Means Losing:

No sooner have you finished congratulating yourself for making the perfect logical argument, then you realize how little reason suffices in a debate with a woman. If, for example, your wife has a flat tire, is stranded in the middle of nowhere and calls you in tears, do not remind her, as I once did, that you told her to take the other car and that you knew this was going to happen. OK, you might be right, and everything that you are saying may in fact be the truth, but you are only storing up wrath for yourself later by pointing this out. You may be enamored with your flawless logic, but just remember that the victory may feel more like a defeat.

7. Women Want You To Be Psychic:

When it comes to problems, particularly those related to your relationship, women do not want to have to tell you what is wrong... they want you to have telepathy. They reason that if you really love them, then you will know instantly what troubles them. And if you fail to divine her deepest feelings? Well then you must not love her as much as you claim to. In the end, she may tell you what is bothering her, but she won't be happy about it, and she may even include your lack of clairvoyance in her list of complaints.

6. Women Don't Want You To Fix the Problem:

 ... they want you to listen to them complain about it. As a woman expresses her frustration to a man, the first thing he thinks about is how to resolve the conflict. For he truly wants his wife to be free of anxiety (or at least the household to be free). Meanwhile, as you offer your five steps to rectifying the situation, she blithely passes over your suggestions in order to get back to the thing that is really irritating her. If you can recognize this from the outset, then you may be able to garner some praise from her. After all, few things are valued more by a woman than an attentive husband.  

5. When You Screw Up, Sometimes "I'm sorry" Isn't Good Enough:

 Depending on the circumstances, when you screw up, you may be able to get away with a simple apology. But if you really want to melt the ice, then you must bring a pleasing sacrifice to her altar. You may put flowers on that altar, you may write a poem and place it there, you may even travel to hell and back again (i.e. the mall), in order to purchase some item that she previously expressed interest in. But whatever the case, if you genuinely wish to receive absolution from the high priestess, then you must commit yourself to some real form of Penance.

4. Women Want To Be Surprised:

When it comes to gifts, men are satisfied with simply telling you what they want and then receiving it. Women? Not so much. You may be able to get away with it for one gift, but anything beyond that must involve the element of surprise. One easy thing that men can do in order to make this process considerably less painful is by "taking notes" whenever your wife says she likes something. It makes your shopping for that special gift a lot simpler, and even better, she will actually come to believe that you are in fact listening to her.
There is no greater threat to a marriage than the loss of this dynamic. Men must be active in their love, lest they retreat into a kind of slothful narcissism. And when I say slothful I mean more than his proclivity to worship the "remote control" (which is a perfect term for the emotional disconnect men frequently fall back into), but likewise his tendency to grow slack in his duty to romance his wife. If a man wishes to be happy in his marriage, he must never abandon this "element of surprise."

3. What A Woman Says Is Not Always What She Means:

When studying a foreign language one must learn the various words that serve as an equivalent in their own language. In a similar sense, men must also learn what women mean by the words that they say. For example, when a man says "Honey, if you want to go out with your friends tonight I'm fine with that," what he means is "Honey, if you want to go out with your friends tonight I'm fine with that." If a woman says that she is " just fine with you going out," beware, for she may actually be saying something like; "Yeah, you go ahead and go out, I dare you!" Men tend to mean what they actually mean (as boring and uninspiring as that may sound), while women tend to mean the opposite of what they say, especially as it relates to matters of the heart. If a woman says that something "doesn't matter to her," be assured that it is probably as essential to her as the very air she breathes. For this reason, a man may find himself in a whole heap of trouble without exactly knowing why. But don't think you can simply plead ignorance, because remember, you were supposed to know her well enough to intuit what she really meant!   

2. Women Want You To Make The Decisions... Sort Of:
If your wife/love interest tells you that she wants you to decide on a restaurant, understand that she is only giving you this privilege to the extent that she agrees with your conclusion. She'll insist that she wants you to decide, but the moment you put forth a suggestion, she'll say "I don't want to go there." The same can be said when deciding on what movie to watch, or what afternoon outing to pursue. I cannot say for sure what women are thinking in this regard, but I can say that they want you to be decisive, just not necessarily the decider.

1. Women Don't Want To Be Treated Equally; They Want To Be Treated As Queens:

They may be egalitarians when it comes to how they treat others, but when it comes to how they want to be treated, well, that is a whole different story. One day I came home and complained to my wife that I seemed to be getting myself  into trouble with the women at work. I told her that I always treated them as equals so I couldn't understand what was going wrong. She explained that that was my problem; "Women don't want to be talked to as men talk to men- they want to be treated like queens." Now this may seem impractical, but every woman is a queen (or at least must be led to believe it), and to the extent that you can make her feel that she is the only one that reigns in your heart, is the extent to which you will live in a happy household.

Some will complain that I am making generalizations with a list like this, but generalizations are just that- a description of what is generally true. And the above list is generally true.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In Defense of Catholic Gloominess

A decade ago there was a movie out called Dogma that was pretty offensive. However, there was one particular part that provides good fodder for discussion. The scene involves a cardinal played by George Carlin (that should tell you all you need to know), who is helping to unveil a new Catholic intiative called Catholicism Wow! The idea behind it is that the Church should update herself and make herself more relevant. At the conclusion of the scene, a new statue, meant to be representative of this attempt at  renewal,  is revealed. The statue is an image of Jesus with a big smile on his face, giving the thumbs up and winking at the people. The name of the statue is "Buddy Christ". 

As much as I detest the cynicism of this movie, the director does stumble upon something significant. A common criticism leveled against the Catholic Church is that she is always inducing guilt and promoting a kind of theological dreariness. From tortuous crucifixes to the Stations of the Cross, at best you might hope for a statue of Jesus looking mildly sympathetic— at worst a collection of stone gods at various stages of suffering, accompanied by an image of God the Father looking visibly displeased (presumably at us).

What is not often asked is what the alternative might look like. Do we really want The Church of the Smiling Jesus? Most of us have seen what that looks like and would prefer that it return to the infernal coloring book from whence it came. When people complain that religion is not cheery enough for them, what they are really saying is that it is not frivolous enough for them. They would much prefer that “Father Uncle” tell them a nice heart warming story about “Footprints”, and get on with it, rather than prattling on about some antiquated obligation to which they no longer adhere. However, statues honoring heroes are not built so that we can laugh at them; they are built so that we can remember them, or better still, so that we can remember ourselves. The business of art is immortality, and for this reason it is no wonder that it has an air of immutability about it. Walk into to any decent art gallery and count how many smiles you see. Eternity may have some good jokes to tell, but for now it prefers to remain deadpan.

The truth is if God went about smiling all of the time, it is doubtful that anyone would take Him seriously. And what could be worse than a frivolous God? That is not to say that God can't smile- only that the consequences of his levity (at least from our end) might be perilous. Would it not lead us to believe that we could simply coast by? Incidentally, we don't question the sternness of a coach or a doctor, but when God is serious we call it oppressive. The fact is the game is still on, the race has yet to be run, and if man gets too presumptuous, he, like the Hare, might  lose it altogether. Yet despite our divine Coach's severity, we know that he remains severe not because he is gloomy by nature,  but because if he is not serious for now, then we may never know the pleasure of that beatific victory parade; the place "where the mouths are filled with laughter... and the throngs are wild with joy." (Psalm 126:2 and Psalm 42:4).