April 25, 2007

About those inspirational songs.

I just want to flag the discussion from yesterday about the "inspirational" songs done on last night's "American Idol." I said I liked the song "Imagine," and that touched off a lot of antagonism. Some folks really hate it. They call it "nihilistic," even though it's a simple expression of longing for universal peace and love. Sure, it's naive about politics and theology, but so what? To complain about that is like complaining that a classic love song fails to take into account the complexity of long-term sexual relationships.

The singer who was most aggressively promoted last night, Jordin Sparks, sang "You'll Never Walk Alone." The judges and many viewers ate up the bombastic performance. Now, that made me feel nihilistic. There's only one situation in which the song "You'll Never Walk Alone" is acceptable, and that is in its original setting, at the end of the emotional arc of a theatrical performance of "Carousel." Outside of that context, it is histrionic and hideous.

I was forced to sing that song in public school music classes back in the 1960s, along with "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "The Theme from 'Exodus'" ("This land is mine, God gave this land to me/This brave and ancient land to me"). What a gruesome grind that was! You couldn't wait to get out of there, go home, and play some Beatles records.


Ron said...

...and yell 'I got blisters on my fingers!!!' at the end of each one!

"You'll Never Walk Alone" was playing as they ended my high school graduation ceremony, and all I could think of was lemmings going off a cliff.

We got petty revenge during our annual choral thingee to raise money(!) by dropping the "l" in "Flag" while singing "You're a Grand Old Flag." Minor, I know, but we took small triumphs where we could.

MadisonMan said...

Our choral student teacher had the brilliant idea to have people sing "Chewy" as a warm-up exercise. It morphed to "Chew Me" pretty quickly.

Another small triumph.

Pogo said...

Re; "even though it's a simple expression of longing for universal peace and love"

I still love the song Imagine. But the political implications are harder to shake off over time. Not unlike singing The Internationale or listening to Wagner, one tends to picture both the beauty and horror of the music. At a minimum, some cognitive dissonance is required to enjoy them now.

Ron said...

1.) The Lennon of Hamburg days would probably enjoy the conjoining of "Imagine" and Wagner, (Beatle/Adolfmania, what's tha dif?) give a Nazi salute, and then he and Stu would try to beat you up for no good reason.

Ann, were you forced into "Puff, the Magic Dragon" as well?

bill said...

There's only one situation in which the song "You'll Never Walk Alone" is acceptable

I submit there's one more. It's also the club song for the English Premier League's Liverpool club (song was recorded by Liverpool musicians Gerry & The Pacemakers).

Any song is cool when sung by a stadium of drunks.

Ann Althouse said...

Ron: "Puff" was considered a druggy song back then (which was before John had even said "I've got blisters on my fingers"). I do remember "This Land Is Your Land" and "I've Got Plenty O' Nothin'" and (oh, the flashbacks!!) "This Is The Land of Milk and Honey."

Ann Althouse said...

"This is the land of Milk and Honey
This is the land of sun and song and
This is the world of good and plenty
Humble and proud and young and strong and
This is the place where the hopes of the homeless
and the dreams of the lost combine
This is the land that heaven blessed and
This lovely land is mine"

Oh, that was painful to remember!

bill said...

I don't mind Imagine and agree with Ann's take on it; it is what it is. I was sick of hearing it because it was just so overplayed. However, there is a recent version that I enjoy and would recommend. Check out Jordis from the Rockstar: INXS. Her cover might be my favorite. I know it's in iTunes and probably in youtube.

Ron said...

Ann! YouTube beckons! Pick a number and let 'er rip! There's a vortex a'brewin' right there!

George said...

"Imagine" is excruciating because it is the ultimate dopey rock song. Yes, you, the record buyer, imagine no possessions whilst I live in the luxurious Dakota overlooking Central Park whilst the maids vacuum.

Then there was this recent piece by a man who grew up under Communist rule regarding the corrosive effects on Lennonism...


rsb said...

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Is that naive? I would say realistic is more like it.

Bender said...

They call it "nihilistic," even though it's a simple expression of longing for universal peace and love. Sure, it's naive about politics and theology, but so what?

Love?? You gotta be kidding. Only in an Orwellian-Marxist world does it qualify as "love." That self-indulgent, narcissistic anthem for collectivism drips with contempt and outright hate. Contempt and hate for God. Contempt and hate for religion. Contempt and hate for morality. Contempt and hate for private property. Contempt and hate for individual rights.

bill said...

Jordis Unga sings Imagine. Now that's how you do that song. Cool hair, too.

bill said...

Sounds like Bender needs a hug.

Patrick said...

Personally I find political and theological naivety very refreshing on occasion. Cynicism and irony are so played out in our era, becoming cliche and cheap, even if they still have some supposed artistic approval.

Naivety has a lot of hope in it. And that's very recharging, reminding me there's something still to fight for and to yearn for even if the earlier answers weren't exactly spot on.

Personally I find Imagine both a little religiously offensive and curiously eschatological. Which is a fine provocation to thinking for me.

Bob said...

My grade and middle school years were spent in Catholic school in Florida; I was an integration Catholic, as so many white children were back then. Our music teachers seemed to come and go every year, so I remember having to sing scales when we had an opera singer as a music teacher; then a French Canadian, and we sang Frere Jacques; a hippie girl who taught us Beatles songs, and a Jewish woman who taught us the music from Fiddler On The Roof. This in addition to the hymns we had to learn for Mass.

bill said...

Imagine also played a prominent role in the WKRP Censorship episode.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Imagine having as many possessions as John Lennon.
I wonder if you can.

The Liverpool fans' own rendition of YNWA can be heard briefly at the end of "Fearless" on Pink Floyd's Meddle.

Zeb Quinn said...

The word for the day is nihilistic.

SteveR said...

I was able to get past the implications of Imagine and just accept it as a well intentioned song. I think we can over analyze anything.

Once he was killed, it became an anthem for the lost culture. Except for a few isolated towns in the west and within some college communities, most of us had acquired wealth and more or less left the ideal behind. Hearing it over and over, when something bad happens, especially other versions is dilution.

jodytres said...

"Outside of that context, it is histrionic and hideous."

I've just forgiven you for boobiegate, Ann.

(Okay, that's a slightly in the moment comment! But the Liverpool FC connection hardly enhances the song, either. I'm amazed Simon was able to praise the choice with a straight face.)

Smilin' Jack said...

I said I liked the song "Imagine," and that touched off a lot of antagonism...Sure, it's naive about politics and theology, but so what?

How is it naive about theology? Seems to me it's spot on. Other than that, it's probably the best song from Lennon's solo career... which isn't saying much.

Robin Goodfellow said...

Jack, I think he means "Imagine" is naive about theology because it makes the implication that, like countries, the existence of any religious belief is a cause for violence and strife.

Christy said...

Ann, you were lucky. I remember singing "76 Trombones" over and over and over. I hate that song to the very core of my being.

But here is where I demonstrate my total geekiness: My pick for the most inspiration song would be "Impossible Dream." Musicals give us the right settings for inspriational songs, don't you think.

Synova said...

I guess I've turned into the church lady... or at least the ones I knew when I was a child.

The Sunday School would have to sing *horrible* songs in church and when we complained it was always, "but the words are good."

It was always about the words.

I *still* think that complaining about crypto drug lyrics is stupid and not even good words excuse a bad song, so I hope that means I'm not all the way gone.

Maybe Imagine isn't so terribly bad if the Beetles are singing it, but the cover they play on our local rock station isn't hopeful dreaming, it's a *dirge*. Bad music, even without the words.

The other instances that it's performed in recent years seem to be deliberate claims of some sort of profundity for it. When that's the case it's difficult not to take the lyrics as presented, (profound), and finding them not just insipid, but representative of things that would, yes, actually make the world a living hell.

Synova said...

Lenin and not the Beetles?

I'm just a little young to have been paying attention at the time and hope to be forgiven.

lee david said...

Imagine:= The ultimate expression of vacuity set to a very nice melody.

TMink said...

Elvis Costello took a shot at the song in "The Other Side of Summer."

"Was it a millionaire who sang "Imagine no posessions?"
A stupid little schoolboy says "We don't need no lessons."

Ouch! For the record (heh) I like Imagine without agreeing with the words. It is calm and soothing, and very John. In the same way I like Paul's Junk.

But in terms of inspirational songs, Ricki Lee Jones' record The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard touches me spiritually in a deep way. It makes me cry a little. Good tears, spiritual tears, and tears I do not completely understand.

Go figure!


Roost on the Moon said...

Imagine:= The ultimate expression of vacuity set to a very nice melody.

I think the post-"Imagine" releases of "De Doo Doo Doo" by The Police and that recent song with the woman spelling B-A-N-A-N-A-S would make "Imagine" at best the

Not that I think it's vacuous at all. Massive cultural yearning for a better world strikes me as a lofty aspiration, for a pop song.

SteveR said...

OK Synova, on last night's thread you assumed my liking Imagine was related to drug use. Um no, I mean not really, I don't think so. How did you know?

Modern Otter said...

In defense of "YNWA..." I think one of the reasons it enjoyed sustained popularity was because of "Carousel's" WWII-era premier on Broadway. So even when it was new, many presumably were connecting with it outside the context of the play.

Even its association with Jerry Lewis, who uses it every year as the tearful closer for the MDA telethon, hasn't killed it. Last year my wife slipped up when she told me to change over to the telethon so we can here Jerry sing "You'll Never Walk Again."

Kurt said...

Yeah, well at least no one sang "Climb Every Mountain" this week. That would have been even more ridiculous than Jordin's song choice.

Regarding "Imagine": Sometime after September 11, I watched "The Killing Fields" on video, and I had to marvel at the fact that this film about the horrors of Cambodia under Pol Pot should end with none other than an anthem to nihilistic leftism of the sort that stood by and enabled the likes of Pol Pot to rise to power. Those on the left didn't get the irony back in the 80s when that film was made, and they still don't.

Synova said...

Geez, Steve. It was a joke.

Sort of like "the drunker you are the prettier the girls get."

No! Not you!

NE2d said...

"I got blisters on my fingers!" is a drug reference? I always thought it was a guitar-playing reference.

BTW I'm having trouble signing on--I now have a new screen name (I won't flatter myself that anyone would know or care who I used to be)--what's up with that?

Maxine Weiss said...

Oh, you were educated in public schools? I thought you were strictly a private-school girl. With the cute uniform, little plaid skirt etc..

I think I remembered seeing pics of you, little, in one of those cute pleated plaid skirts...

...could be my imagination.

Jeff said...

In the late 1970's we were forced to sing Beatles songs in music class.

Baby Boomer Über Alles!!!

SteveR said...

It was a good joke, you busted me.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I have to admit that I believe the Beatles to be the most overhyped group in the history of recorded music.

Consider this- most of the eternally popular folks in music died at the height of their poularity, and the Beatles fit into that niche very comfortably. None of the individuals attained anywhere near the success they did as group, although McCartney probably came closest, and most of his music was full of saccharin as well.

Had they continued as a group into the '70's the only place you'd hear of them today would be on the golden oldies station.

As for music class, I can recall our young, blonde music teacher having us listen to Hendrix's 'Star Spangled Banner', and singing along to 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. I can't imagine how that sounded in the next room.

Kirk said...

Nope, I can't go there with you, Ann. Look at Roost on the Moon's take on this: "Massive cultural yearning for a better world".

Massive yearning is not a problem per se; it's when that yearning is embodied in a wish to do away with much of what makes us human (religion, aka "trying to understand the big picture", posessions, etc.)

Troy said...

I'm surprised they didn't sing that other uplifting hit "Born in the USA" it's such a pro-American rocker -- Phil could've worn his red, white and blue shirt and put a country spin on it.

Ernie Fazio said...

I guess I am going to show my age, but "Imagine" just might mean a little more to the chronologically challenged. Vietnam was always there for us, and I grew up hating the carnage. For 14 years we ebbed and flowed with news of it, but through most of it there were the Beatles and then just John Lennon to sing of peace and love. There was an authenticity to his craft. (Just one "In My Life" is one of the great love songs of all time.) It is hard to be cynical about an artist who tried to get it right, to live it right and who was cut down all too soon, yes at the entrance to the Dakota.

There is something about the cynicism of your minions, l'Althouse. I admit that I am becoming sentimental in my old age. "The Lives of Others" moved me to tears with its presentation of artists, who are the soul of any culture.

The dumbing down of our culture through the celebration of "American Idol" and its ilk is unfortunate. If such competitions between artists were truly honorable, instead of celebrations of schaudenfraude, they might be memorable. The line between the artist and the celebrity is becoming wider in this the era of idiocracy.

George said...

Ringo yells the 'bliisters' line, not Lennon.

How do I know?

Hey, man, I was there....

Revenant said...

Of course there's nothing offensive about the idea of universal peace and love. What's bothersome about "Imagine" is the specifics of what Lennon thinks such a world is like. That world *lacks* the things that a lot of people think are good and wholesome, and make life worth living. So there's this impression given off by the lyrics of the song -- "Imagine a world without people like you in it. Wouldn't that be great?"

For example, while I share Lennon's belief that a world without religion in it would be nice, I can certainly see why people who view religion as a fundamental part of their lives would consider that particular lyric to be a personal attack.

reader_iam said...

Re: Ron & Revenge (1st comment on thread):

Fifth-grade choir concert:

"I'd like to build the world a home
And furni [deep breath] SHIT with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle doves"

Whole class got in trouble.

Worth it.

MadisonMan said...

iam -- We did the same thing (tho I think it was 7th grade). Clueless Choir Director didn't notice.

Synova said...

I don't see "no religion" as a personal attack, just misguided in a similar fashion as the other supposed good things to be rid of are misguided.

All religions aren't, by any means, created equal, but most of them include the elements of order necessary such as teachings not to lie, cheat or steal, not to murder.

Christianity, of course, has been portrayed as the most vile of assaults on humanity, never mind that our best examples of deliberate godlessness are responsible for far *far* more carnage and death. We don't really have to *imagine* what would happen if religion is simply... removed.

That doesn't, btw, mean that atheists are bad or immoral. Most of them have values right in line with the religion of the people around them. Don't kill, steal, cheat, lie... work hard, show compassion to others, look out for your neighbor.

Synova said...

Oh, and religion generally takes into account the human capacity to "sin".

Most of the utopic "no religion" options want to insist that we're all "good."

This doesn't work, because it's simply not *true*.

Der Hahn said...

Revenant...good point.

You can also flip it around... 'Imagine' how nice it would be if all those people harshing our mellow were just gone.

vnjagvet said...

One World was the one I hated.

One World Built On A Firm Foundation

Built On A Firm Foundation of Peace.


Jonathan said...

I'd like to reiterate Kurt's comment from 11:10 am. Playing "Imagine" at the end of the movie "The Killing Fields" always struck me as ironically appropriate, since it was the implementation of that sort of Communist rhetoric that lead to the Cambodian genocide in the first place. I believe the movie "Forest Gump" picked up on this as well in the scene where Forest and John Lennon are guests on the Dick Cavett Show. Forest is describing Vietnam and Lennon spouts lines from "Imagine" in response.

Revenant said...

Forest is describing Vietnam and Lennon spouts lines from "Imagine" in response.

If I recall correctly he's describing Communist China, not Vietnam. I thought that was an amusing irony, although since we're talking about Hollywood here it is entirely possible the writers thought of China as a nice place.

LutherM said...


Is it an earthquake, or simply a shock
Is it that good turtle soup, or merely the mock
Is it the whisky, this feeling of joy
Or is what I feel, the real mcoy

Is it for all time, or simply a lark
Is it Granada I see, or only Asbury Park
Is it a fancy, not worth thinking of
Or is it at long last love

boston70 said...

Ann, You Never Walk Alone is the "corp songs" of the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps. I don't know if you have heard of them living in Madison.

I should know I marched in the corps for 10 years and every night during the summer we would have to sing that depressing song before we performed.

I hated that song so much. After we sang it we would all hug each other and be all emotional.

I like the song Imagine. I just like the sound of it not really listening to the words. Many songs I like I don't actually listen to the words, I care about the sound. I generally could give a crap about the words.

Kirk said...

I have a question for all you who say, "I don't listen to the words." Do you really think the words have no effect on you? Not even subconsciously? I don't mean the "Louie, Louie" stuff where you can't really know what the words are anyway! But no one ever had trouble deciphering what the words to "Imagine" are...

Pogo said...

In 1972, the National Lampoon performing troupe created the song "Magical Misery Tour", spoofing John Lennon.

"This is an unrelentingly brutal parody of John Lennon made all the more pointed due to the fact that the lyrics are Lennon's own words taken from an interview he granted to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone in 1970."

"George said [Yoko] gave off evil vibes ...I should have beat the fucking shit right out of him, him with his f**king Hari Krishnas.

"Imagine" seems someone different in that light. (Find the parody song here)

George said...

In the new Rolling Stone--the 40th anniversary issue, dontcha know--for which I paid a stupendous $6.95, Dylan (one of about 20 senior citizens the magazine interviews in this special issue) raves, totally raves about McCartney, saying among other things that "He's about the only one I am in awe of. He can do it all....I just wish he'd quit."

Pogo said...

Sorry. Missd one of John's swear words!

TMink said...

I have the John parody on vinyl somewhere. It is priceless! The parody part is the vocal and arrangement, the words are pure John.

Genius is pain.