May 20, 2009

"I have a little confession: I don't like ['A Change is Gonna Come']."

Kim Cosmopolitan confesses (in the Throwing Things recap of last night's "American Idol" finale):
I'm sure that flags me as a social reactionary or something, but I don't like the song...
Ha ha. Yeah. I do like that song so I don't have that problem, but I certainly would be careful about expressing dislike of it. (Lyrics. Here's Sam Cooke singing it. And here's Adam Lambert singing it in last night's finale.)

It's like: Don't you care about civil rights? Really: Don't you hate when there's some work of art — e.g., "Schindler's List" — that you don't even want to risk looking at with a neutrally critical eye? Don't you hate when a work of art comes to you encrusted with moral/political importance that denies you the freedom to say it's bad? Well, say it's bad then! Fight back. It's a matter of moral and political importance.

Anyway, back at Throwing Things, Adam responds to Kim:
I'm just going to assume that the people who don't like Adam will find his "A Change Is Gonna Come" indulgent. I guess I was hoping for that little wink that acknowledged the gravity of the change Sam Cooke was singing about and which Lambert presumably was connecting with in his own interpretation. But he cut both the "too hard living but I'm afraid to die" and "go downtown"/"don't hang around" verses, the latter of which especially would have brought that home, and so what we were left with was a song sung well but without the depth that could have made it transcendent. What change, Adam?
Transform a song about black people into a song about gay people? Gay people aren't born by the river in a little tent. Would you buy a glammed up gay guy asking for sympathy for his troubles in words written about poverty and race discrimination? I guess it's possible to do that, but also probably in bad taste to horn in on the unique suffering memorialized in "A Change Is Gonna Come."


ricpic said...

What the hell is she apologizing for? Being socially reactionary is a GOOD thing! More than that it's a necessary thing.

SteveR said...

My perception was that the two producers picks, What's Going On" and "A Change is Gonna Come" would favor Adam since he would do a better job looking and sounding serious. And is there any doubt who the producers want to win. Kris could go on to be one of the biggest recording artists in history and he would never do a song like that. Cowell (and Randy) criticize him for not being serious enough. He's 24 years old and didn't pick the song. He's suppose to know what was going on when "What's Going On" was going on.

To suggest that Adam should have gone gay with his song is stupid. He wants to win, not change the world.

Zeb Quinn said...

Don't you hate when there's some work of art — e.g., "Schindler's List" — that you don't even want to risk looking at with a neutrally critical eye? Don't you hate when a work of art comes to you encrusted with moral/political importance that denies you the freedom to say it's bad?

Art is one thing, relatively innocuous at that, when compared to a real live low-level politician who used that dynamic to get a free pass all the way to the presidency.

gaywrites said...

I completely agree...maybe Adam doesn't even feel that his experience as gay has even been one that has been full of struggle or despair, and even if it is, I'm not sure it's necessarily appropriate to inject that experience into THAT song.

MPorcius said...

Some of the civil rights movies you see on cable (the ones in which the white person is participating in the struggle of the Southern blacks or whoever, and the spouse is telling them to stop risking the family for someone else's fight, and then the phone rings for the hundredth time, and then a rock comes through the window, and then there is a cross burning on the lawn) are pretty bad, but one is reluctant to say so. Even such movies that are well made on a technical level, pacing and editing and acting and so forth, are hard to enjoy unless you get off on feeling self-righteous; they are manipulative and the deck is so stacked, there is no dramatic tension.

Jennifer said...

I don't like the idea that every gay person - or every person from any group perceived as marginalized - is supposed to commit themselves to furthering the cause. A big part of so called civil rights is the right to just quietly be. I would not have cared had he chosen to interpret the song through his own experience nor do I care that he seems to have chosen not to.

Treacle said...

An evening of Mandingo - Adam on Sam Cooke and Kris on Marvin Gaye! Who couldn't be happy to see interracial and intergenerational boundaries challenged twice?

TMink said...

Guyliner, I guess you don't have to go to a Green Day concert for that any more.

He squints, it reminds me of that doofus who played Annakin in Star Wars II and III.


TMink said...

And of course everyone from the pedophiles to the machine gun owners wish to liken their "struggle" to that of blacks. The great improvement in equality achieved in America for blacks is unprecedented in history for how much was accomplished.

Having said that, the Civil Rights movement was at its inception and core a Christian movement. So the pedophiles are outta luck on this one.


Jennifer said...

Not to mention the fact that it requires one to define oneself by whichever marginalized group society identifies them with.

k*thy said...

And isn't that what art is really for - the artist creates and the viewer or listener is free to interpret it as they wish? It touches you or it doesn't. No right, no wrong, no rules.

commenter said...


there is lots of in fighting between which letter to let into the GLBT mix next. I find that kinda funny.

I can't remember the name of the german comedy film about the gay soccer team. it also reminds me of such. While many people just see this has furthering the case, i just kept on noticing that the gay soccer player gets beat up as often by gay people as he does by straights.

I do not understand what Ann is looking for on her blog, or if Ann wants to further the cause, or Ann just loves the snark. seeing i get the wrong message from films, would some of the snarkier contestants tell me that this blog is really just about making fun of people who want to make their difference in the world and earn a meager pay as a shoe salesman.

Now i have to start to cook my lunch with my whole food stuffs, that i used to make fun of, but now realize the volume and turnover at that place is good for me in keeping that stuff fresher and unsulfited compared with that at other stores. Also they introduce me to food diversity and subtleties in taste and preparations. I'm never beyond self-education and experimentation. I wonder at the constitution of some professors.

TMink said...

Hasn't it been established that only Rod Stewart should do covers of Sam Cooke? I mean, he has made a career of singing like Sam.


paul a'barge said...

Would you buy a glammed up gay guy asking for sympathy for his troubles in words written about poverty and race discrimination? Um, I'm pretty sure that the entire gay activist agenda is just that ... words written about poverty and race with the race words struck out and replaced by the word "gay".

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"Transform a song about black people into a song about gay people? "

Oh please- it's the central narrative of gay liberation- following the example of the civil rights movement and draw parallels between gays and blacks whenever possible.
Gay activists have been doing this type of thing for decades and many blacks, especially older civil rights vets, find the "gay is the new black" equivalence deeply offensive. The left tries hard to play this down but it's there- as exemplified by the whole Prop 8 debacle.

Ann Althouse said...

@Jeff And it gets worse by the year. The "go downtown" verse could have crossed over to gay back in the Stonewall days, but not now.

Ann Althouse said...

Can anyone give me a transcript of what the judges said to Adam about this song?

MadisonMan said...

I guess I don't like that song either, because I don't remember it, and I have a great ability to remember songs.

I thought the re-rendition of Mad World was far better than the rendition of A Change is Gonna Come.

Aaron said...


Can't give you a transcript, but they loved it.

Personally, i hated his rendition. It frankly should have been more soulfull, more subdued. but i would be repeating myself if i went on much longer.

I think Kris actually did better in all three rounds.

I thought the train wreck was Adam on the last song and I'm not going to go all conspiracy theory on you, but it really did present a better opportunity for Kris than Adam. It was one of those placid, predictable uplifting songs that they always do, and well, Adam doesn't do that very well. I suspect they also aren't allowed to toy with it as much, which might have allowed adam to shine. And i am pretty sure Simon was biting his tongue about that exact issue when he said he wouldn't comment on the song itself.

As it was, even though Kris was a more natural fit, he had some pretty bum notes toward the beginning of that. really, neither guy got through that song unscathed.

And in general in music we give people a break for reasons that have nothing to do with talent. Tribute songs to the dead is a classic example. Sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are done by P-diddy (sorry, his "every breath I take" tribute to Biggie Smalls was lame).

Of course these kinds of tributes can often be amazing. Tears in Heaven, Pride (in the name of love), and even Hey Johnny, Park! (bonus points if anyone knows that song) are great songs in and of themselves even without knowing the background. Same with the song "a change is going to come," indeed, that song is so resiliantly good it made Adam's performance of it seem better than it was.

Really, i personally don't mix my politics with my music. The fact that the only concert i ever actually went to was with Midnight Oil, a band which i only occassionally agree with politically, is a case in point. I may not agree with the pacifist message of "put down that weapon" but i can still be taken away by the mood that song sets. That's one of those songs that is perfect to listen to when driving down the highway late at night and everything is lit by the splash light of the dashboard. Even two decades later. Its beautiful even as I feel the philosophy underlying it is wrong-headed.

Adam said...

Hey! I'm being blogged about! [Wow, who let all the bigots in?]

Look, if they're going to ask Lambert to sing the song, he has to find the most effective way to do so. That requires the singer to find some way to convey that "the change" -- whatever it is -- is important and necessary. Otherwise, it's just words; singing requires selling, and in this case it would have been appropriate to make that connection (especially as a Californian) of which the whole audience is already aware.

Idol's fashion guru:

He shows off some of the costumes for Wednesday's results show, and the drama of the outfits -- the details of which cannot yet be revealed -- only increases with some jaw-dropping, off-the-charts pieces. Siggins says, “Adam is at the point now where he says, ‘I’ve made it this far, I just want to be exactly who I am. Let's go over the top, and let’s do exactly when we want to do.’ So we’ve really really gone for the theatrical, and we’re not so worried if it will scare people.”

Aaron said...


> Some of the civil rights movies you see on cable (the ones in which the white person is participating...

I jokingly sum up the plot of those movies as “the struggle of one white person to give a crap.” I won’t call them awful, so much as its creepy in the way that, if you believed these movies, apparently most of the people struggling for civil rights were white. I think the focus is a little misplaced.

Of course, in some ways Schindler’s List is in that genre. But to be fair there are two things that redeem that movie. 1) it’s a true story and 2) Oscar Schinder’s story is genuinely interesting and thankfully not completely in that mold.

Its hard to make a movie about a big issue like that, with the lines so clearly drawn on who is right and who is wrong, without it just being unimaginative melodrama.

But hey, since we are confessing things like that we don’t like but are supposed to... I am not such a big fan of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I read it a few summers ago, because someone pointed out to me that the rules of professional responsibility for attorneys apparently requires us to read this book and admire Atticus Finch as our hero, or something, but I was actually pretty cool on it. I won’t completely trash it, but am I the only one to notice that Finch was using some tactics to win his case that we would ordinarily denounce as unfair to alleged rape victims? Of course in the south at that time, there was no such thing as a fair trial for a black man accused of raping a white woman, and so Atticus might be justified on the theory of rough justice, but still its problematic and it takes him down a notch in my eyes. It does smack of two wrongs making a right.

And then there was the creepy classism of everything. The alleged victim was white trash, so of course this fit into that old pattern of southern class romances going all the way back to “gone with the wind,” where the poor whites are stereotyped almost as badly as the black people. And Finch played to those prejudices too.

What stops me from completely hating it is that, well, you have to recognize there is a difference between depiction and advocacy. Maybe for all we know the author recognized all of these problems as well, but felt his portrayal of the situation was realistic even if it didn’t reflect completely on his ideals. And really, from our standpoint around 70 years after the date the novel took place, maybe it WAS a realistic portrayal of things.

downtownlad said...

Sorry - but you can't compare the civil rights movement to the gay rights movement. Gays have suffered more (and still suffer more) than black people did in the segregated south.

Blacks were segregated from whites in the military during segregation, but at least they could serve. Gays could not serve.

Blacks couldn't marry a white person in the segregated south. But at least they could get married. Gay marriages are not recognized by the Federal government from any state at all.

And black people in the South could always choose to move out of that region. Otherwise, it was separate, but at least it was equal. Gay people do not have equality in any states.

You used to be able to forbid blacks from eating in your establishment during segregation. Gay people still face those obstacles, while blacks are now protected. Same with hotels or any establishment.

You used to be able to fire people just because they were black. Gays also face the same situation today, while blacks are now protected.

If you don't believe me, ask any straight black person who lived through segregation if they would rather have been a black person in South Carolina in 1950 or an openly gay white person in South Carolina in 1950. I'd bet a lot of money, they'd say "black".

downtownlad said...

And gays are still being murdered just for being gay. Like last week in DC for example, where a gay man was shot 5 times in the face just for being gay.

You never see the national media cover these stories unless the victim is a good-looking white teenager.

downtownlad said...

And I'd like Ann to name one right that a gay person has in Texas in 2009, that he didn't have during Stonewall?

And sorry, but the homosexual conduct clause of the Texas Penal Code, section 21.06, was not adopted until 1973. Stonewall was in 1969.

Yes, there has been good progress for gay rights in a smattering of liberal states. Minimal progress in some more. But in half of the states in this country, there has been zero progress in gay rights since Stonewall.

BJM said...

Adam's "Mad World" won the first round, but I don't much care for Kris's style and "Ain't No Sunshine"? Really?

The producers choice was tedious to the max, okay, we get it, Obama's the first black president. Jeebus. Who watches AI for political cues?

[Whoa! Was that Sir Anthony Hopkins cackling in the audience? Katie Holmes okay, but Hopkins? Weirded me out, it did.]

Having said that, I liked Adam's version of "A Change Is Gonna Come" but thought Kris too lightweight for "Brother, Brother", he doesn't have the gravitas to sell it and his delivery was too breezy. Simon hit the nail on the head with his hippies strumming guitars crack.

I thought both singers did poorly on DioGuardi's piece of smarmy pap "No Boundaries". The key was too high for Kris and Adam couldn't connect with it, who could? The round was a wash.

The problem with this match-up is no drama, it's all harmony and unicorns. Danny provided the essential douche factor missing in an Adam-Kris duel. Adam vs Danny would have been much more fun.

I have a gut feeling that Kris may ride the "shy cute guy factor" to an upset tonight, which will be immensely disappointing.

J.T. winning "Survivor Tocantins" wasn't in the least satisfying, although watching Coach, the season's self-anointed douche, cave like a cardboard suitcase was all good.

Ann Althouse said...

Adam said... "Hey! I'm being blogged about!"

Hey, I got all excited for a second!

Ann Althouse said...

@BJM Uh... I was saving that on TiVo ...

Aaron said...

Well, in a weird way i am rooting for Adam in this sense.

Kris literally can't lose. Jamie Fox already offered him a deal on the show. Now we all assume that Adam Lambert would get a deal. i assume Gokey was signed yesterday, with a "no dream on" clause in his contract. But we know Kris has an offer on the table. So its like two guys are on a trapeze... one over a safety net, and the other not. if one of them HAS to fall, the choice is obvious.

But I will also say I am not sure "winning" is such a great thing anyway. under his own contract, they might give either man the chance to really define himself as different and unique, which i don't think is there when you are the official idol winner.

But really someone needs to do something about these gawdawful official songs at the end. They almost always try to be uplifting, but they end up being forgettable at best.

Btw, i honestly didn't even think of the gay angle when lambert sang that song. My actual thought was that this was some kind of celebration of Obama and the spirit of hopenchange or something.

mariner said...

Would you buy a glammed up gay guy asking for sympathy for his troubles in words written about poverty and race discrimination? I guess it's possible to do that, but also probably in bad taste to horn in on the unique suffering memorialized in "A Change Is Gonna Come."

All right-thinking people understand that NO ONE in history has EVER suffered like those poor black people in the United States. ;)

John Stodder said...

Sam Cooke could have been singing about poultry and I would love that song. Gorgeous melody.

Keep in mind that one major taproot for the great pop music of the 60s was gospel music, and gospel music was often about how we shall overcome...not just injustice, but death itself. "A Change is Gonna Come" is like "Blowin' in the Wind." It's not about a particular law, but about the yearning for justice, a timeless theme.

I don't think there's anything wrong with hating it. I would find that hard to understand, but it's just a song.

mariner said...

I won’t call them awful, so much as its creepy in the way that, if you believed these movies, apparently most of the people struggling for civil rights were white.

Umm, Aaron, most of the people struggling for civil rights WERE white. Worse yet, they were WHITE CHRISTIANS!

Adam said...

Perhaps, though I believe pretty much all the people working against the civil rights of African Americans were white Christians.

So can we get back to talking about Idol?

Jennifer said...

I hate that. I searched #house on Twitter last night to see what people were saying about the finale of that show, and one stupid twat started out with "Final Rundown" and then promptly spoiled every show I watch. I guess we need to try harder to keep up with the DVR.