Sunday, January 03, 2010

Best Things I Heard Today: Don Williams's "I Believe in You" VS. Savage Garden's "Affirmation"

"Best" with reservations, maybe--more on those in a moment. (They concern the lyrics.) But the tune's unforgettable, the bass sound is big, the pedal steel sounds like a synth (unless that's a synth?), and Mr. Williams's delivery is laconically intense, if such a thing is possible. Here he is on Hee Haw:

Yeah, about those lyrics. Don Williams offers us a belief system, cunningly presented through a dogmatics of disbelief. Perhaps he's been reading this book (I know I haven't!):

A dialectic: Don Williams explains what he doesn't believe in, and then what he does believe in, so we get a better sense of what's going on inside Don Williams.

So what does Don Williams believe in? Unfortunately: babies, children, and old folks. What does that mean, exactly? He believes they exist? That can't be it, because he doesn't believe in organic food and foreign cars, the existence of which only a fool would deny.

So maybe he believes that babies, children, and old folks have something true and important to tell us about life and the world. Well, I don't know about that either. Have you ever met a baby? I say this with all the greatest love for my own son, and with the acknowledgment that kids have a remarkable capacity for faith and love, but KIDS ARE NOT FUNDAMENTALLY GOOD. Not even babies! They're selfish little parasites, endowed by natural selection with the cunning and will and cuteness to get what they need to survive into adulthood, at which point they have the luxury of acting on more altruistic ideals. You can call this "original sin" if you want, but just because kids aren't smart enough to break the 10 Commandments or whichever checklist you like to use, doesn't make them "innocent" or "sweet" or anything. There's a reason we tell adults not to act like children--it's because children don't act all that great to begin with.

Rather than move on to insulting all the old folks in my life, I'll just say that, for all of Don's spiritual insight in verse 2, I wish he didn't slip into this tired glorification of babies. Sure, you need "faith like a child" and whatnot, but that's a symbol of one specific aspect of children's behavior--their natural, unforced faith--and not a glorification of childhood or infancy as some ideal state of being. This "belief in babies" recalls another lyrical howler, from Savage Garden's "Animal Song": "Animals and children tell the truth, they never lie." Where are they? Where are these children who never lie?! And what about those moths that make themselves look like wasps?!!!!??

Ahem. As it happens, Savage Garden also have a musical dogmatics of belief, entitled "Affirmation." From the same album, in fact! Enjoy, and then we'll figure out a creed to incorporate both the Garden and Don Williams. The Savage Williams Creed, we'll call it. (Do Creed have any songs like this?)

Well, I don't wanna spend too much more time on this, but a couple notes:

Savage Garden are sometimes as softheaded in "Affirmation" as they were in that line about animals and children. I note particularly "the struggle for financial freedom is unfair"--not sure I agree with it, since all of life for most everybody (INCLUDING animals and children and maybe millionaires) is a struggle. (Savage Garden themselves struggle with English when they sing "the grass is no more greener on the other side.") Which isn't to say we shouldn't struggle for financial freedom. By all means, struggle and manipulate laws to take money from the privileged classes! That's what politics is all about.

Meanwhile, Mr. Williams does not believe "that gasoline's in short supply, the rising cost of getting by." Does this mean he does believe inflation and income are rising at equal rates? That gas prices are high because of futures speculation or OPEC manipulating the market? Does anyone remember what gas prices were like in 1980?

But forgive me, I must go. If anyone wants to convene a credal conference to work out a Savage Williams synthesis, let me know.

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