Thursday, May 16, 2013

In Which I Meander the Dotted Line

The Easy Listenin' 
Back when I was a kid being chauffeured around in our wood-paneled Vista Cruiser station wagon, the AM/FM radio was always tightly controlled by our parents. My dad grew up on a tobacco farm in rural Granville County, so I hazard a guess that his true preference was for country music, old-time or otherwise. However, because my mother detested country music with the kind of vehemence people normally reserve for, say, Hitler, he kept that in the closet. If we listened hard enough, though, we might catch him whistling Farther Along or You Are My Sunshine.

My dad fancied Karen Carpenter.
Apparently, so did Nat Stine's dad.
So, what was the soundtrack of our dysfunctional car rides? One of three things: WUNC, which played classical music back then, WYYD, which played muzak (elevator music, we called it), or WRAL's adult contemporary. Yes, I am deeply familiar with the soft hits of the seventies: Captain and Tennille, the Carpenters, Helen Reddy… folks like that. I think my dad had a secret crush on Karen Carpenter... and she did have a voice like butter... Of course when we were very young we thought it was fine. As I blossomed into a surly teen and found out that WQDR (album rock back then) was where it was at… well, let’s just say my preferences were slightly more metal than our parents’. Led Zeppelin. Cream. The Who. And Elton John, of course – but he was considered cool back then. 
This was more my speed.

Nevertheless, we continued to be fed a steady auditory diet of smooth melodies, maudlin lyrics and syrupy orchestrations. Ew. To my teenange ears, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard... Oh! The humiliating uncoolness of it all!!! I survived, though, and here I am today, telling you the tale.

And now we fast forward to the current day, which will take us in my usual roundabout way to what I am really going to talk about. (Picture those Family Circus cartoons where the mom tells Jeffy or PJ to walk from point A to point B, but dotted lines show how the kid’s actually path shoots off in a hundred directions – petting the dog, getting cookies from Mrs. Wilson… oh wait, wrong comic! Sure I could have just said, “let’s talk about these two songs” but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun as telling you about the cavities we got from excessive Paul Williams consumption…!)

Anyway, I remember a cool woman in my office – a stellar mother – told me that she always let her (teenage) kids pick what they would listen to in the car. So I thought, due to my previous pain, “that’s what I’M going to do.” And so I do. When Bill was too little to care, I picked the stuff – usually something I considered pretty good, but not too obnoxious. He knew Van Morrison’s Moondance album from beginning to end. Also James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, Hank Williams Greatest Hits and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.

Bill's Pinewood Derby homage...
But now that he's nine, he’s starting to have his own preferences and, like the aforementioned cool mom from my office, I let him pick the tunage. You know what he picks ten times out of ten? The Who. That child loves those guys. Especially Keith Moon, who, although not a great role model, could really beat the skins. Bill even put a Who logo on his Pinewood Derby car and made little Lego figures to go with it of the guys in the band. It was awesome if I do say so myself.

to these guys...
Now, as I’ve said, I’ve been listening to the Who for roughly 40 years. Album radio has ensured that I have heard Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley more times than I can count… so by now it kind of goes in one ear and out the other. Until Bill. Hearing these songs as my kid hears them for the first time… it’s almost like hearing them myself for the first time… again. So let’s just say that my appreciation of the Who has been reignited.
who actually looked like this.
Bill invariably requests Who’s Next or Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy for our rides to school and cub scouts and Target and the like, so I’ve had plenty of time to mull over the classic songs and their meanings and implications. Two songs, have especially unfolded for me in new and different ways. (And now we come down to the true raison d’etre of this post!)

"naked, stoned 
and stabbed..."
First, Bargain. It’s fairly obvious that this passionate declaration is religious. Pete Townshend is a follower of Meher Baba, who was an Eastern guru. The gist of it is that Pete would give up everything he has to find spiritual enlightment through his guru – and would consider a bargain… the best he ever had. Of course my Western, thoroughly Christian brain applied it to seeking and following Jesus Christ… it resonates with quotes from the Bible like, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44) and “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

But one day, we’re driving along, Bill and me, listening to this forceful, anthemic song, and I hear Roger Daltrey sing out, “To win you, I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed…” I realized that this song is not about ME and what I’D give up for Christ, but about JESUS Himself and what He gave up for every me on earth!!! That is to say, each one of us is so amazing to Him that He would and DID stand naked, stoned and stabbed to purchase us from our own stupidity! AND He considers it a BARGAIN!! (Can I get a "Hallelujah"?!) I much prefer this interpretation, as 1. I am lazy, and 2. Even if I were to do all the work this song implies, I couldn’t save myself.

"Can I buy your magic bus?"
Okay, moving right along. This next one is sort of a stretch, but it really works for me. Magic Bus. This joyful, rockin’ good tune – performed with all the  fervor of a charismatic worship service – is about a guy who boards a bus every day to visit his girlfriend. He values this privilege so much he wants to buy the bus for his own personal use. “I don't care how much I pay, I wanna drive my bus to my baby each day.” Which, again, expresses the sentiment that attaining the object of one's desire is worth everything one owns. (Again, Matthew 13:44)

This song can be taken straightforwardly – as in "boy do I love my girlfriend;" some imagine it as an ode to the narrator’s drug of choice. But one day recently, I heard it in my mind as an expression of intention and appreciation for contemplative prayer. As in, “every day I hop on board the contemplative prayer bus to be united with God.”

In this scenario, our protagonist chants “I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it…” as a sort of contemplative exercise such as those devised by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Then the guy in the background goes, “You CAN’T have it!” This would be Satan, naturally. Or “the enemy,” “the evil one,” Mr. Scratch, Voldemort, Sauron...* That a-hole tries to tell us we can’t buy the Magic Bus, (ie. pray worth crap and why would God want you anyway) and therefore, getting to our “bay-bay” (ie. achieving union with God) is either impossible, or much too costly. Of course we’ve already established that we are willing to spend whatever it takes to get there… and fortunately for us, as mentioned above, it is our “bay-bay” who has paid the enormous cost and made the amazing journey to reach US. Yes, please!

How ‘bout another “Hallelujah!” and an "Amen!"

*Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears PradaMr. Scratch, Louis Cypher in Angel Heart, Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick, John Milton in The Devil's Advocate, Duchess the cat in Babe, Denis Leary as Slater in Secret Lives of Dentists...