more musical observations

My posts have been taking a musical turn of late, not necessarily by design. Here are two more semi-profound musings I had about songs this past weekend.

  1. In a post several years ago, I grouped together three movies that came out in 1999 and summarized them all with the famous line from the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” (1998): “You bleed just to know you’re alive.” I found myself thinking about this lyric again while listening to a song from just two years later, “Pinch Me” by the Barenaked Ladies (2000). I realize now that I’ve typed it out that this is a really unfortunate convergence of song title and band name (well, let’s just say a really unfortunate band name, period), but the title simply refers to the song protagonist’s feeling that he is asleep and needs to be (but is not sure if he wants to be) awakened in order to face the real world. (By the way, you may know this song better as the one with the line, “I could hide out under there/I just made you say ‘underwear.’”) The song could be read as a plea from a depressed person who can’t muster the courage to even go outside his door. I have a feeling that many cultural critics read it, along with “Iris,” as an anthem of the malaise of late Gen X-ers and early Millennials—people my own age, who grew up hearing these songs as background music—and perhaps some of them connect this malaise with the sense of entitlement that they are so fond of attributing to people in that age range. I prefer to think of true interpretation of these songs as somewhere in between: they’re not only about people with diagnosable mental health conditions, but neither should they be dismissed as the whines of bored young people who have to manufacture problems in order to help themselves feel validated. I would submit that the world has gotten more overwhelming and that people my age and younger are less equipped to deal with it than those who came before us, and these songs are just evidence of that. I’ll leave you with that to ponder.
  2. Now, something more uplifting. While running on Saturday, I listened to one of my favorite songs of all time, Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” and maybe it was all the adrenaline or the fact that my institution has graduation in less than two weeks, but in any case, I came up with a brief commencement address on the theme of this song. Here it is: Have you ever wondered why we use the term “commencement” for something that we usually talk about as an ending? Also, have you ever wondered why the song says, “We are the champions,” implying that we’ve already won, but then goes on to say, “We’ll keep on fighting to the end?” The answer to both these questions is the same: it’s that the struggle is never over in this life, is it? You’re celebrating the end of college, and indeed you should. You are a champion. But you still face the fight of career, relationships, and just getting through life. You can “go the distance” like Rocky, but then you still have Rocky II, II, IV, IV, and Rocky Balboa and Creed and Creed II—you see what I mean. The Queen song goes on to include several more of these “already and not yet” constructions (to borrow a term from theology): for example, the speaker of the song talks about taking his bows and his curtain calls, but just a few lines later he uses future tense: “I consider it a challenge before the whole human race/And I ain’t gonna lose.” So remember, the fight goes on. But don’t let that discourage you. [And I teach at a Christian college, so this next part applies to my students and is crucial.] Remember that you serve a God who does have time for losers. He gave his life for losers like us, and he makes us champions. The End.

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