Not many good, poetic and passionate "eco-justice" spirituality songs out there, are there? Yes, Marvin Gaye nailed it in "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)." Everyone digs Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," too. U2's "Beautiful Day" has potential but only obliquely (much as I love this tune.)
So I'm wondering tonight where are the moving anthems to feed our soul? The subtle and poignant songs that clarify and compel us beyond guilt, shame or inertia? Are there works of art out there that move beyond rhetoric and polemics? Paul Winter's "Missa Gaia" is a complex collection of beautiful songs, but I submit that it needs a context: the opening and closing cuts play with "For the Beauty of the Earth" and could be stand alone selections but radiate more insight when heard within the "Earth Mass" setting. Bob Dylan's "License to Kill" moves in the right direction, but is more of a blunt object than a work of art. Another leap in the right direction is the Pretenders "My City Was Gone." It is totally funky with a ton or irony and heart, as well. Tom Paxton's "Whose Garden Was This" once moved me but no longer has much juice. And Pete Seeger's war horse, "Garbage" doesn't stand the test of time.
To my way of thinking, the three best so far include Cat Steven's "Where Do the Children Play," Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" as interpreted by Patti Smith, and St. Lou Reed's "Last Great American Whale." Each song incorporates poetry with passion, conviction with creativity, with a healthy dose of compassion thrown in for good measure. I can listen to these songs repeatedly, savoring the melody or lyric, because there is nuance here instead of a sledge hammer.
Pound for pound, I find Lou Reed's work the most demanding both artistically and politically. Neil Young evokes a new world order in outer space after the apocalypse. Yusuf Islam evoked pathos for the coming generation. But St. Lou just tells us a story - and stories are what allows people into the emotions and experience of an artist. Stories transcend the fervor of a topical rant. They endure.
In "Last Great American Whale" our old denizen of the dark, God rest his soul, is one part self-deprecating trickster, one part Old Testament prophet, and one part Jersey kid in the Village backed up with a garage band. When this first came out, Reed made it clear that we should "stick a fork in ourselves because America was done." In 2017, his tale of right wing vigilantism elevates this song to essential quality: his warning was prescient, his poetry was proactive and his delivery remains timeless. Ignore this song at your own peril.
If you know three better than this, please let me know, ok? I am aching to expand the canon.
Sunday, September 10, 2017
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