Category Archives: Music

Bob Dylan’s “Only A Pawn in Their Game” and Charlottsville VA

Bob Dylan’s song, “Only A Pawn In Their Game,” came to mind while watching the neo-Nazis and white supremacists at Charlottesville VA. Let me say that race is a social construct, not a genetic or biological one, and none of the protestors are really white, whatever that means. Their DNA is from all over the world. Furthermore, not only did modern humans originate in Africa, but all of us living today outside Africa today have small amounts of Neanderthal DNA! Moreover, our DNA is about  99% identical with chimpanzee DNA. Simple observation of humans should confirm this last fact.

But here’s what interesting about the protestors. They vilify African-Americans, Jews, Hispanics and others, not realizing their real oppressors are people like their racist President, who has a long history of scamming the working classes.

The plutocrats have always divided the rest of us, distracting us from the fact that they oppress us. (They write influence the laws that shred the social safety net, and keep wages down along with their taxes.)They encourage racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of bigotry so that we see our fellows as the enemy. In other words they create scapegoats who divert attention away from themselves, and redirecting anger helps them retain their power. But it’s weatly bankers and wall street and corporations that make most of our lives hard—not immigrants, atheists, blacks or LGBT folks.

It’s straightforward. If you have power, you want to keep it. But you might create a revolution if you oppress or exploit your subjects. So instead you direct your subject’s anger away toward those they should be aligned with—other oppressed people.

The lyrics of the song are below. Medgar Evers gave his life in the struggle for justice, and I fear he won’t be the last.

A bullet from the back of a bush
Took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin, ” they explain
And the Negro’s name
Is used, it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
‘Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoofbeats pound in his brain
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ‘neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain
Only a pawn in their game

George Harrison: All Things Must Pass

Everything changes; everything evolves, all is transitory. This may be the fundamental fact of life. Buddhist philosophy is particularly insightful on this point with its distinction between gross and subtle impermanence. In simple language, George Harrison set this idea to music.

“All Things Must Pass”

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
It’s not always going to be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this, my love is up and must be leaving
It’s not always going to be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day
Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away

 

Mike And The Mechanics: “The Living Years” – Philosophical Reflections

I recently stumbled upon a song that I’d forgotten about, “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics. The group formed in 1985 as a side project of Mike Rutherford, one of the founding members of the band Genesis. The song was written by Rutherford and B. A. Robertson after both of their fathers died, and shortly before Robertson’s son was born. (Rutherford wrote about his father in this article in the Guardian.) According to Wikipedia, “The song was a chart hit around the world, topping the US Billboard Hot 100 on 25 March 1989,[2] and reaching No.1 in Canada and Australia and No.2 in the UK. It spent four weeks at No. 1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. The music video and lyrics are below, followed by a brief commentary.

MIKE AND THE MECHANICS
“The Living Years”
Every generation

Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it
He says its perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts

So Don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be OK.

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new-born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

Reflections – We do tend to blame those who went before us, especially our parents, for many of our problems. But children are quite similar to their parents. This realization should bring about understanding—our parents probably did the best they could, and we should appreciate that. Of course members of the older generations often assume that the new generation is “going all to hell.” The understanding needs to go both ways.

Clearly the composers of the song feel regret for not having said more to their fathers and for the misunderstandings and anger. This is the problem with bitterness—as many sages from Buddha to the present have noted—it really hurts those who are bitter. When we cease expecting perfection from our parents and our children, we will find more inner peace.

Forgiving those who hurt us doesn’t mean we approve of their actions. It means we are letting go of the past and journeying into a better future. It also means that though we were hurt and didn’t deserve it, we also hurt others even if unknowingly. It is part of human interaction to hurt and be hurt despite the best intentions. But we would live better if we could all forgive and not have lifelong anger and the regrets that follow from it. We would all do better to be less judgmental, especially if we have not walked in the other’s shoes.

What a beautiful song.

Shinichi Suzuki and Schubert’s “Ellen’s Third Song” (Ave Maria)

Shinichi Suzuki (1898 – 1998) invented the international Suzuki method of music education. It is considered an influential pedagogue in music education, especially of children. During his lifetime, he received several honorary doctorates in music including from the New England Conservatory of Music (1956), and the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, and he was proclaimed a Living National Treasure of Japan, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.

When he was seventeen, Shinichi heard a recording of Franz Schubert’s “Ellen’s Third Song,” played by a famous violinist named Mischa Elman. (Suzuki supposedly likened listening to this composition to hearing the voice of God.) It was based on Walter Scott‘s popular epic poem The Lady of the Lake. It became one of Schubert’s most popular works, recorded in different versions under the title of Ave Maria, with various lyrics which often differ from the original context of the poem. It was arranged in three versions for piano by Franz Liszt.

But it is one of the most melodious pieces of music that I’ve ever heard.