Empty Music

While wondering why there seem to be no songs about the Mississippi (other than Big River from Johnny Cash) I have realized that music seems to be about almost nothing these days. You see, I listen to country music because I first listened to Johnny Cash, and now I am spoiled by the idea that songs should tell a story or at least sometimes be about something other than sex. I did a little thinking, and I have come up with a (certainly not exhaustive) list of song-worthy topics that should be in songs and a few examples for those of you who have never listened to Cash, or Patty Loveless, or Kris Kristofferson.

1. Home: Home is one of the topics that is glaringly absent from the songs on the radio. Home can represent so many things. The yearning of a human to feel, to be at home is a very powerful force. Here, also, home is the refuge, and unobtainable due to the blizzard.

2. Country/land: Our society has decided that having any real feelings about one’s country, or the very land that you grew up in is parochial and indicative of a variety of ills. This overbearing cynicism seems to preclude such lovely songs as ‘That Ragged Old Flag‘ (love of country) or You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive (below). The latter is a much more complicated song, and is one of my favorites in this post. The attraction of the ‘deep dark hills’ is so powerful and so entrapping, Harlan is like Circe, something you love and hate. It is a very complicated song.

3. Crime: This is a fun one. Some petty prudes somewhere at some point decided that we had to tell children that crime was bad. It’s like those ‘don’t try this at home’ warnings. So, the whole of human experience gets boiled down to what censorious people think is acceptable. Which, oddly enough seems to consist of: sex, someone you want to have sex with, someone having sex but not with you, someone who used to have sex with you but won’t anymore, and lastly someone you’ve had sex with who has died. These seem to be the allowed themes as long as you also conform to the appropriate attitude, either cynical blase or violent addiction; your audience must never be tempted to really think about anything. Here is a fun rampage song from Toby Keith, which totters on the border of just about the ‘someone you want to have sex with’ category and the crime category.

Which if anyone pays much attention to song themes is very much like a modern ‘El Paso’

4: Feeling Cursed: There is a funny thing about feeling cursed. Lots of people feel that way, and songs about this feeling would certainly resonate with most people, who have at least at some point felt cursed. But the censor doesn’t allow these songs. I think that this is because humanity IS cursed.

God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

(KJV)

5: Meaning of Life…

6: Christianity: The biggest taboo apparently is anything of religious, especially Christian, value. It can only be superficial, whitewashing, so to speak. Nothing like ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ to make people think about damnation or anything like ‘Redemption’ or Ain’t No Grave.

I will close with a poem by C. S. Lewis that I couldn’t find anywhere else online. Almost every line of this poem could be a song theme. The poem is from Pilgrim’s Regress which is a beautiful answer to the heretical Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character spends his whole life ‘progressing’ searching his own way to try and find God, only to find at the end that he has been running away from God the whole time. Anyway, this is a song sung by an angel in the story.

I know not, I,
What the men together say,
How lovers, lovers, die
And youth passes away.
Cannot understand
Love that mortal bears
To native, native land,
All lands are theirs;
Why at grave they grieve
For one voice and face
And not and not receive
Another in its place.
I above the cone
Of the circling night
Flying, never have known
Less or greater light.
Sorrow it is they call
This cup whence my lip
(Woe’s me!) never in all
My endless days can sip.

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5 responses to “Empty Music

  1. How familiar are you with Chris LeDoux & his songs?

    • Not terribly, at least not as well as the ones I listed. I will have to take a listen.

      • AgentDelta007

        I’ve heard that his earlier music is better than his later music (which is not to say that his later music is bad). He worked as an independent artist for most of his musical career, so I don’t know how much of his early work is easily obtainable outside of Youtube.

  2. I think hope, friendship, and optimism are really song-worthy topics, too, you know!

  3. Pingback: Compassion | The Dusty Thanes

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