Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How the last thirty years have changed me!

Okay, first watch this YouTube clip of Barbara Streisand and Niel Diamond singing "You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore" (judging from the hairstyles, I'd guess this was about 1978):


If you're lucky to have "friended" Catholic Answers Live's Patrick Coffin, you know he occasionally posts on his status random, offbeat reflections on song lyrics. Today he commented, "It doesn't occur to her that perhaps her abusiveness toward him, and his opting to no longer bring her flowers, are causally related."



I don't know how many times I danced with some girl/woman at a wedding reception, or heard it as a duet at a karaoke bar. I have tremendous respect for both Streisand and Diamond, whose songs are part of the warp and woof of the tapestry of my childhood.

And yet, when I saw Pat's comment, it occurred to me: Funny how your perspective changes after thirty years. What was once a beautiful end-of-love duet is now a three-minute whine by two narcissists who can't summon up the stones to do anything about the collapse of their relationship ... they can't even learn how to tell each other "goodbye", let alone make an appointment with a counselor. I'm no longer moved to tears by this song; rather, I get a mind to read them the Riot Act.

Let's be clear: Pop lyrics use the vertical pronoun a lot. The lyricist may be speaking from experience and writing as a form of catharsis, or he may be placing himself in someone else's spot and creating a character to bring forth a different perspective. Nevertheless, the second person is too often a blank wall, a person who to the narrator is a mystery in the sense of "riddle" or "enigma" rather than in the sense of "a transcendent reality too deep for complete comprehension". Not only does the Other Person not reflect God, s/he's unrecognizable as a human ... indeed, s/he's the verbal equivalent of a cardboard cutout.

So okay, pop lyrics aren't candidates for literary awards. One could even say they don't need to be, just as slasher movies and action-adventure films don't need to be any deeper than a child's wading pool to do their jobs. There's a place for both Captain Ahab and Bazooka Joe at the table. ("Bazooka Joe?" you ask. Did you never read the comics printed on Bazooka Bubble Gum wrappers?)

But maybe this is why I don't listen to much contemporary music anymore, why I tune in to jazz and classical stations and have very little knowledge of Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.

Good taste? Elitism? Disillusionment? What do you all think?