Category Archives: Music

This Just Doesn’t Seem To Be My Day / Mother’s Little Helper

Two more songs that can be sung together:

“This Just Doesn’t Seem To Be My Day” by the Monkees

and “Mother’s Little Helper” by the Rolling Stones.

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Take ‘Em Away / Our Town

Two songs with essentially the same tune:

“Take ‘Em Away” by Old Crow Medicine Show

and “Our Town” by Iris DeMent

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The Argument from Aesthetic Experience

After a break of a few months, it’s time to get back to my project of evaluating Kreeft & Tacelli’s 20 arguments for God. Since I’m not feeling up to plowing through the Kalam Argument at the moment, I’ll jump ahead a bit to the shortest argument in the series: the 17th, the Argument from Aesthetic Experience.

Here it is in its entirety, as it appears in K & T’s book:

There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.

You either see this one or you don’t.

And if you don’t (this is what the “argument” not-so-subtly implies), you’re a philistine. If Bach’s music doesn’t move you at a metaphysical level, forcing you to rethink the ontology of the universe, you are obviously incapable of appreciating the full power of his art.

*

Well, I readily grant that I am a musical philistine, one who has received more genuine pleasure and inspiration from third-tier rock-and-roll acts than from most of the greatest music ever composed. After several unsuccessful attempts to cultivate a taste for classical music, I wear my Midas-ears, if not with pride, at least with a certain resignation.

(Bach himself may be the one exception. When I give his music my full attention, the reaction it induces in me is extraordinary, though I’m not sure I’d call it “aesthetic.”)

Anyway, I’m not one of the people who automatically “see this one.” I’m not even sure it’s intended to be a serious argument. Does anyone really believe that God’s existence somehow logically follows from whatever intense aesthetic experience they may have had, or is this just a way of saying that Bach is awesome, an upmarket version of “Clapton is God”?

At the risk of making a fool of myself, I’m going to give K & T the benefit of the doubt, treat this as a serious argument, and try to make sense of it. Even if the argument is mostly just a joke or a pose, the fact that people can be expected to get the joke — the fact that people naturally understand the underlying idea that the existence of awesome things proves there is a God — suggests that this line of thinking has some grounding in common sense and may therefore be based on some underlying, unarticulated logic.

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Here are some possible ways of unpacking K & T’s elliptical little syllogism.

  1. Our capacity for intense aesthetic experience, especially when induced by things that have nothing to do with inclusive fitness, makes no evolutionary sense. Therefore we must have been created with said capacity by a God, perhaps as a means of increasing our happiness or of giving us intimations of heaven.
  2. Intense aesthetic experience is spontaneously interpreted in otherworldly terms, and we naturally reach for otherworldly metaphors when we try to describe it. Instincts generally have some grounding in the way things really are.
  3. Bach was a serious Christian who dedicated all his music to the glory of God. So were many other great musicians and other artists. That has to mean something.
  4. The feelings that Bach induces in some people are so powerful and so unlike ordinary feelings that it is reasonable to hypothesize that they come from some out-of-the-ordinary — supernatural, even — source.
  5. The existence of God is part of the content of some aesthetic experiences. They are as inseparable from the idea of God’s existence as a visual image of a tree is inseparable from the idea of that tree’s existence. No bridge of induction from one to the other is necessary.

If anyone has any other ideas for possible “Bach, therefore God” arguments, I welcome comments. I’ll try to evaluate the various arguments in a later post.

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Open up your mouth and let the sun shine in

I’ve always enjoyed the song “Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In),” recorded in 1955 by Stuart Hamblen and his family as the Cowboy Church Sunday School. Hamblen’s original version was recorded with “Chipmunks” sound effects (recorded at 33 rpm, played at 45) which I find grating, so it’s better to hear it sung by someone else, like the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. (Skip to the four-minute mark to miss the “very important message”; WordPress apparently doesn’t support linking to a particular point in a YouTube video.)

The Wikipedia article on Hamblen says that “some of his post-conversion songs depict a rather wrathful version of the Gospel, sung with such good-natured high spirits that they have an ironic appeal to the non-religious” — missing the point completely. Yes, the key to the song’s appeal is the fact that it’s a cheerful, lilting children’s tune which is actually “all about the devil,” but irony’s got nothing to do with it.

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My brothers and I used to sing a modified version of this song when we were kids, making it a song about letting the sun shine into your mouth rather than your heart. The only lines I remember — probably the only lines there were — are “Let the sun shine in / Give your tongue a tan / Open up your mouth and let the sun shine in.”

When I walk long distances I like to sing to keep up my pace, and Hamblen’s song is one of my go-to tunes, though of course I have to pick up the tempo a bit to make it a suitable marching song. Over the years, I’ve expanded the “open up your mouth” version, adding verses as I go along. It now goes something like this.

*

Mama told me something that a little kid should know.
It’s all about the devil, and I’ve learned to hate him so.
She told me where the sun don’t shine is where he likes to hide,
And if your mouth is closed the devil just might be inside.

So let the sun shine in. Give your tongue a tan.
If I were a can opener, your mouth would be the can.
Oh, let the sun shine in. Give your tongue a tan.
Just open up your mouth and let the sun shine in.

When it’s dark inside your mouth, the devil wears a grin.
He likes to hide inside it ’cause the sunlight hurts his skin.
If you don’t want him in there, open up those pearly gates,
And fill your mouth with sunshine, which is what the devil hates.

Oh, let the sun shine in, etc.

I learned this back in Sunday school when I was very young:
As ships are to their helms, so is the body to the tongue.
It’s just a little member but can steer the body right,
And if thy tongue be single, all thy body’ll fill with light.

So let the sun shine in, etc.

I know the day is coming that will end this night of sin.
The sky will open wide and let the Son of God shine in.
From Jesus’ open mouth there will proceed a shining sword.
Then every knee shall bow and every tongue confess the Lord.

Oh, let the sun shine in, etc.

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It’s the same old song, but with a different meaning since you been gone

I stopped at a tea shop to pick up some drinks, and the song that was playing on the radio seemed a little familiar. I thought, “Hey, I think I’ve heard this song before. I know how the chorus goes, anyway.” I kept waiting for the chorus to kick in, but it never did — it turned out to be a different song altogether, but one with virtually the same melody. I was mildly disappointed.

When I arrived home, I got on Google to find out what the two songs were — the one whose chorus I had been anticipating, and the one they were actually playing. Finding the two songs and watching their respective music videos in succession turned out to be a very depressing experience.

Here’s the original of the tune I recognized: Dobie Gray’s 1973 hit “Drift Away” (written by Paul Williams’s brother Mentor).

And here’s the song that made me think of it: Train’s “Drops of Jupiter”  from 1998.

Now “Drift Away” is hardly one of the great songs of all time, and “Drops of Jupiter” is very far from being the worst thing on the radio in recent decades — but still the contrast between the two, and the qualitative inferiority of the latter, is palpable. The melody is the same, but something essential has been lost — something which, though hard to define or explain, is trivially easy to name — soul. Soul, almost in the metaphysical sense. Simply put, when I watch Dobie Gray sing, it’s easy to entertain the idea that he is an immortal being, that he hath had elsewhere his setting and cometh from afar; watching Patrick Monahan, I wear my atheism much more comfortably. That seems like a horrible thing to say, and I certainly mean no disrespect to Mr. Monahan, but the impression is undeniable.

So what happened? What accounts for the difference between these two very similar songs, released only 25 years apart, and what accounts for the fact that — to say nothing of Bach and Mozart, or even of such lesser lights as Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan — today’s music scene can produce no one who rises even to the level of a Dobie Gray?

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More songs that can be sung simultaneously

Almost too obvious to be interesting: “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by Harry Belafonte and “I Fought the Law” by the Crickets.

More challenging: “Vintage Wine” by the Moody Blues and “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi.

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Songs which can be sung simultaneously

From time to time (and increasingly often these days, it seems) I’ll be listening to a song and find that a completely different song is running through my head — and that, against all odds, it works — that, with a few adjustments to the tempo and the key, the two songs sound good sung simultaneously.

To see what I mean, try this. Play “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” by the Monkees,

and while it’s playing, try to sing “Country Roads” by John Denver.

You’ll have to sing it quite a bit faster than John Denver does, and it can be a challenge to keep to the tune and not be distracted by what the Monkees are singing, but after a few tries you should be able to get it. (You should be singing “Country roads / take me home / to the place / where I was born” in sync with “I see / all kinds of sorrow / wish I / only loved one.”) If I had any musical talent I’d record the combination myself, but I don’t, so you’ll just have to try it yourself.

Here’s another you can try: “Climbing the Walls” by They Might Be Giants

and “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens.

I find that for both of these mixes, the two songs go together lyrically as well as melodically.

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