My good buddy El Guapo chose Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” for his music of the day yesterday, and I enjoyed watching/listening to it on YouTube. It’s an old favorite that I haven’t heard in a long time. It got me thinking about something I started writing recently, intending to post it here. So I went back and finished…
I have some John Denver on my iPod, and earlier this week his song “Rhymes and Reasons” came up in the shuffle as I listened while walking to class. Musically, it’s a pretty typical song for him, with a nice, simple melody, straightforward arrangement, and his pure, unique vocal style.
I like John Denver, and his music always brings memories of my youth, because my parents had several of his albums on vinyl. (We didn’t own any CDs at the time, mainly because they weren’t invented yet.) I also like Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, and (probably most of all) Willie Nelson.
As I’ve said before, I DO NOT like flower power, make-love-not-war, we’re-all-children-of-mother-earth, pot smoking hippie music. (Let me interject here that I get a kick out of “Alice’s Restaurant” in spite of its overt anti-war theme. I find it original, thought provoking, and very funny.) Anyway, when I listened closely to the lyrics of “Rhymes and Reasons” for the first time the other day, I was a little troubled.
Here is its chorus (after the first verse):
For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers,
Their laughter and their loveliness could clear a cloudy day.
Like the music of the mountains and the colors of the rainbow,
They’re a promise of the future and a blessing for today.
Following the next verse, the first two lines are unchanged, but the third and fourth lines go as follows:
And the song that I am singing is a prayer to nonbelievers:
'Come and stand beside us; we can find a better way.'
Some things I am absolutely certain of. For example, I never doubt the following:
- Raspberries are delicious. Tomatoes, not so much. Mushrooms are not meant for human consumption—think about it, they’re FUNGUS!
- B-52s have always been awesome and always will be. I'm talking about both the USAF bomber and the band from Georgia, but not the "beehive" hairdo favored by the women in the band, which is sometimes called the B-52, apparently because of its resemblance to the bomber's bulbous form. Pretty straightforward, huh?
- Spring is best. Winter is miserable. Summer is fun but often intolerable. Fall is okay but kind of depressing.
- Ewan McGregor is cool incarnate. If he and Catherine Zeta Jones were to mate, their child would be so perfect, mortals could not stand in its presence. (It’s too bad Ewan took his friend Charlie along instead of me to ride motorcycles around the world. I would have been a perfect candidate for that.)
- Anyone who gets deeply, emotionally involved with any professional sports team is a moron, maybe even a bozo.
- The Jaguar XKE is the most beautiful car ever conceived by man.
- Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, is a genius.
On some other stuff, I’m ambivalent. “Rhymes and Reasons” falls into that category. I want to like it, but I can’t fully. I kind of like it when I listen passively and ignore the lyrics.
Don’t ask me to explain. "Rhymes and Reasons" is musically superior to “Alice’s Restaurant” by any technical measure. Denver’s vocal talent exceeded Guthrie’s. Lyrically, “Rhymes and Reasons” is by far the less revolutionary of the two songs. Applying objective standards, I should despise “Alice’s Restaurant.” But artistic tastes are subjective. We cannot reduce aesthetics to a collection of absolute, black-or-white judgments or empirical quantification. In the words of Ulysses Everett McGill (played by George Clooney) in O Brother, Where Art Thou, “It’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.” Amen to that.