Friday, September 01, 2006

Called to mind today...

Back in grade thirteen--back when there was a grade thirteen--I had one class that shaped more more than most of the rest of my educational career put together...aborted university degree included. The class was called Classical Civilizations and the teacher was the now-late Reverend Roger McCombe.
I remember selecting the course out of a desire to learn about Greco-Roman society. Well, I'll tell you, Rev. McCombe taught a little about the Greeks and Romans, but mostly he taught us about ourselves. Every day was a new adventure. We'd be given a handout at the start of nearly every class and asked to read it and ponder it. I still remember several of these things, wow, sixteen years later:

"If you have one friend in the world, you are lucky. Two and you're blessed. Three is impossible."

"Odi et amo. quare id fasciam, fortasse requiris?
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
(I hate and I love. Why do I do it, you might ask?
I don't know, but I feel it happening to me and I am crucified.)

Shaping the minds of teenagers is like playing with old nitroglycerin. "Uncle Roger" was a master at it, getting us to think around corners, to think about who we were and who we wanted to think, period. He was an impassioned man of God who saw in his God the same gods and goddesses humans have venerated since before history began. Rev. McCombe was the first person to ever tell me that "all paths lead to God"--a lesson I have never forgotten.

Uncle Rog officiated at my friend Jennifer's wedding. Actually, he was in such demand that it seemed like he officiated at every wedding held around Ingersoll, Ontario over a period of at least a decade. Had I married earlier, he would have been my first choice as well.

What called him to mind today is my wife's current favourite song.

I remember Reverend McCombe bounding into class one day, full of barely suppressed excitement. Come to think of it, he came to class every day like that, a man for whom the joy of teaching was only surpassed by the joy of living. He set up a tape recorder at the front of the room, then proceeded to talk, for a few moments, about his dislike of modern (circa 1980s) popular music. With some tact--after all, he was denigrating his charges' taste in music, which teens have used to define themselves since time out of mind--he said that he found most of the songs to be unthinking paeans to lust and shallowness. But he'd heard a song by accident that had utterly captivated him, and he wanted to share it with us. He demanded that we really listen to the lyrics and think about them, and then hit play.
There were snickers, I remember, as we all instantly identified "The Living Years", a song by Mike and the Mechanics that was several years old and not well liked even when it was new. Reverend McCombe hit stop and again told us to ignore our prejudices and just listen to the lyrics...

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 it's 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 okay

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

This song has taken on new meaning for me, for reasons which will become clear in my next post.
In any event, we all sat stoically absorbing the message as requested, making sure we didn't betray any hint of emotion. I suspect, however, that every last one of the students gathered in that room that day has always remembered it. Rev. McCombe's classes were like that: unforgettable.

Fast forward to time present. I don't like current popular music. Most of the songs are unthinking paeans to lust and shallowness, not to mention violence and despair. But not all of them, as my wife has so kindly shown me.

Stupid girl, stupid girls, stupid girls
Maybe if I act like that, that guy will call me back
Porno Paparazzi girl, I don't wanna be a stupid girl

Go to Fred Segal, you'll find them there
Laughing loud so all the little people stare
Looking for a daddy to pay for the champagne
(Drop a name)
What happened to the dreams of a girl president
She's dancing in the video next to 50 Cent
They travel in packs of two or three
With their itsy bitsy doggies and their teeny-weeny tees
Where, oh where, have the smart people gone?
Oh where, oh where could they be?


Maybe if I act like that, that guy will call me back
Porno Paparazzi girl, I don't wanna be a stupid girl
Baby if I act like that, flipping my blond hair back
Push up my bra like that, I don't wanna be a stupid girl

(Break it down now)
Disease's growing, it's epidemic
I'm scared that there ain't a cure
The world believes it and I'm going crazy
I cannot take any more
I'm so glad that I'll never fit in
That will never be me
Outcasts and girls with ambition
That's what I wanna see
Disasters all around
World despair
Their only concern
Will they fuck up my hair

[Spoken Interlude] Oh my god you guys, I totally had more than 300 calories
That was so not sexy, no
Good one, can I borrow that?

(Do ya thing, do ya thing, do ya thing)
(I like this, like this, like this)
Pretty will you fuck me girl, silly as a lucky girl
Pull my head and suck it girl, stupid girl! (repeat stanza)
(to chorus)

---Pink, "Stupid Girls"

I have no doubt in my mind that this would be on Reverend McCombe's playlist, were he still alive and teaching today. I don't think he would have censored the word 'fuck', either. Although its message is a tad cruder than that of "The Living Years", we are living in a cruder age. It's still possible--just barely--to shock people a bit with that word in a song, and I think that trying to shock us out of our current nonsensibilities is this song's intention. Regardless, I find it brilliant and am more than a little gratified to see it's charting pretty well.


flameskb said...

I love Pink! The Family Portrait song still strikes me and brings tears to my eyes. And "You're Just Like a Pill" reminds me of D. and my hopeless obsession of him. It's funny that I didn't care for her at all, and then my husband bought a CD of hers (for the trashy way she looked on the cover, actually) and then he was listening to it and I thought, hey! She actually has an attitude and great lyrics and good thoughts and a great critique on society. Not just an outrageous look and the pink hair. She has the courage to be who she is, and it's rare in this world and it's great.
As for the Living Years, I bawled the first time I heard that song, on the radio, shortly after my Dad died...

jeopardygirl said...

Uncle Rog was one of the best things to ever happen to me...