The poetry of music lyrics

My recent fascination with Hozier’s haunting “Take Me to Church” got me thinking about the power of music lyrics.

When Hozier laments that he will “tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife,” among other obvious religion-themed verses, the song takes on a new meaning to some.

To others, it’s just a song.

Of course, the messaging of music is nothing new in pop culture. For as long as music has been around, there are those that feel compelled to break down and understand the true meanings behind our favorite songs.

The theologians had a heyday with R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” probably due to as much of the visual images of that video as the lyrics itself. My theology-minded brother, Dr. Thomas More, even weighed in on that topic during a VH1 special.

And like R.E.M., Hozier encourages the religious discussion and our natural tendency to break down the music. With lines like “I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,” how can we not wonder aloud?

It does diminish the music or dampen the integrity of the art to discuss lyrics. Still, we sometimes go a little overboard.

Bell Biv Devoe didn’t literally mean that girl was “Poison,” did they?

Women, love and heartache-filled-angst has made the best music over the years. And some of that we can take quite literally.

Jefferson Starship told us all about “Sarah.” KISS introduced us to “Beth.” The Police filled us in on “Roxanne.” Toto’s famous ode to Rosanna Arquette was popular in the 80s. And Prince told us way more than we may have needed to know about a good friend named “Nikki.”

Hozier offers an explanation of “Take Me to Church” on a YouTube video. My initial take was you can’t riddle you song with faith-related phrases and then tell us the song isn’t about that at all. I’ve changed my tune a bit now, though, as I think back to many great songs.

The Band had us believing they “pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead…” Really? Either way, can’t argue with the song. That tune is still killer after all these years.

Songs that dare to dip into religion will always draw the ire of some. Others, like Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” (no, he’s not singing “hold me close my Tony Danza…”) will live in interpretive infamy forever. Deliberate or implied symbolism makes for great discussion points, especially when we look at some of the great songs of Pink Floyd or The Doors.

As one of my friends put it recently on a Facebook discussion, in his mind, the song is just the song. It’s good music. Maybe that’s all we need say.

That a topic, a woman, a loss or a love can inspire deep and meaningful music is still what drives me to listen.

If music moves you, allow it to happen.

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The dream should include love

Tony

In the midst of a racially charged time in our society, we pause today to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King and his vision of peace, love, justice and fellowship.

Dr. King’s dream was celebrated tonight in Lee’s Summit, in Kansas City and throughout the United States via these types of events, speeches, vigils and remembrances.

I got a glimpse of King’s dream while traveling to Memphis last summer. During my annual guys’ trip, I finally detoured off Beale Street and found the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. While touring, reading, listening and visualizing all that King had preached regarding civil rights and civil disobedience, I was struck by one thing in particular – his age. King was just 39 when he was gunned down by coward James Earl Ray. At 40, I was walking through and seeing this tremendous affect he had on our country and culture in such a short amount of time.

And while race relations are never seemingly at an even keel, since that trip to Memphis, it has gotten exponentially worse.

Eric Garner, a 43-year-old New York man, died July 17, 2014 after officer Daniel Pantaleo performed what some consider an illegal choke hold. Why Pantaleo took such drastic measures against Garner is beyond me. Still, it happened. And a flurry of race-related riots followed after Pantaleo wasn’t charged in his death.

On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown died in Ferguson, Missouri – an event that prompted me to head to the St. Louis suburb and find some sort of humanity among a racially-fueled and angry community.

Since that Grand Jury released its findings, we know now what transpired between officer Darren Wilson and Brown on that fateful day. That situation and the fate of Eric Garner are starkly different. We know that now.

But the results are the same. Race is in the headlines, used in the news as a flash point of controversy and talking points and, months later when we celebrate the work of Dr. King, relived again as we discuss where we have been and where we are heading as a country still dealing with racial issues.

On this day, though, I thought more about my brother-in-law, Tony, who passed away a year ago this month.

Tony was a proud black man. A preacher. A helper. A wonderful husband to my sister, a friend, brother and mentor to many.

Tony and I rarely had the “big” racial discussion. We didn’t break down Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” or “I Have a Dream” speeches.

Mostly, Tony talked about love. Loving your neighbor. Love for your family. Loving God. Showing love, sharing love, offering love. Over the years, I tried to better embrace and understand that message. I know that Tony and my sister Ann practiced that message of love. And saw it given back a thousand times over during Tony’s service.

King’s messages during his life resonate well after his death. He was willing to say the hard things about race that we sometimes don’t want to talk about.

I believe we have many hard conversations still ahead.

But if we have them with a dose of patience, reverence and, of course, love, I think we could actually get somewhere.

The meaningful gifts

It’s mid-January, which means my daughter has pretty much moved on from any gifts she got at Christmas.

The new coloring books are half used. The slippers are somewhere in her room. God only knows where her purple pony is.

And the damn flying fairy is broken. Irrevocably busted.

The only saving grace is the Light Brite that hasn’t left the box yet. Yes, I guess the Light Brite has made a reappearance in the toy world.

My kiddo doesn’t seem to take notice when some of her toys disappear into the night. I’ve gotten her in the habit of trying to think of still-new toys she can give away to kids that maybe don’t have as much. She’s been largely supportive, and has even brought up that a particular new toy could go to another girl some time.

I did face a little of the 4-year-old wrath when I gave away her Lalaloopsy doll. She’s still bringing that up to me from time to time.

As kids, I know toys are king. When we rip into the wrapping paper on our birthdays or Christmas and find socks or a sweater awaiting, those are pretty quickly tossed aside, hoping the next box or bag will hold the promise of something we had seen on TV recently.

As an adult, a new softball glove or old Nintendo game might be nice, but the gifts that really resonate are the ones where, the second you open them, you say, “this person really gets me.”

A shirt you know you are going to love isn’t discarded at all as an adult. A pair of copper mugs to make your favorite drink in is met with a smile every time they are used. Or simply a box of pencils made from recycled newspaper. A gesture that not gives a nod to my newspaper past, but shows an understanding of what I might truly appreciate.

Of course, I don’t expect these things out of my daughter just yet. Gift giving to her will, I hope, for years to come be about something that she will open, scream with joy about, and play with. Even if for only 17 minutes or so. (The fairy didn’t last long).

And, perhaps, the really meaningful gifts come at a time when no gift is anticipated at all. I’ve noticed on Facebook some people committing to doing something for five friends throughout the course of the year. Each year I see a few more of my friends doing this. I’ve never asked if they follow through. I want to believe they will.

In a world that is quite mad and violent, I can believe in little gestures of kindness and compassion, whether that is in the form of gifts, words, a gentle touch, shoulder to cry on or in simply being there for our loved ones.

I hope to provide all of that to my friends, family and loved ones.

And if it happens to come with a little something wrapped up with a bow on top, I hope that I, too, can always find that most meaningful gift to them.

2015 goals…for the 4-year-old

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If our children made New Year’s resolutions and goals like we do as adults, I would imagine they would look as ridiculous as ours a few months into the year.

Not because they are unattainable or irrational. They come each year with good intentions, each of us promising and striving and yearning to achieve something we didn’t in the previous year; to leave something behind that may have been negative and hope beyond hope that the New Year will bring only positive growth and outcomes.

As I entered the 2015 with Addy, I started to think about what this crazy kid is going to be “resolving” to do in the future. Not that I want to think about her teenage years…but I know it’s coming. Lord, before I know it, she will be on Facebook. If there is such a thing. And then I will have to answer for all those photos I posted.

So what does my 4-year-old want to accomplish in 2015?

Addy would like to eat less veggies. A lot less. Like, none, would be a great start.

She would like me to stop eating anything green, too, as witnessed by her incessant need to always inform me that she would, indeed, “not eat” whatever she deems undesirable on my plate.

And, like any 4-year old girl, Addy would resolve to: play more, sleep less, watch Frozen, watch Strawberry Shortcake, go to grandma’s house more often, dance daily, eat cookies, eat cake, eat ice cream, eat pancakes, play nonstop.

But here’s the thing: Addy’s goals are real. They’re worthy and honest.

While I want to challenge myself to do more one-on-one volunteerism, be a better father and friend and hit the gym more often, things we “want” to do in the next 365 days should perhaps be a better place to start on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1. When we shoot for “what I should become” or “I wish I could have the courage to do this” we set ourselves up for failure.

When I asked Addy what is one thing she would like to get done this year, she said, “Go to Paradise Park.”

Simplicity. You have to appreciate that.

My kiddo isn’t hard on herself. She doesn’t linger on the negative. She’s either always happy or looking for something that she can laugh about.

Perhaps, then, my outlook for 2015 is simple: take more lessons from someone that’s be alive less time than I spent in college.

Oh, and write more. You’ll be hearing a lot from me in 2015.