The way we never were

There is a poster viraling on facebook right now that has lyrics from a song from 1936, paired with lyrics from Justin Beiber, with this “Music: what happened?” line, suggesting that lyrics were so much better back then.

I’m disturbed by any line of thinking that says that life was so much better in another time. But this one is particularly ridiculous. One could choose these lyrics from Fats Waller in 1936:

From your ankles up, I’d say you sure are sweet
From there down; there’s just too much feet
Yes, your feets too big
Don’t want ya, ’cause ya feets too big
Can’t use ya, ’cause ya feets too big
I really hate ya, ’cause ya feets too big
yeah. Dadeooh da, where’d ya get ‘em…nananadum (or something)

And you could compare those lyrics to these amazing lyrics from Mumford & Sons last year:

“It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
Its on the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with the restart.”

Or you could compare it to last night’s Grammy-award winning “Rolling in the Deep” as recorded by Adele, which says,

“We could have had it all,
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside of your hand
And you played it to the beat.”

There is nothing wrong with those lyrics. Now, the truth is, I don’t know much about Justin Beiber. When I see those lyrics on that poster, I can’t even conjure up the tune in my head. I’m not his demographic. But my friend Michael, (who does find his music “catchy,” says, “Justin Beiber is like 14” (actually 17). Either way, he’s a kid who could still be in a youth group. And if he were in my youth group, I’d be pretty proud of everything he has been able to accomplish. And I’d be pretty upset about the attacks on his talent and person.

Churchy-types have these same conversations about music. There are those who wax on about the great hymns, with the great chords played on the great instruments. They say nobody sings anymore, and how the new songs, generally termed “praise songs” are too simple, both in terms of chords and lyrics. Sometimes they verge on the sexual, (in the secret place, I want to touch you, I want to know you more…Jesus?). That’s just embarrassing. So that you can put great hymns up next to really bad songs being sung in some places today (and I know those songs about as well as I know Justin Beiber) but on the other hand, you can ALSO find bad hymns of a different day. Both can present and teach ideas about God that I’m uncomfortable with (for whatever that is worth). I’m pretty sure you can also find good hymns of yesteryear and current songs that speak to people in meaningful ways.

There has always been good music, and there has always been bad music in all aspects of the world (sacred and otherwise, if you care to divide the two). To lift up a previous time as superior is just putting blinders on, holding up the way we never were. But further, it gives us some responsibility: either we do our homework to find what we consider good music to listen to/use in church settings, or write better music.

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