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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

March 17, 2008

Song of the Week: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

Having been up the better part of the past 24 hours this Pax Plena song of the week seems only appropriate. Last week we featured southern gospel. This week a gospel of romance. If that were so, Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning would easily be among the hymns. Nary has there been a time when such simple lyrics were so profound.

Sinatra has long been considered the gold standard of the crooner era. But what makes this recording especially unique is that it was recorded in just three days during a lengthy session in March of 1954. It would go on to become Ol' Blue Eyes first full 12-inch LP, and the first concept album ever released. The album itself consisted primarily of ballads; it's theme according to wikipedia "organized around a central mood of late-night isolation and aching lost love."

There's really no describing what ought to be listened to so I will simply add that the song is absolutely as billed above. For those who have loved and lost, for those who have embraced the early hours of twilight, for those who have merely wondered from afar, this song is for you. Please enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, Sinatra's own In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.




In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

In the wee small hours of the morning,
While the whole wide world is fast asleep,
You lie awake and think about the girl,
And never ever think of counting sheep.

When your lonely heart has learned its lesson,
You'd be hers if only she would call.
In the wee small hours of the morning,
Thats the time you miss her most of all.
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March 12, 2008

Song of the Week: I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

My favorite guilty pleasure in posting the Pax Plena Song of the Week segment is the quiet aside I get to spend traipsing among memories past, listening to the songs I select.

For many who grew up and attended church in the south, I suspect this song of the week will surely bring an abundance of memories all their own. Written during the golden age of itinerant preaching, Ira F. Stanphill's 1950 hymn I Know Who Holds Tomorrow melds the delicate lyrics of contemplation with a soft melody that grows in strength and truth.

The legend behind the hymn according to a religious blog is that Stanphill wrote I Know Who Holds Tomorrow during the dissolution of his marriage. According to acquaintances, Stanphill's wife grew tired of his ministry during its zenith and left him to pursue a career of her own in entertainment. Sadly, she was killed in a car crash sometime thereafter. The lyrics aptly convey the emotions of listlessness and doubt Ira Stanphill encountered while going through such a difficult period in life.

What makes the song especially meaningful to yours truly is that it so accurately reflects the present nature of life's spatial plane. For the recovering poets among us, Stanphill's song may bring to mind of Yeats' reflections on autumn:
"Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us with a kiss and a tear on they drooping brow."
If Yeats reminds us that seasons of passion and love are perennially moving targets, then Stanphill simply extends the metaphor a bit further to say that all of life is a moving target; and the only certainty we have is vested in the One Who Holds Tomorrow.

The conclusion, then, for twenty-somethings, is that the most steadfast, bedrock, take-it-to-the-bank promise of life is uncertainty. Or to put it more abstractly, uncertainty is our only certitude. And it is exactly this certitude that is so beautifully captured in song by Stanphill. The lesson of I Know Who Holds Tomorrow is that even inasmuch as we try to figure it all out, we cannot know which course is the best in life until hindsight blinds us by the force of its illumination. The song simply communicates that this is as it should be, for all of life is trial and error.

Given my present circumstance, the reality of uncertainty as embodied in the Stanphill song is intriguing. So often, I try to micro-manage my life even down to the quarter-hour. But the reality is that I'm not guaranteed the next second much less the next 15 minutes, half-hour, or day - much less tomorrow. This is not to say that the particular message of the song is that we are without choice. Even while we may feel subject to the fates, we are in control of the choices we make between hither and yon. Indeed, it is somewhat reassuring in the song that we have been in control all along. What the song does is reassure us that this moment is not all there is, even though it is all we have been given.

The broader point of the song, then, is that we can never know what tomorrow holds for our lives unfold in a series of moments. And the Giver of Moments stands by, holds our hand, and tells us, 'this uncertainty is, ok.'

With this in mind, please enjoy the robust baritone of Gospel Music Hall of fame legend George Younce as he sings Ira Stanphill's I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.




I Know Who Holds Tomorrow
By Ira F. Stanphill

I don't know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don't borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to grey.

I don't worry o'er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I'll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

Every step is getting brighter
As the golden stairs I climb;
Every burden's getting lighter,
Every cloud is silver-lined.

There the sun is always shining,
There no tear will dim the eye;
At the ending of the rainbow
Where the mountains touch the sky.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

I don't know about tomorrow;
It may bring me poverty.
But the one who feeds the sparrow,
Is the one who stands by me.

And the path that is my portion
May be through the flame or flood;
But His presence goes before me
And I'm covered with His blood.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand...
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March 4, 2008

Song of the Week: Walkin On the Sun

The Pax Plena Song of the Week hearkens back to a bygone era of summer's past. The year was 1997. Titanic would open that winter and go on to become the top-grossing film of all time. The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots (lovely how history repeats itself). And The Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down on the mean streets of Los Angeles. RIP.

In all, 1997 was a wholly unremarkable year musically except for the entry of neo-60s group Smashmouth on to the America billboard scene. Smashmouth would eventually become the group most associated with late-1990s movie soundtracks (viz., the movie Shrek which featured the popular Monkees' cover I'm a Believer). But their inaugural hit and this week's song of the week, Walkin On the Sun, would become the ace that earned them both critical acclaim and cult status.

The song itself is overtly inspired by the 1960s. The bass line is driving. Its feel is a bit too funky to be dissimilar from the Beach Boys. The music video does much to cultivate this idea and to great effect. Suffice it to say, the surf influence is pronounced. The lyrics of the song are said to offer "an ironic and implied Generation X view of the hippie movement." Simply put, the lyrics more or less mock such hippie values as peace and love by exploring how those ideals become little more than commercial fads in the culture of Generation X- an assessment with which I'm not inclined to disagree.

But what makes the song interesting is how the nexus between the surf/hippie culture intersects with 90s era cynicism. Rarely do songs interact to create a cross-generational dynamic anymore- particularly songs by newer groups. But somehow Smashmouth managed to pull this off in their earliest days as professionals. The group would eventually go down the path of Shrek but for just this release, their music seemed more than the commercialism they would both bemoan and embrace.

More recently, I've found the song to be a great listen while driving about Tucson. Here, the faux-contemporary architecture of the 1950s adorns much of the landscape across the desert west. Beset on either side by palm trees, ranch style homes and pastels, one could nearly envision Smashmouth shooting their video with an 8mm camera while driving around town. Sun-drenched skies only add to the reality of walking on the sun.

In all, the song is a welcomed trip down memory lane. The funky video make it fun to remember a more innocent time and the naivety of youth railing against the culture.

Enjoy!



Walkin' On The Sun
by Smashmouth

It ain't no joke I'd like to buy the world a toke
And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony
And teach the world to snuff the fires and the liars
Hey I know it's just a song but it's spice for the recipe
This is a love attack I know it went out but it's back.
It's just like any fad it retracts before impact
And just like fashion it's a passion for the with it and hip
If you got the goods they'll come and buy it just to stay in the clique

[Chorus:]
So don't delay act now supplies are running out
Allow if you're still alive six to eight years to arrive
And if you follow there may be a tomorrow
But if the offer is shun you might as well be walkin' on the sun

Twenty-five years ago they spoke out and they broke out
Of recession and oppression and together they toked
And they folked out with guitars around a bonfire
Just singin' and clappin' man what the hell happened
Then some were spellbound some were hellbound
Some they fell down and some got back up and
Fought back 'gainst the melt down
And their kids were hippie chicks all hypocrites
Because fashion is smashin' the true meaning of it

[Repeat Chorus]

It ain't no joke when a mama's handkerchief is soaked
With her tears because her baby's life has been revoked
The bond is broke up so choke up and focus on the close up
Mr. Wizard can't perform no godlike hocus-pocus
So don't sit back kick back and watch the world get bushwhacked
News at 10:00 your neighborhood is under attack
Put away the crack before the crack puts you away
You need to be there when your baby's old enough to relate

[Repeat Chorus]
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