Sunday, January 1, 2017

Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" to an #AtheistEar

So we've put 2016 behind us, and we're looking ahead to 2017; but some of us are looking with unease and trepidation. This past year taught us that as a nation, we haven't put to rest the evils of the past. My theme song going into the year is one by George & Ira Gershwin from their opera Porgy & Bess.

Here's a performance by Cab Calloway - and it's remarkable to me that this was never pointed out to me as a song to avoid by all of the cultural gatekeepers of my youth:

(Lyrics are available here.)

The song was originally put in the mouth of a shady drug dealing character who draws criticism from his pious neighbors for his blasphemous attitude, and there were greater controversies surrounding the racial stereotypes in the show that distracted from the fact that one character was so blatantly casting doubt on the scriptures. I imagine its subversive tone was exactly what made the song compelling to later artists, though.

And these days, when "fake news" is suddenly a thing that people seem to be worried about, a song like this seems rather necessary. More than ever, we need to examine what comes through our feeds and question assumptions before we make decisions. That healthy skepticism that makes you question things that don't sound right is something you want to cultivate.

"But wait," you might say, "I was taught not to question the scriptures! And you telling me to do just that in a sassy, jazzy song is blasphemy!"

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. I really don't know what to tell you that will make you feel better about the things you believe that I think are silly fiction. Imagine what you would tell me if I told you that I believed every word of Doctor Who to be literally true - and if I condemned you to an eternity of torture for not believing it, too. You would be perfectly within your right to tell me, "Good luck with that," and not to trust my judgment on certain matters.

We're all in the same predicament. I'm not going to try to force you to see things my way. But you're not going to last long if you don't develop a strategy for figuring out what's real and what's not.

I recommend keeping this song handy - maybe make it the notification for your news feed. Depending on your sources, you may get more reliable meaning and guidance from the immortal words of Cab Calloway:

Wadoo, zim bam boddle-oo,
Hoodle ah da wa da,
Scatty wah !
Oh yeah !...

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