The Fruit Of Another

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For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. – Hebrews 4:15

Squeeze, not nearly as big here in the states as in the U.K., was headed by the latest songwriting duo of the late 70’s/early 80’s to wear the “next Lennon & McCartney” moniker. The driving forces behind the band were Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook; in this case with an album (East Side Story) produced by Elvis Costello (EC also sings background vocals on the track) and powered by the ever-soulful Paul Carrack (Ace-“How Long”, Mike & The Mechanics-“The Living Years” and his own “Don’t Shed A Tear”) standing in on lead vocals.

“Tempted” was their breakthrough hit in the U.S. and, according to Difford, was written during a cab ride on the way to the Heathrow Airport to go on tour. As Chris explains “I was obviously envisioning a good time on the tour, as the (song’s) chorus suggests.”

And they just kept on squeezing out super sweet, superbly crafted, hook-laden grooves for a decade. This one, in particular just has that low, funky groove you just can’t help but sing along to. It’s the bass line, the punctuated percussion, and then Paul’s vocal melody inserted in perfect time. Just like a sweet temptation always seems to come along at just the perfect time.

And why not, certainly we’ve all had our temptations in life. No one can resist them all. Except one…and we all know who that was.

I bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste

A flannel for my face
Pajamas, a hairbrush
New shoes and a case
I said to my reflection
Let’s get out of this place

And oftentimes when we’ve succumbed to that temptation, that’s what we all want to do: run. Put on our best Forrest Gump imitation and boogie. But we really can’t…its always there, no matter where we go; haunting us.

Passed the church and the steeple

The laundry on the hill
Billboards and the buildings
Memories of it still
Keep calling and calling
But forget it all, I know I will

The mind will try to convince itself that we’re going to put this all behind us. Sure we will.  Just put a little space and time between us, and you’ll see.

Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
What’s been going on, now that you have gone

Nothing new here. The truth will out. And then the game is lost.

Alarmed by the seduction, I wish that it would stop

It’s like we’re traveling down this long road and we can see it stretching out ahead of us for miles and miles. And we know that it’s going to happen again. We can see it looming there on the horizon. And we wish that it would stop, but at the same time we eagerly await the next time. We are helpless. The car doors are locked and we can’t get out.

I bought a novel, some perfume

A fortune all for you
But it’s not my conscience
That hates to be untrue
I asked of my reflection
Tell me what is there to do

No matter what the mind commands, the body fails to obey. And, you can’t cover it up or make good with gifts or sweets. What’s done is done.

Yes, it’s tragic. But there is hope. Even though Jesus never gave in to earthly temptations, He understands the human condition, all our frailties and failings, and holds out His hand anyway. His is a love many times scorned, but offered unconditionally.

As The Boss once sang:

They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple, but man I ain’t going for that. I know it was a pink Cadillac…

So, jump on in and climb in the back. Because the road to temptation…well, it goes on forever.

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A Pauper To A Pawn

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I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. – Philippians 4:12

If there was ever a song and artist that was tailor made for these posts, it has to be the one and only, Sir Elton John and “Levon”.

So many of Elton’s songs have Biblical or religious references even as Elton has openly decried organized religion as “hateful”, declared that Jesus was just a “compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems” and stated that he would “ban religion completely”.

Why then do so many of Elton’s songs have these religious overtones? Is it Bernie Taupin’s fault? Was he simply trying to be ironic? Or is it just a glimpse into Elton’s own conflicted soul?

Levon wears his war wound like a crown
He calls his child Jesus
‘Cause he likes the name
And he sends him to the finest school in town

Some say that Levon was chosen as the father’s name because it is NOVEL spelled backwards and that Elton believed the Bible to be simply another “good book”.

Levon likes his money
He makes a lot they say
Spend his days counting
In a garage by the motorway

One could even say that Levon (and Elton) were preoccupied with storing up treasures here on earth…as so many of us are.  At this point in his career in 1972, “Madman Across The Water” was peaking on the American charts and certainly with this third album release, Elton was beginning to see considerable commercial success.

He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day
When the New York Times said God is dead and the war’s begun
Alvin Tostig has a son today

And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
And he shall be Levon
In tradition with the family plan

Ah yes, Levon shall be a good man. Unlike his father. Just as Elton wanted to rebel against his own father’s Royal Air Force regimentation. Elton’s dad wanted him to go into banking. Imagine that!

Levon sells cartoon balloons in town
His family business thrives
Jesus blows up balloons all day
Sits on the porch swing watching them fly

It’s funny though, it’s been said that when Bernie Taupin was asked about the deeper meaning to “Levon”, he claimed to have had no idea at all when writing it. He said it was “just lines that came out that were interesting”.

And doesn’t this all speak to the ironies and inconsistencies in our own lives. I love Elton’s work immensely, though I disagree with many of the things he says and does. And the very religious beliefs I hold dear, clearly spell out a dim view of the gay lifestyle.

Elton disparages religion yet many of his songs are clearly influenced by religious beliefs and teachings. Could it be just another internal conflict? Elton’s life and sexuality certainly seem to be riddled with conflicts. In the 1960’s he was engaged to his record company secretary, Linda Woodrow. In 1976, he declared himself bisexual. In 1984, he married German recording engineer Renate Blauel and finally would up in civil union with his current partner, David Furnish.

Elton and David became the proud parents to a son (by surrogate) on Christmas day in 2010. And you guessed it…they named him Levon. (Actually his full name is Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John).

And Jesus, he wants to go to Venus
Leaving Levon far behind
Take a balloon and go sailing
While Levon, Levon slowly dies  

No matter what Elton thinks about God, he has certainly been blessed with a talent beyond compare. His five decade long recording career has seen him sell over 300 million records, making him one of the best selling recording artists of all time. Such great abundance and yet suffering need are all tied up together in his life.

Ultimately, I think Elton is perfect proof of God’s perfect love. And Jesus may have died, but he died for all our sins and all mankind, including Elton. Even if he is a non-believer.

Well, it’s no big deal…Jesus is no stranger to a little “religious rejection”.

Watch the classic here:

The Element Within

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So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. – Matthew 19:6

It’s the element within her
Something under her skin
That is shining out through the face of the girl

The click.

Ever wonder what causes that almost instant attraction you have for certain people? And it does not always have to be the opposite sex. Just someone that we connect to. It’s rare, but it happens. And when it does, you can’t always put your finger on just exactly what it is about them.

It’s just a part of it
Like your fine tresses
You know what my guess is

It’s that whole “find your soul-mate” thing. Nowadays you can just order it up online. Or at least that’s what they advertise. Some call it chemistry. And I guess it is chemical. Something elemental within us.

I’m so glad to be happily married (for 26 years this past week). I’d hate to be looking for love on the internet. It seems so…clinical.  So impersonal. It’s a procedure now, for crying out loud. It just doesn’t seem to me that it would be quite the same as back in the day.

This love in my heart
Let no-one set asunder
Sometimes I wonder

But even when (and if) you find that “soul-mate”, you’ll still sometimes wonder. Is it real? Will it last? Certainly this is God’s plan for us. You have to set aside those doubts and go with it.

“The Element Within Her” is one of many Elvis Costello penned songs that passed me by, until I heard it covered by another artist. The other artist In this case, Marti Jones. It was a hidden gem on 1983’s “Punch The Clock”, overshadowed by the Top 40 success of “Everyday I Write The Book” and the haunting tones of “Shipbuilding”.  But mostly, I was still totally hooked on “Imperial Bedroom” as it had just been released the prior year.

It wasn’t until I heard Marti’s cover version on her “Unsophisticated Time” in 1985 (which is itself a fantastic album) that I really started to take notice. And, like I have with many Costello songs, I came to appreciate his original version more, after getting attracted by the cover. Like Linda Ronstadt’s versions of “Party Girl” and “Girls Talk”.

And isn’t that surely the way it is? We start to take for granted those closest to us in favor of someone new? It’s only when we hear someone else echo those sentiments, that we realize that it was here in front of us all along.

Yes, sometimes the click is right…just trust it and go with it.

Marti Jones’ cover:

Stand By Your Man

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Outside are the dogs, and those who make use of evil powers, those who make themselves unclean…and every one that loveth and maketh a lie.  – Revelation 22:15

Say you stand by your man
Tell me something I don’t understand
You said you love me and that’s a fact
Then you left me, said you felt trapped

Ouch…not much else to say. But certainly something we’ve all experienced at one time or another.

The Clash laid it out there for us, pure, simple and not-so-sweetly in 1979. The track was a last minute throw-in on their breakthrough album London Calling; so late that the title did not show up on some of the record sleeve song listings because they had already gone to print.  A hidden bonus.

It was called “Train In Vain” but everybody knew it as “Stand By Me”. The label decided to add the (Stand By Me) in parentheses to the record along with the true title due to the fact that the “train in vain’ part never shows up in the song’s lyrics. And, of course, they didn’t want the song to be confused with Ben E. King’s classic. Seriously?

i totally understood the “train” part…that low driving backbeat was definitely off the rails.  And that harmonica. Most of all, the message was simple…even primal. The harsh and wounded wail of someone loved and left.

And surely, this has to be one of the hardest hearted sins. Loss of love served with a big honkin’ side dish of betrayal, disrespect and total selfishness.

Well some things you can explain away
But my heartache’s in me till this day 

And no excuses will do, so don’t even try.  Might as well keep your edge and upper hand. There’s no sense in trying to apologize; it just makes you look weak and doesn’t make me feel any better.

I see all my dreams come tumbling down
I won’t be happy without you around 

So all alone I keep the wolves at bay
There is only one thing  I can say

And so we fall to the bottom and we share the only perspective we can,

Did you stand by me
No, not at all
Did you stand by me
No way

The whole “train in vain” thing really came from a Mick Jones relationship where he often had to take a train across town to see his girlfriend. Many of these trips were fruitless and ended with Mick never seeing her, or only seeing her briefly and having an argument.

You must explain why this must be
Did you lie when you spoke to me 

And finally, you break down and ask for an explanation; You gotta know. Why?

This is the last step. Afterwards you move on. Because there is no real answer, nothing satisfactory, nothing to salve this wound. It really just “must be”. And that’s it.

But you don’t understand my point of view
I suppose there’s nothing I can do

“Train In Vain” was the first Clash song to reach the top 30 on U.S. charts and was ultimately ranked number 298 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was the third (and last) single released from London Calling. but I think it defined The Clash and the punk rock movement in its sheer, raw and basic form. It was covered by a diverse group of artists ranging from Annie Lennox to Third Eye Blind to Dwight Yoakam. Annie Lennox’s smooth and funky version is my personal fave, as featured on Saturday Night Live.

So, take solace in the knowledge that this is nothing new; we’ve all been there. And those guilty of same?

You, my former friend, are destined to remain on the outside forever…looking in.

Listen here:

Classic version:

Annie Lennox, SNL live version:

Third Eye Blind:

Dwight’s cover:

 

 

 

 

Choosing Our Confessions

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If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9

Oh life, it’s bigger,
It’s bigger than you
And you are not me.

It takes a while to get it. For some longer than others.  Life truly is bigger than any one of us.

And no matter how big or small we are, something we all share is this: the crush.

Oh yes, your first crush. And the subsequent inevitable feelings of inadequacy that accompany it. You want to hold back on your feelings, but you can’t and you feel exposed.

Then again, we’re all naked before God, right? He knows the secrets of our hearts. There is no hiding place here. Might as well just come clean.

Still, we resist…

i can remember Michael Stipe playing and singing in Athens, GA, back before R.E.M. had any degree of commercial success. Performing at the 40 Watt Club (which is a legendary place and a story waiting for another blog post) one of the premier founding punk/new wave clubs that fostered groups like Pylon, Love Tractor and the Indigo Girls, just to name a few. Those of us enjoying penny beer night back in 1979 could hear the potential, but really did not know who we were so privileged to see. Who knew then what the future would hold for Michael and the  boys from Athens?

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it

They may well not have known what they were doing.  According to the album liner notes, the music was composed in just minutes; Stipe wrote the lyrics in less than an hour and recorded the vocals in one take.

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you

Ultimately, we can’t choose our confessions. Not to our crushes and certainly not to God. And doesn’t it really feel better when we release everything? Isn’t there a kind of relief in the exposure?

Consider this, the hint of the century
Consider this, the slip
That brought me to my knees, failed
What if all these fantasies come, flailing around

And once it’s slipped, you feel totally disadvantaged. And then you begin to worry that it may actually work out. What then? What if it really happens? Will there be incredible joy and happiness…or just more shattered expectations?

In human relationships the outcomes are very uncertain. But not with God. Confession can only bring peace and joy. You feel…clean.

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it

But we can do it. And we will. As Lyle Lovett once wrote:

Look I understand too little too late.
I realize there are things you say and do
You can never take back.
But what would you be if you didn’t even try?
You have to try.
So after a lot of thought
I’d like to reconsider.
Please if it’s not too late,
Make it a cheeseburger

“Losing My Religion” is one of my all time faves and was R.E.M.’s biggest U.S, charted hit. It was ranked #169 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “Top 500 Songs of All Time” list and #9 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of The 90’s”.

By the way, “losing my religion” is a slang expression for losing one’s cool or being at the end of your rope. I know we all feel that way at times!

Confess. Go ahead, let it roll…you can do it.

Listen here:

Acoustic version: