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A Far Eastern look at Western Songs

Indeed it is very surprising to many when they find that someone like me, so grounded in Indian classical traditions, such as its philosophies, religion and music could enjoy country and folk songs of the US and find even treasures in them. In the lyrics of many a song from the west I find profound observations of hard hitting truths. I suppose if we do not box our mind thinking that there are only specific sources for truth then revelations of the truth can come to us from anyone, anywhere and at anytime.

So then while crisscrossing the beautiful county of Sonoma, California, I find myself looking at the green pastures dotted with black and white cows, old tattered barns, tall redwood trees and open spaces. While my eyes feast this way, my ears are tuned to music from stations that play primarily country or folk songs. The lyrics speak of the life of ordinary people with ordinary problems. Here are doors that open to the reality of a temporal life with the hint of a hidden longing for permanency behind. Many of the lines have an appeal to the eastern mind of mine. My take on these I realize may or may not have been the intent of the lyricist.

“I am a singer of simple songs1.....” tells you right off the bat that this is no high flying philosophy and yet it hits a home run each time. “A star is born, a star burns out. The only thing that stays the same is,, everything changes, everything changes.”2 These lines from the song, Time marches on, point to the permanency of impermanence in life. With age comes changes, so too fashions, morals, priorities never remain the same. One is reminded of Adi Shankara’s poem, Bhaja Govindam, where he speaks of change in the priorities from childhood, through youth and finally to old age.

“Oh, I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I got to do is live and die. But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why. It’s a race and there aint’ no room for someone in second place.”3

Surely at some time or the other, in these days of fast- lane behavior this thought has occurred to us. A byproduct of this rushing is a lack of consideration for others with whom we share this planet. Bonds within family and community have also weakened greatly due to this behavior. Have we ceased to pattern our lives from within and instead merely conform to trends from without?

“Life is a runaway train. You can’t wait to jump on it.” 4 from the song I’m already gone indicates repetitive behavior patterns that lead to disastrous results. Yet many of us keep doing them. Human beings tend to perpetuate immaturity. Perhaps one needs to step out and watch the drama around us or else life becomes a misdirected one.

In that pathetic refrain, “I am I said, I am I cried,”5 it feels like that the I is never really understood by the person. ”And I am lost and I can’t even say why.” Surely the “sound of being alone” is uncomfortable to anyone who does not know who truly he or she is. Dreams, achievements may all come to fruition yet without the thread of knowing oneself, life can remain empty with a feeling of not belonging anywhere.

We never seem to take stock of how precious energy is wasted in remorse and bitterness. Pursuing the past relentlessly, only serves to fill the pockets of psychiatrists and therapists. “Exhuming things better left alone”6 from the song Diggin’ up bones, is truly a sound advice for the modern man. Relationships, dealings and connections with others both short and long termed all serve to teach us about ourselves. Expectations, fancies and notions will all fall by the wayside, if one sifts wisdom out of our experiences.

“Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy”7 Important therefore to know when to put curbs on self importance which can often lead to unnecessary concerns and disappointments. Better then to “Take it easy.”

The way most conversations go these days you might as well not have them. “Everybody’s talking at me, I don’t hear a word they’re saying”8 mind you, not talking to me! So the eyes keep looking but not really seeing and even though you hear what the other person is saying you are not really listening. We have become such experts at pretensions that naturally we are no longer genuine. “Scarecrows dressed in latest styles with frozen smiles to keep love away”9 perfectly elaborates this stance. Conversations in metropolitan cities are often predictably monotonous.

So with life moving this way can we shift creatively? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Accept the fact of change and don’t complain
  2. Act to make the difference in your own way with whatever gifts, resources or talents one has. Know that it is up to you
  3. No need to always do things merely the old way.

All of the above suggestions are found in the song “The times they are a changing”.10
(more to come in the a sequel)

Vasanti Jayaswal
Petaluma , July 2011

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CREDITS - Title of the song and the singer

  1. I am a singer of simple songs - Alan Jackson
  2. Time marches on- Tracy Lawrence
  3. I’m in a hurry- Alabama
  4. I was already gone-Sugarland
  5. I am I said- Neil Diamond
  6. Diggin’ up bones- Randy Travis
  7. Take it easy-The Eagles
  8. Everybody’s talking at me- Neil Diamond
  9. I think it’s gonna rain today- Neil Diamond
  10. The times, they are a changing- Peter, Paul and Mary