Friday, April 07, 2006

"I'm right. You're wrong. Go to Hell!"

In my Mennonite high school, the extra-curricular activities fell into two camps: sports and music. And if my co-ordination was problematic, my tone and pitch were (for the most part) good. Throw in a voice that dropped into the bass register when I was a sprat of 12, and I was the perfect candidate for a Barbershop Quartet. Or so the school's music director thought.

He tapped me and three other guys on the shoulder, gave us some music to consider, then opened the music room for us. We looked at some of the standards -- K-K-K-Katy and I'd Like A Girl (Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad) -- and quickly decided we didn't have the chops to be a proper Barbershop Quartet. Barbershop music is typically sung a capella, a feat we could pull off with precious few songs. We enjoyed our quartet efforts, though, so we decided to take a step down in the ladder of skillsets and become A Gospel Quartet.

Our first performance was at a seasonal school function. The gym was filled with parents and school supporters, and we were slated for mid-program. We dressed in white shirts, armbands and styrofoam cheesecutter hats. I'm not sure who came up with the idea, but at the last minute we decided to make a brilliant entry: our pianist would play the opening four bars of our song (a jaunty little ditty) and the four of us would sprint from the back of the gym to the foot of the stage, taking the mic and impressing one and all with our spirited sense of play.

The pianist began with the bap-ba bap-ba bap-baaa, bap-ba bap-ba bap-baaa, and we hoofed it to the stage. The stage lights, the audience, the glory of youth! Unfortunately, as we took our mics, it dawned on us that we'd gone and winded ourselves, making our first few bars a wheezy and memorable affair indeed.

Ah, it was all in fun -- including, I thought at the time, our choice of songs: corn-fed gospel faves, many of them penned for and sung by The Imperials. In hindsight, there's very little to recommend these tunes, nevermind the tract-like ethos behind them. "Gospel" = "good news", and if you come from my small town this requires you to acknowledge the billboard at the outskirts reading, "HELL IS REAL!" (in our cynical years, we silently completed the sentiment with, "Keep to the speed limit and you should arrive there in about 10 minutes"). So, yes: you've got Hell, you've got Heaven. Throw in a no-brainer choice, and Untold Glory is all yours. If that doesn't give you something to sing about, what will?

The first verse to one such song went as follows:

Well old Buddha was a man
And I'm sure that he meant well
But I pray for his disciples
Lest they wind up in Hell.
And I'm sure that old Mohammed
Thought he knew the way
But it won't be Hare Krishna
We stand before on that judgement day

The shortest route to feeling good about your religious beliefs, it seems, is denigrating the religious beliefs of others. At the time I simply didn't have the eyes to see the offense, nevermind the absurdity of this approach. We were merely glorying in our certitude -- something I considered a birthright.

I'm happy to report that a great many people have been merciful to me since then. So it is with profound gratitude to them all that I present Song #4 in my Hall of Shame: Oh Buddha by The Imperials.

No it won't be old Buddha
That's sitting on the throne
And it won't be old Mohammed
That's calling us home.
And it won't be Hare Krishna
That plays that trumpet tune
And we're going to see the Son
Not Reverend Moon.

Candidate #3 for my Musical Hall of Shame; Hall of Shame Song #5.


DarkoV said...

It's assuring to know that the Mennonite methodology of teaching was so close to the Catholic way.
About all other religions, that is.

I remember during my 8 yr sentence that there was a truce of sorts with a local Protestant church, so the nuns picked up on a easy target to pile on. Communism. When one of the more philosphical among we 6th graders pointed out that "Communists believe there is no God", Sister Vulpine of the Baying Wolves, without missing a beat or getting her habit in a tizzy, said, "It's not the lack of God part that should have us tremblling! (Trembling was always associated with bad things. Not a good word to use in one's essays at St. Eusthasia of the Blietzkrieg) It's the belief in the not-God part that should have us concerned! So children, on the count of three......"

In this environment, the nuns had us singing Roger Miller's "King of the Road." I wish I could blog on this as one of my Cycle of the Songs of Shame, but I forgot the whys and the wherefores; I'd be completely lying about how I got to hate this song. And you know where lying would lead me to?
That's right! To the non-God believing Communists!

Whisky Prajer said...

I wonder if this isn't the "shadow" of any religious impulse? I'm thinking of Camille Paglia's latest, which provides (I think) her most fun reading to date. Most of it is a real treat, but she can't seem to help herself whenever she finds (or manufactures) an opportunity to kick the corpse of the Mother Church. Being a patronizing sod, I mostly smile and shake my head, but there are times when I want to say, "Alright, so you're Neo-Pagan. We get it already! Just stick to the text, for the gods' sakes!"

Scott said...

Forgive me for being mushy, Darrell, but your response to Camille Paglia reminds me why I'm so fond of you. You're wry, compassionate and classy.

I think my Baptist-convert friend Josh has stopped speaking to me over my religious comments of late and this upsets me, yet not enough to retract anything I wrote. I feel stuck.

The people you describe terrify me as their influence grows yet I know that they regard me, a Godless homosexual, with the same terror. The battle lines feel more entrenched than ever -- the only difference being that I don't call them 'diseased'. See? There I go again.

I guess what I'm saying is, thank God you're around as a calm, thoughtful voice, one that's expansive enough to make me feel you're on my side while helping me identify with the other.

By truly living the principles of your faith, you're helping me respect and appreciate it and that's no small feat!

PS: the 'word verification' thingy reads 'napps' -- I shit you not! :)

Whisky Prajer said...

Well, "naps" are certainly crucial to keeping me calm. But thanks, Scott (you've got me blushing).

Anonymous said...

I was looking for the lyrics for my sunday school class. Thanks

2Pe 3:3 ¶ Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
Jude 1:16 These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage.

Whisky Prajer said...

Always happy to help out a Brother at the last minute. And thank you for the verses of encouragement.

Anonymous said...

Wow...I just searched "it won't be old buddha" after having this song stuck in my head for two days. My dad had the record when I was a kid. I forgot their name, but since you mentioned The Imperials, that sounds right. Are they in powder blue leisure suits on the record cover?

I hadn't heard this song in probably 20 years or so and certainly hadn't thought about it in forever. I also recall it as being a happy song, but it's really glorying over how most of the world is going to hell. Makes me want to call up the Imperials and ask them WWJD?!

Anyways, 3 of my grandparents were raised Mennonite, my folks and I grew up CMA, and I'm, I dunno, an atheistically-leaning agnostic? But always interested in learning more about my family's Mennonite roots -- the good and the ugly, and there's definitely both in there -- and happy to have stumbled upon your page in my random jaunt on the internet.

Do you happen to have the lyrics to the whole song? I'd love to see the whole thing after all these years.....

Whisky Prajer said...

nmt - hey, thanks for commenting! I can't recall where I got the lyrics when I posted this, but it was through a Google search. And if I remember correctly, the site that posted the lyrics reported that the surviving(?) Imperials were now somewhat circumspect about the song. It really is a loathsome little ditty.

Say, if you do any blogging on your cultural-religious heritage -- or any blogging of any stripe at all -- please let me know. I'd love to see it.