Mudcat Café message #909526 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #57624   Message #909526
Posted By: Felipa
13-Mar-03 - 08:44 PM
Thread Name: Do you need to *believe* what you sing?
Subject: almost believing - essay
Like many respondents on this thread, I do sing songs that don't represent my own beliefs. There are many variables and personal decisions over which situations I sing particular songs in, whether I sing them myself or just join in when other people sing, omitting or changing particular lines or verses, etc. Although I would sing a few songs tongue in cheek, usually I try to get an understanding of and feel for the song.

Changing songs
At times I change a song to make it more suitable to me personally, but often I see myself as the carrier of a song which tells someone else's tale. If it's an old historical song I will probably not make changes to suit my own beliefs and emotions. I heard Dick Gaughan say he gave up singing the old ballads which were all about royalty. I have no problem about songs about Kings and Queens and the like; in fact they are much brought down to earth in the soap-opera like ballads about their affairs! But I am uncomfortable with the analogies to monarchy in hymns, God is King and Lord!

I think the question of religious songs has been dealt with well enough. Another aspect which I won't discuss now, but would like to suggest to the rest of you, is any discomforts with gender-linked attitudes in songs (esp, but not only, sexist/chauvinist attitudes). Meanwhile, I'm going to discuss some points about political songs - particularly when you partially believe in the song.

violence in political songs
The Blackleg Miner has been mentioned a few times. There are songs like this which express more violence and hatred than I would like, but I can understand the hatred; in this case yes I would sympathise with the strikers even if I'm not comfortable making snide hints about the scab meeting his death. I could sing it.

I'm more comfortable with the somewhat ambivalent bystander attitude to the mob in "Italian Red Wine", a W Guthrie song about Sacco & Vanzetti. On the night of their execution, "I thought that the crowd would tear down the town, and I was hoping they'd do it just to change things around." I feel strongly (not ambivalent) about capital punishment and miscarriages of justice, so that's a song I can sing with conviction (pun wasn't intended).

I live in Northern Ireland, where historical songs about past injustices can be very close to the bone because we still have political and sectarian violence. But while my heroes would be more in the Land League than in the Fenians, the famine song 'Skibereen' seems incomplete without the last verse in which the son of the emigrant tells his father that "the day will come when ... I'll be the man to lead the van beside a flag of green, and loud and high we'll raise the cry, revenge for Skibereen".

There's a somewhat similar song which I can feel a lot of empathy for: 'Come all You Bold United Men'. In Skibereen I think I could probably rewrite the last verse and put the emphasis on justice rather than vengeance. '... United Men' doesn't lend itself to such re-working. The narrator sees the family home seized and burnt by the bailiff, parents die in famine, is sent to the workhouse from which his only escape is to join the British Army and shoot Sepoys.

I told these sins to Father Ned, the murder the robbery
They are not sins for you he said, you only did your duty
So when my duty here was done, the journey home I made,
To find my friends were all dead and gone, so I joined the Pope's Brigade

Finally, the soldier returns to Ireland and joins the Fenians and feels for once he is fighting a just cause, but the Fenians were excommunicated. The song ends

Why should we be by Pope's decree, scorned, outlawed and banned
Because we swore one day to free our trampled native land.

I think the song helps us understand a group resorting to violence. I often sing it to myself, but I still wouldn't feel comfortable about performing at the local folk club"!

Dylan's 'Masters of War" did go down well at the folk club. I've been singing it a lot. I want it to be personal, so I sing 'you might say I'm naive' (I'm not all that young now). To be contemporary I sing 'will oil buy you forgiveness'. The last verse CAN be omitted but I feel angry enough to sing it, softened just a wee bit
'One day you'll die, I hope that day's soon ... stand by your grave til I'm sure war is dead.'[the original can be found in Mudcat threads]

Beyond belief
Nobody has mentioned believing in a song, but not feeling you deserve to sing it

- singing religious songs if you believe but don't feel you observe your faith well enough

- singing 'If you miss me at the back of the bus' if you've lived a life of comfort

The song I feel like that about is Holly Near's "It could have been me, but instead it was you..."
I do my wee bit of demonstrating and campaigning, but mostly I observe, learn and sing. I like to sing the song, yet I don't feel I'm either radical enough or activist enough to sing it.

Do you ever think/feel like that about songs?

Is the answer that you sing the songs in order to inspire yourself (and others) or that you shouldn't sing campaigning songs if you aren't fully committed to them?