Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Larger Bowl

Track 4: The Larger Bowl (a pantoum)

If we’re so much the same like I always hear
Why such different fortunes and fates
Some of us live in a cloud of fear
Some live behind iron gates

Why such different fortunes and fates
Some are blessed and some are cursed
Some live behind iron gates
While others see only the worst

Some are blessed and some are cursed
The Golden One or scarred from birth
While others only see the worst
Such a lot of pain on the earth

The Golden One or scarred from birth
Some things can never be changed
Such a lot of pain on this earth
It’s somehow so badly arranged

Some things can never be changed
Some reasons will never come clear
It’s somehow so badly arranged
If we’re so much the same like I always hear


This is a great song. Despite that, it is one of the most “un-Rush” songs that Rush has ever recorded, in my opinion (right up there with Tears, Rivendell, and Losing It). The subtitle, “a pantoum,” is a reference to the poetic style employed in the lyrics. A pantoum is a series of 4-verse stanzas in which the second and fourth verses of the previous stanza become the first and third verses of the next stanza. In a song, it makes for a really nice, lilting, circular feel, and in this case, it manages to pass on an important philosophical message, too.

Clearly the lyrics are waxing philosophical about the nature of “good and bad” and how some people seem to have all the luck, while others are “scarred from birth.” These things, the lyrics suggest, are the bad side effects of “different fortunes and fates.”

I was thinking the other day about the line: “It’s somehow so badly arranged.” I didn’t catch it at first, but this seems to me to be a direct response to theistic ideas about God being in control and all the known universe being intelligently designed. For a supernatural deity who designed all the intricacies and mysteries of life, intelligence, and the universe, he sure botched the whole “fortunes and fates” thing. But I suppose that’s where the theists bring up their “fallen world but saved through faith” arguments (if they can be called “arguments”).

And yet, like so many of Neil’s lyrics, I can see an alternate interpretation, one with a little more hope, a little more compassion. “If we’re so much the same like I always hear, why such different fortunes and fates?” “It’s somehow so badly arranged, if we’re so much the same like I always hear.” By saying “If we’re so much the same like I always hear,” the line seems to have an ironic tone. “Oh yeah, we’re so much the same? Prove it.” It’s like a challenge. A challenge and a suggestion that it’s up to us to change our fortunes and fates, and to help elicit positive change for others in our homes, our cities, and our world. Some are scarred from birth while others live behind iron gates – it’s our responsibility to change that, to work toward equality on all levels, to tear down the iron gates that separate the “blessed” from the “cursed.”

This week is the beginning of a new quarter at school for me, and Tuesday I had my first class in Career Development. It’s basically a class that teaches us how to write a good resume and how to interview. Anyway, we spent most of the first class discussing our best and worst job experiences. One girl, who looked to me to be Hawaiian or Filipino – Pacific Islander, one way or the other – told of an incident she had while working in a store where a customer refused to let her help him, telling one of her co-workers that he didn’t want that “nigger bitch” helping him. Naturally, the first inclination is outrage, disgust, and ire that someone could say such a thing and believe that way, and those same feelings are directed to the individual himself. Yet – and I think this relates back to the lesson that can be drawn from the lyrics to The Larger Bowl – when you step back and think deeply on the situation, you recognize that this person, like all of us, was born innocent. No one is born a racist, a murderer, or a child molester. We are born innocent, and we become racists, murderers, liberals, conservatives, peace activists, or soldiers based on our own inherent nature and how that nature causes us to react to the environment, upbringing, and culture we are given. The individual in the story above was not born a racist. He learned to be a racist through experience, upbringing, and, no doubt, a lot of poor influences.

This is not to say, of course, that people should not be held responsible, and called to the floor, for racist beliefs, violent tendencies, anger issues, or any of a hundred other negative and damaging personality traits. But it is important to recognize that we are all born innocent, and but for a tweak in brain chemistry here, or a change in upbringing and/or culture there, it might be us standing in the store, calling someone of South Pacific heritage a “nigger bitch.” Seeing deeply in this manner helps us to develop compassion and understanding.

“If we’re so much the same like I always hear, why such different fortunes and fates?” It is up to us to elicit positive change in the world, by recognizing the inherent innocence of all people and by seeing through to the human side of life, and using that understanding to work for peace, equality, love, and compassion.

1 comment:

Reed Lover said...

Excellent breakdown of the song and I think your analysis is spot on.

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