Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bravest Face

Track 10: Bravest Face

Though we might have precious little
It’s still precious

I like that song about this wonderful world
It’s got a sunny point of view
And sometimes I feel it’s true
At least for a few of us

I like that world it makes a wonderful song
But there’s a darker point of view
But it’s sadly just as true
For so many among us

In the sweetest child there’s a vicious streak
In the strongest man there’s a child so weak
In the whole wide world there’s no magic place
So you might as well rise
Put on your bravest face

I like that show where they solve all the murders
An heroic point of view
It’s got justice and vengeance too
At least so the story goes

I like that story, makes a satisfying case
But there’s a messy point of view
That’s sadly just as true
For so many among us

In the softest voice there’s an acid tongue
In the oldest eyes there’s a soul so young
In the shakiest will there’s a core of steel
On the smoothest ride there’s a squeaky wheel
In the whole wide world there’s no magic place
So you might as well rise
Put on your bravest face

Though we might have precious little
It’s still precious

Late on the album, this song isn’t as strong as most of the others, but it’s still got some fantastic moments and has a nice little jazzy bridge in the middle that sounds unlike anything else Rush has ever done. I rank it an 8 out of 10 (as I’ve said before, no song on this album ranks lower than 8/10, in my opinion).

The phrase “Though we might have precious little, it’s still precious,” repeated at the beginning and end of the song, is really poignant, I believe. It’s a lesson we’re reminded of each day by the news media. Things in life are so fleeting and we tend to cling tight to the precious few things we can truly call our own. Unfortunately, it’s that emotional clinging that so frequently causes us such suffering. This is the basis for the Buddhist practice of seeing the inherent emptiness of material and emotional possessions. That’s not to say that Buddhism teaches indifference, coldness, or detachment from reality; rather, Buddhism teaches that by embracing the present moment, seeing through the ups and downs of our emotional state, we can learn to experience life more deeply, and (to quote a line from Dead Poets Society) to “suck the marrow out of life.” Buddhism teaches to let go of material and emotional desire and attachments, to be mindful of the rise and fall of your feelings, and to cultivate the seeds of compassion within yourself. Here in the West, where we’re taught from infancy that “happiness” comes from success, money, and material possessions, this is a very hard philosophy to put into practice.

The first verse of the song references the Louis Armstrong crossover jazz hit, What a Wonderful World, which was first released in the late 1960’s as a sort of response to all the tragic and awful things going on in the world during that decade. I think it’s a very relevant and apt reference, considering the first decade of the 21st century is turning out to be not unlike the 1960’s in terms of tragedies, cultural tensions, and a general feeling of pessimism about the future. It also makes one wonder if the jazzy sound of Bravest Face isn’t a nod to the jazz roots of What a Wonderful World. That song has always been one of my favorite “oldies,” not only because it’s a beautiful song, but because one can’t help but hear the ironic overtones in the lyrics, particularly when set against the backdrop of the 1960’s. The movie Good Morning Vietnam (completely unintentional, but that’s the second Robin Williams movie reference I’ve made in this post) has a montage scene where Robin Williams is observing all the pain, death, and destruction going on in the country around him, and all the while What a Wonderful World is playing with delicious and disturbing irony in the background. One almost wonders if that montage wasn’t part of Neil’s inspiration when writing the first verse of “Bravest Face,” which references the song and then speaks of a “darker point of view.”

Overall, the meaning of this song seems pretty clear – the world isn’t always so wonderful and justice doesn’t always happen, but you have to put on your bravest face anyway. I think that’s good advice.

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