Track 11: Good News First
The best we can agree on is it could have been worse
What happened to your old benevolent universe
You know the one with stars that revolve around you
Beaming down full of promises that bring good news
You used to feel that way
The saddest words you could ever say
But I know you’ll remember that day
And the most beautiful words I could ever say
The worst thing about it all is that you might have been right
And I’m still not really sure what started that fight
But I still get this feeling there’s more trouble ahead
So never mind the dark news let’s have the good news instead
Some would say they never fear a thing
Well I do
And I’m afraid enough for both of us
For me and you
Time if nothing else will do its worst
So do me a favor and tell me the good news first
This song is sort of like the counterpart to the previous song, Bravest Face. Where Bravest Face seems to be suggesting that we need to stand up and face the terrors and fears of life on earth with courage, Good News First seems to be suggesting a different course – to focus on the positive things, the good things in the here and now, and let the bad things be. The former seems to suggest action in the face of negativity, while the later seems more pessimistic about the nature of negativity – the bad is here to stay, so focus on the good instead.
Both songs give good advice, in their own way, I believe. As companion songs, they also poignantly display the changing emotions and feelings that we all have on a day to day basis. Some days we are ready to stand up to the bad things with our bravest face, other days we would prefer to ignore the bad and focus on the positive instead.
As for the lyrics themselves, there have been a number of discussions and debates about exactly just what Neil is talking about. He seems to be intentionally enigmatic. What are “the most beautiful words I could ever say,” for instance? What is the “fight” Neil references? In the essay he wrote to accompany the release of the album, Neil states, “Other lyrical themes include a twist on the time-honored ‘relationship songs,’ framed along the lines of Robert Frost’s epitaph, ‘I Had a Lover’s Quarrel with the World.’ In ... ‘Good News First’ ... the lyrics are deliberately presented in the context of a ‘lover’s quarrel.’ The addressee, though, is not a significant other, but a significant portion of the whole, wide world ...” This clears up some of the enigmatic nature of the lyrics, but not completely.
The opening stanza seems pretty straightforward. He seems to be addressing someone who has argued in the past from the perspective of the traditional believer – that the universe, as God’s creation, is benevolent, as opposed to cold and empty, and that all of it is made for us (i.e., “the stars that revolve around you”). And Neil is saying “So what happened to this so-called kind, human-centered universe, in light of all the ‘bad news’ that we’re constantly inundated with?”
The interesting line in this song is the first line of the second stanza: “The worst thing about it all is that you might have been right.” If that’s a reference to the first stanza (and it’s not entirely clear that it is – again, the lyrics are enigmatic), then Neil seems to be suggesting that maybe that traditionalist view is right. But if so, then God seems to get pleasure out of making us suffer. So, Neil says, “never mind the dark news, let’s have the good news instead.”
In general, I think this song encourages us to accept the harsh realities of the world as it is, but attempt to focus on what is good and beautiful and encouraging. And there is certainly plenty of that, too, if you know where and how to look.
“I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world”