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Friday, 16 August 2013

About Summertime

'Summertime
And the living is easy...'

Except when it is sung by Mahalia Jackson: then this song of sunlight and silence becomes one of self-delusion.
 
The kind of lullaby you sing to yourself when everything goes wrong, as self-motivation or as escape: it becomes a prayer.
 
'Oh, your daddy's rich
And your mamma's goodlooking...'
 
Most probably Gershwin did not mean it that way, but in the voice of Mahalia Jackson that becomes:
 
Your daddy was sold as a slave and you have never known him.
Your mum was raped by the Master, is toothless and used as a tool.
 
Why else would you end the song by:
 
'One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky...'

That doesn't make sense. If everything is as picture perfect as you sing it to be, why would you need to have that belief?

Why would you need to say 'hush little baby, don't you cry'?

You need to sing that, since over and above and under these scenes of picturesque peace, there's one big, slow, intense tear.  
 
If 'Summertime' were only a still life of happiness and calm, it would have become a hit for one summer - and then have been forgotten.
 
Now it is an American cathedral, discovered by generation upon generation, who might not know why this song creeps into the head and stay there forever... but know it does.
 
In this case it is the clash between the lyrics and what we know about the singer and what she represents - that turns a simple song into literature.
 
Literature is never about what is being said. It is about the seed it plants deep within us, way past the neo cortex: a seed that is there to stay and enriches our inner life.
 
 
 
 


 

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