I have sympathy for Garrison Keillor.
I was sitting in my Spirituality class and right now, we're all doing creative presentations. One student made a slide show of photos that are important to her, and in the background she played, "Hallelujah."
No, not Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. An anemic mutant version, an unholy alliance. As the student said, "You may have heard this song before, because it's 'the song from Shrek.' But this is a version where a Christian singer rewrote it to make it more godly."
Tepid, bland, nothing substantive added, but much taken away.
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.As the slideshow played pictures of beaches and mountains the student had visited, I sat there in the dark, seething, malevolent. "Blasphemy!" I cried internally. I railed inside, explaining why, and on how many levels this was so wrong, wrong, wrong. "Spiritual piracy and cultural elitism!" I ranted.
No angel born in hell
Could break that satan’s spell.
So, given the sudden inconsistency in my beliefs about changing song lyrics, I grumpily cogitated.
I acknowledged that yes, we do take ownership of songs that are not ours.
And, we can feel murderous rage when someone alters "our" song.
And our changes can reduce a song rich in meaning to a puddle of corn mush.
And just who is the other person to think they can make the song "better" anyway?
You can split hairs -- not exactly the same thing, Silent Night had already been changed, it was old, it was public domain, yada yada.
For me, I had to decide -- if the new person has the legal right (and apparently the Christian singer did receive permission from Cohen) to change the song, is it morally/ethically/philosophically/artistically wrong to do so?
Too many questions. In any case, I decided that I had to come down on the side of the song being a living object, allowed to mutate. Sometimes, the mutation will be good. Lobster enchiladas. Sometimes it will be bad. The Grapple.
It is my choice to never ever ever buy or willingly listen to a chicken mcnugget version of Hallelujah. It is not my choice to say it shouldn't be made.
Sorry, Mr. Keillor. Hey, I have sympathy. I just went past my initial fury and sentimentality and, you know, thought about it. Examined my beliefs.
Because I'm a Unitarian Universalist. And that's what we do.
* However, if the songwriter does not give permission, that's a whole 'nuther ball of wax. Those of you still singing Go Now In Peace with "love" subbed in for "god" ... you don't have permission.