Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas and all that excess...





Being only half-awake (or half-asleep) this morning I seem to recall some minister of religion on the radio saying how he had quite frankly grown tired and bored about people trotting out the more than obvious observation that Christmas had grown very commercialised. Indeed, the reverent gentleman was and is very correct. This particular phrase has become cheapened and trite by its constant repetition, and is now little more than a cliché.

Whatever about the growth of commercialism around the Christmas season, I wish here to allude to excess. There is, in lexical terms, quite obviously, a distinct difference between commercialism or commercialisation and excess. Commerce and indeed commercialisation can and do bring about improvement in someone's lot at least - more than likely that of the shopkeeper or business person. It is often our naive hope that their wealth will trickle down to the less well off. Whether that contention is true or not is beyond the scope of this post.

And now to excess. Excess is simply waste, and waste in a world where so many dwell in want is nothing short of obscene. And yet, we post-Celtic-Tiger Irish have been partying and buying as much as ever. I don't base this conclusion on any statistics or indeed newspaper articles or books read, but rather on my own experiences and observations. I, like many of my colleagues, am doing the round of parties, am giving and receiving presents, am eating and drinking and doing all the seasonal things like visiting relations and friends. I don't believe that I'm doing any of these things to excess, and yet, the question remains as to how exact my judgement of my own motivations really is.

As I drove down early this afternoon on my way to my brother's house for Christmas dinner , I heard the following lovely song on the car radio. It is worth printing the lyrics here in full. They run as follows:
I did my best to notice when the call came down the line
up to the platform of surrender
I was brought but I was kind
and sometimes I get nervous
when I see an open door

close your eyes, clear your heart
cut the cord
are we human or are we dancer
my sign is vital, my hands are cold
and I’m on my knees looking for the answer
are we human or are we dancer

pay my respects to grace and virtue
send my condolences to good
give my regards to soul and romance
they always did the best they could
and so long to devotion, you taught me everything I know
wave good bye, wish me well

you gotta let me go
are we human or are we dancer
my sign is vital, my hands are cold
and I’m on my knees looking for the answer
are we human or
are we dancer

will your system be alright
when you dream of home tonight
there is no message we're receiving
let me know is your heart's still beating

are we human or are we dancer
my sign is vital, my hands are cold
and I’m on my knees looking for the answer

you’ve gotta let me know
are we human or are we dancer
my sign is vital, my hands are cold
and I’m on my knees looking for the answer
are we human or are we dancer

are we human or are we dancer
are we human or are we dancer
The above song is, in fact, about excess as far as I can determine. The name of the song is, of course, Human by The Animals. I really love both the lyrics and the melody of this song. The mystery of the meaning of this song rests in the cryptic nature of the chorus: "are we human or are we dancer", which is quite ambiguous and also contains a glaring grammatical mistake or at least a grammatical oddity in that the second substantive disagrees with the first in number. It also blithely leaves out the question mark, but, as it is sung, who, quite frankly, gives a damn? (Interestingly, I've put one in for the previous sentence, and I do give a damn, quite obviously). However, maybe that poor grammar is just because of the eccentricity of the song writer or even, perhaps, for musical reasons (I'm glaringly ignorant of the principles of music, obviously also).

This beautiful, if mysterious, song is, in fact, based on a quote by Hunter S. Thompson that runs similarly to the song: "We are raising a generation of dancers." In keeping with his rather late beatnik philosophy he implies that we are losing basic humanity and becoming mere dancers living on the whim of the moment. This might be unfair to committed dancers, but I think Thompson was referring to those of us caught up in the "excessive" and rather "superficial" and "trivial" nature of indulging our senses. Therefore, the writer of the song considers that we, the acquisitive, selfish and gluttonous people of today, in the words of the song actually do "Pay my (our) respects to grace and virtue//Send my (our) condolences to good//Give my (our) regards to soul and romance //They always did the best they could". People today, according to the song-writer concentrate more on what dance club we'll be at over the weekend.

Now back to the writer, who declared that the U.S.were 'raising a generation of dancers'. In this he was commenting on the "softness" of America's youth. Hunter Stockton Thompson (1937 – 2005) was an American journalist and author, most famous for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He is credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories. He is also known for his use of psychedelics (that is, drugs, rather akin to the way Timothy Leary)used them, and also for his over-use of alcohol, firearms, and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism. This obviously endeared him to the Hippie generation.

Above a Christmas scene in O'Connell Street, Dublin. I took this picture in December, 2006.

1 comment:

Kurt Donald said...

Nice post. I really enjoy your blog. Just wanted to point out that the song is by The Killers though, not The Animals.

Keep up the engrossing work!