Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What's Going On? and Kohelet

Marvin Gaye's What's Going On is one serious album. Listening to it this morning put me in a contemplative mood. The album is reminiscent of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) in that Gaye sings about problems of oppression and inequality but in a way that makes these things universal problems, existential problems. So as the author of Kohelet explores all the things of life that are supposed to give one pleasure and make one happy, Gaye echoes the inevitable frustration in "Flyin' High (in the friendly skies)"

Flying high in the friendly sky
Without ever leaving the ground
And I ain't seen nothing but trouble baby
Nobody really understands, no no
And I go to the place where the good feelin' awaits me
Selfdestruction in my hand
Oh Lord, so stupid minded
Oh and I go crazy when I can't find it
Well I know I'm hooked my friend
To the boy who makes slaves out of men.
And oh beleive me
Flying high in a friendly sky
Oh baby, flyin' high

When Gaye sings this song, it is after "What's Going On" and "What's Happening Brother" and we understand just why he'd be turning to drugs. The fact that he's aware that it's a dead-end that will not bring him the peace he seeks magnifies the sorrow. In the same way, the author of Kohelet's story is all the more powerful by his trying to get happiness from every earthly pleasure imaginable in his time and still ending up with happiness escaping him. But later on, several times during the album Gaye praises G-d, as the author of Kohelet does. Our lives may not make any sense, we are destroying each other and the world, but I still have faith in G-d. There's a meaning to this, even if we can't see it. Our job is, in the end, to praise G-d.

My favorite part of Kohelet is the last chapter (12). It's some of the best poetry of all time. This is the translation from Chabad.org --

1. And remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of evil come, and years arrive, about which you will say, "I have no desire in them."
2. Before the sun, the light, the moon, and the stars darken, and the clouds return after the rain.
3. On the day that the keepers of the house tremble, and the mighty men are seized by cramps, and the grinders cease since they have become few, and those who look out of the windows become darkened.
4. And the doors shall be shut in the street when the sound of the mill is low, and one shall rise at the voice of a bird, and all the songstresses shall be brought low.
5. Also from the high places they will fear, and terrors on the road, and the almond tree will blossom, and the grasshopper will drag itself along, and sexual desire will fail, for man goes to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about in the street.
6. Before the silver cord snaps, and the golden fountain is shattered, and the pitcher breaks at the fountain, and the wheel falls shattered into the pit.
7. And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God, Who gave it.
8. "Vanity of vanities," said Koheleth; "all is vanity."
9. And more [than this], Koheleth was wise, he also taught knowledge to the people; he listened and sought out, he established many proverbs.
10. Koheleth sought to find words of delight and properly recorded words of truth.
11. The words of the wise are like goads, and like well-fastened nails with large heads, given from one shepherd.
12. And more than they, my son, beware; making many books has no end, and studying much is a weariness of the flesh.
13. The end of the matter, everything having been heard, fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the entire man.
14. For every deed God will bring to judgment-for every hidden thing, whether good or bad.

1 comment:

David said...

A great post. Thank you for sharing. You really nailed why that album calls to me.