For two of four nights last week, I have attended high school voice and choir recitals that featured Broadway show tunes, nearly four and a half hours of them. I don't want to hear any more show tunes any time soon, except perhaps those sung by my son or daughter. It's like being locked in the room and being forced to watch American Idol. So over the top. Missing subtlety. Don't get me wrong. There are some great show tunes and great voices. But.
(But you can't use "but" like that can you, dangling there at the end of a paragraph, all alone? Can you?)
The last couple of days I listened to melancholy, angst-ridden, world-weary, and sometimes angry and bitter singer-songwriters during drive time, all plucking away on their guitars, strumming like the pull of a brush through unkempt hair. I even listened to some spout socially conscious songs that I generally disdain just so I could feel good and mad at them for mixing politics and good music. I loved it. I felt better, cleansed. It was an antidote for all that peppiness.
You see, "Wicked" grows tiresome. During a rendition of "Aquarius" I was so embarrassed for the young woman I had to look down. I fiddled with my phone. And "Son of a Preacher Man," from Pulp Fiction? I fiddled with my phone some more. I didn't even like it when Dusty Springfield did it.
The Kinks ridiculed the whole broadway/american idol/showbiz dream in that great album of social critique, Everybody's In Showbiz, which in 1972 referred mostly to the life of a rock star or a movie star. In "Celluloid Heroes," they sing "I wish my life was a non-stop hollywood movie-show,/ a fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,/ because celluloid heroes never feel any pain,/ and celluloid heroes never really die." Everybody wants to be a star. Everyone is celebrity-obssessed. Everyone wants to live on beyond themselves. Everybody wants something more. Everybody wants. . . something. But.
But hold on a minute. Am I just a cranky 50-something irritated by having to sit so long in a hard chair? Yes, I suppose so. But.
But something is different here. When I was a kid I wanted to be a super hero and, later, a rock star. My best friend and I tied towels around our necks and lurked about the neighborhood at night, ran faster than we thought we could, maybe even flew for a couple seconds. As a teenager, I plugged in a moth-eaten tube amp and a Les Paul Gibson inherited from my Dad and played the biggest, loudest, fuzziest no-good chords I could find. (My friend's dad said maybe I should keep my day job, and he was right.) But I didn't really think I had a shot at super-heroeing or rock stardom, and it certainly wasn't for public consumption. It was a fun game of pretend. It was in my head, a wonderful fantasy. Yet surveys show that these days high-schoolers have off-the-chart unrealistic expectations of what life can hold for them. Many will not earn any superlatives, much less achieve stardom (unless you count their Facebook page), will not be celebrated nationally, regionally, or locally. The desire to be recognized and noticed is a human impulse but one that is ultimately dehumanizing, a great contraction of human life to image and persona.
You know, I'm not even that celebrated here at home.
But I am loved. I know that. I also know that the Maker of the universe, the One who need not have noticed me, did in fact make me in His image and is at work redeeming His image in me, making me more human, more of who He intended me to be. It's a long project, and one I could be more cooperative with than I am. And yet what an amazing hope that my life is not contracting into some media-shaped image but expanding into the fullness of who God made me to be. Now that's a wicked work of love.
My daughter sang a tune from The Addams Family. Now that's different. She was beautiful. She's a rock star and super-hero all in one. But.