Powered by Blogger.

Every Little Soul Must Shine

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Paul Westerberg--"Mr. Rabbit" (mp3)

Even those of us who find ways to avoid going to church have our own little private Easter celebrations. I've been planning mine for a couple of days--after several days of cooking and entertaining my daughter and her friends, while they're all gone to church, I'll take a cup of coffee down to my basement, I'll open the large basement door out onto the world where the day is slowly heating, the flies are buzzing against my screen, and the squirrels on my roof cleaning out my gutters for me, and I'll put on "Mr. Rabbit."

As performed by Paul Westerberg. Yes, I'll indulge my naive spirituality in this children's song with its tenuous Easter connections:

mr rabbit, mr rabbit
your coat is mighty grey
yes, bless God it's made that way
every little soul must shine
every little soul must shine

mr rabbit, mr rabbit
your ears are mighty long
yes by God they're put on wrong
every little soul must shine
every little soul must shine

mr rabbit, mr rabbit
your ears are mighty thin
yes bless God, they're splitting the wind
every little soul must shine
every little soul must shine
every little soul must shine
every little soul must shine

mr rabbit, mr rabbit
your eyes are mighty red
yes bless God i'm almost dead
every little soul must shine
every little soul must shine

The beauty of Westerberg's version is that he knows it's a children's song, probably even recorded it for his son at the time, but he sings it with no condescension, somehow elevating it to the much more than a child's ditty that it always was. It's a neat trick. I don't know how he does it. Maybe simply with the age and authority of his voice.

I love the give-and-take of the song, the way the unnamed questioner is always looking at the rabbit with a critical eye, challenging his condition, and how the rabbit always says something that counters the challenge, but with a kind of deterioration. I play a kind of game with myself each time. I don't allow myself to remember what will come in the next verse, so I can be surprised by the rabbit's response. As I work through the verses, a consuming pleasure each time I listen to the song, I am reminded each time how the rabbit's "defense" of his condition lessens with each verse.

The challenger who starts each verse is ungenerous. He's the person we've all known, that we've all been, who points out the obvious as weakness, who identifies those parts of ourselves that we can do nothing about and expects us to respond. The rabbit counters him with self-effacement, with stoic resignation, and, more than anything, with grace. "Every little soul must shine," he concludes each time, repeating himself each time for emphasis. What more beautiful statement is there? What does anyone say to that? To challenge that statement is beyond inhuman.

I've not heard the Burl Ives version of the song, and though I continue to admire his narration and singing on the "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" Christmas special, I am certain that his version doesn't have the layered sophistication of Westerberg's treatment. Paul Westerberg, in the midst of a casual double album full of false starts and where he releases a song where his son turns off the recorder in the middle, where he does whatever he wants, gives special care to this song, particularly taking all of the reverb off of the lyrics "Yes, bless God, I'm almost dead" near the end for emphasis.

The staccato guitar signature that drives the song, constantly interrupting itself at the start of each verse, also hammers home the point that the various parts of the song lyrics work against each other--attack, response, redemption larger than any of us.

Because the song, for me, serves Easter and serves it well. This is a good day, a day that, on the one hand, is lost in the memories of youth, when it stood for suprise, search, and reward, and, on the other hand, as we get older, stands for rebirth and hope, but also loss and time. If we have lost those we love, we miss them the most today. That is the bittersweet gift of Easter. And so a song that speaks to both God's grace and to our increasing mortality feels like the perfect way to meditate on all of these dualities.

Thank you, Mr. Westerberg. You nailed it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

 

Partner

Most Reading

Popular Posts

Blog Archive