Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Singing in the Shower: Songs of Warning

Psalm 81/Isaiah 23 and “I Won’t Dance Don’t Ask Me”/“Love for Sale”

 The fact that faithful Jews of the Old Testament were the subject of mocking, satirical and derisive popular songs from their unbelieving dominant culture is repeated throughout the Old Testament. God’s people knew that the popular musical culture that surrounded them made fun of them.

 On occasion, faithful Hebrews pushed back with songs that mocked the moral pieties of their dominant faithless culture. Here is a biblical song that judges that culture: Isaiah 23. We get the sad “Song of the Prostitute” which mocks the sex trade in Jerusalem:  “Take up the harp, walk through the city, O forgotten prostitute; strum well. Sing many a song, so that you will be remembered.”

 Cole Porter wrote a sad and controversial little number in 1930 for his musical The New Yorkers called “Love for Sale.” It took more than 20 years before the definitive recording of this song was made by Billie Holiday in l952. Of course, Porter depicted the harlot in his play as a tragic figure who is not to be blamed for her lot in life. Not the way Isaiah saw the harlot of his day. However you look at the situation this Porter song describes, it is clear that there won’t be a happy ending.

(“Love for Sale” performed by Billie Holiday)

 Here is a song from the Great Biblical Songbook that warns that dominant culture:

 Ps. 81 (8-9) reads,  “Hear, O my people, and I will warn you, if you would but listen to me, O Israel.”  The Hebrew Drummer Asaph is singing this cautionary tale to the ancient tune of “The Winepress” on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles.

 In l935 Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields rewrote an earlier Kern song to be the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers all-too-human dialogue song, “I Won’t Dance” for the movie Roberta. Astaire tells Rogers: “I won’t dance, don’t ask me. This feeling isn’t purely mental. For heaven rest us, I’m not asbestos. And that’s why I won’t dance.”

Any man who has ever wanted to dance with Ginger Rogers knows the warning that Astaire has issued. Indeed, the warning might apply to all social dancing.

(“I Won’t Dance” performed by Astaire and Rogers)

 This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”


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