You may be offended by the title of this entry; if so, please accept my vehement apologies. I mean no insult to either aficionados or practitioners of the blues, or to those who’ve been influenced by it in their art or craft, such as the late Elvis Presley (sniffle, sniffle) or Keith Richards, who acknowledges his debt in his memoirs.
The reason I chose to entitle this post “Why I Can’t Even Sing the Blues” is not to disparage my singing ability, which is not that bad according to witnesses, although I confess my voice is too nasal due to a deviated septum and, as my wife Jina points out when she’s feeling more expansive than she is when uttering a simple “shut up,” I sing more from my chest than from my gut.
But I do love music (just as long as it’s groovy), even certain Christmas hymns, though I’m not a big fan of the Santa Claus schlock. And I’m saddened to hear that this is the last year you’ll be able to buy ceedee’s, a most unfortunate development that rivals in triggering blubbering with the death of bookstore chains and the predicted demise of printed books themselves.
One thing I don’t love is being forced to sing, or being heckled into trying to believe something that is patently untenable, a. k. a., the transsubstantiation and divine primacy of Mr. Jesus H. Christ. Not to say that I’m not a big fan of Jesus; there probably wouldn’t have been a Martin Luther King without him–maybe not even a Gandhi, although he’s gotten mixed reviews lately as a moral leader, and wasn’t himself a Christian. Still, it’s safe to say there wouldn’t have been a memorable, Oscar-winning Ben Kingsley performance in a biopic without Mr. Mohandas K. Gandhi (apologies for stealing Jesus’ thunder; at least it wasn’t Zeus’; I’ve read that he has quite a temper).
And that’s exactly what I had to do last Sunday, when Jina and I woke up at noon, having overslept and missed church (Yesss!)–before even getting to eat breakfast, no less. You see, she’s so pathologically pious, she insisted that we sing some hymns before eating, which is always an awkward ritual, whether it happens in church or at home. The problem is that, apart from my utter indifference to all things orthodox in the born-again Christian department, she always chooses hymns I don’t know, and requests that I sing them in English to fortify the effects of brainwashing, while she belts them out either in my tongue or hers (Korean).
So here I am, basking in several different varieties of incomprehension all at once–that of her language, music notes, and the inscrutable reason we have to let the food get cold in the first place, just so our presumably non-existent souls can ingest their meager provender before we get to actually eat something real.
After the whole thing’s over–three hymns down the pike or so–she declares it a great success, while I contemplate jumping out the window for the umpteenth time. Then she shows me several passages from the gospel of Johnny, focusing on the immortal lines of the incomparable J. C. himself, written in crimson ink that smacks disturbingly of blood. Eventually, I get a hankering for the real McCoy, and go grab the King Jimmy version of the Bible Jina keeps ensconced between our two pillows, even though it sometimes slides under mine, literally giving me a pain in the neck, as if Jesus himself wanted me to suffer even more than I already do, since He had to before he won the Olympic gold medal, the Oscar for Best God, and the Nobel Peace Prize all in one shot. (Buddha, to his credit, wanted to relieve people of suffering, but he didn’t try to make us feel guilty about killing him, since he died of natural causes, and even our ancestors are innocent of such a heinous crime.)
The reason I was jonesing for the King Jim Bible was not because I’m some kind of Bible dork who has to hear the word of the Lord in a particular vernacular: nay, I say, or “Neigh,” to quote Mr. Ed; it’s because it’s so much more poetic than the New International Version, the one my wife makes me lug like a ball and chain to church every Sunday (churches in Korea are B. Y. O. B.–Bring Your Own Bible).
And I was delighted in the midst of my doldrums to read the famous passage in which Jesus encounters the group of men getting ready to stone a woman who has committed adultery, then says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (That’s my version, which I have to admit is an improvement over either of the other ones. The Bible was written long before Strunk & White’s manual was published, which may explain why it’s such an egregiously unreadable tome to so many of us “sinners.”)
Of course, this doesn’t explain why Korean law decrees that if someone cheats on his or her spouse, that person can do jail time if the other spouse deems it fit. Nothing like blackmail–emotional or otherwise–to enforce fidelity.
I have to admit, my knowledge of the Bible is woefully limited; I’d bone up on it were I not force-fed the task on a regular basis by my holier-than-thou wife. But the following passage seems to me to be a tad inconsistent. For those of you who care about such picayune details, it’s from John, Chapter 8, Verses 15 and 16: “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgement is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.”
Okay, here’s one thing that pisses me off about Jesus; for the record, I herald the man as a hero who died for what he believed in, and look forward to reading James Cone’s book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” But [and this might be the fault of His interpreters, who lived and wrote about Him decades after He died, never having met the (son of) man)] the same guy who warned us not to worry about the mote in some other person’s eye while forgetting about the beam in his own eye (I guess carpenters were clumsier in those days) contradicts himself in his next breath in the above passage. First he said, “Hey, man, I’m not judging you.” Then he says, “But in case I am, My Dad can kick your ass.”
So not only is he a hypocrite, he’s a wimp. He hides behind His Father, who has a reputation for earth-shattering machismo. No wonder they crucified Him. (Just kidding.)
Finally, why did Mel Gibson do a cameo in the movie “The Passion of the Christ” as one of the centurions who pounds a nail into Jesus’ hand? Does he secretly hate Him?
“Melvin, my son, who hath earned $400,000,000 personally for thy portrayal in thy anti-semitic, blood-drenched, sadomasochistic study of My persecution and execution, The Passion of the Christ, hast thou a problem? Dost thou want a piece of Me? If not, for My sake, please redistribute thy excruciating masterpiece with a different actor playing that mean centurion, and rest on thy hardy laurels as one who has done thy work in spreading My guilt-tripping message as a card-carrying member of Jesus, Inc., an immensely profitable firm, both here and in the hereafter. Amen.”
For all His myriad merits, I’m more partial to the Buddha’s message (or at least the last one he ever gave, on his deathbed): “Work out your own salvation with diligence.”
It seems more dignified to try to figure things out for yourself than bow down to some other mortal who had the same task set before him millennia ago, and more appropriate. That’s the best any of us can do. It might not be much, but it’s better than groveling to some temperamental whack-job in the sky. Andi it’s certainly better than nothing.