Monday, September 29, 2014

"Things We Lost in the Fire"

Last night, I had a discussion with my son (he's in the seventh grade) during a longish car ride home. As a member of his chorus group at school, he wants to ask the director to perform a song by Bastille called "Things We Lost in the Fire." My son loves the band and the song is a better-than-average pop song. The only problem, pointed out by my son, is that it contains these lines:
You said, "We were born with nothing
And we sure as hell have nothing now."
My son's concern is the mild curse. He wonders if his teacher will allow them to do the song.

I pointed out that they could do it by substituting "heck," thinking, even as I said it, how artistically stupid that would sound. My son immediately said, "If we do that, we might as well  just not do the song. That sounds stupid."

(Good boy. Actually, melodically, it would work better with "as hell" simply dropped, but that's neither here nor there.)

This all lead to a discussion of appropriateness as related to audience. My son, though he thought enough to worry about the curse in the song, tested the waters a little by pointing out that Bastille does the song in concert and they play the song on the radio. This lead to further discussion, mostly regarding small children and grandparents at school functions. I think he got the point: in different contexts, the mild can be seriously amplified.

I told him the story of when I used to teach Shakespeare's Othello (the Branagh version, with Fishburn in the lead). In this version, there is a brief scene of nudity, in which Desdemona drops her nightgown on the wedding night. It is brief, so, while showing the film in class (to juniors), I would casually walk by the TV and, with impeccable timing, hold up a manila folder to block out Desdemona's charms for the three second during which they made an appearence. The class, of course, would laugh and jeer and one kid said, "Mr. Mat -- it's not like we never saw stuff like that before." My response was, "Not with me, you haven't."

My son got the point, even as he laughed a little.

I have complained here before about the blurring of the parameters of propriety. I can keep doing that and maybe one or two people will read it and change their evil ways (probably not) or I can work on raising boys who have a sense of what is appropriate when and with whom. I have a feeling the latter will be more effective.

I do want to raise two gentlemen in a world in which no longer seems to value manners. After all, "at night, a candle's brighter than the sun."


  1. I'll honestly say I'm surprised that there would have been any hesitance with reciting the word "hell" in the original song. While school is a place for better manners, the standards have been gradually dropping I've noticed.

    Beautiful quote to end with, by the way. I've always thought Sting as being quite prosaic in his lyricism, but that one just said something big to me, and I can't really explain why.

    1. Alexis -- To cure yourself of the prosaic perception of Sting, give a listen to The Soul Cages. In my humble opinion, one of the finest poetic achievements of all time. Not even being a little sarcastic. (I have actually taught it in a British Lit class, alongside Rime of the Ancient Mariner.)

      Standards are dropping, for sure, but teachers tend to have a special barometer for this kind of thing. Not sure what the teacher will do. If he doesn't hesitate, I would be disappointed.