from the 1997 album Love Travels
Our antiseptic approach to the legends of American history often results in the life’s work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being reduced to four words and a three-day weekend. To prevent this in my own mind, I often revisit “Beautiful Fool”, a Don Henry composition that can be found on Kathy Mattea’s 1997 album Love Travels.
What I love about this song is its realism and its willingness to take on two voices of perspective at the same time. As an older woman reflects on King’s impact on her country and the sacrifices he was willing to make, she remembers her far less charitable opinion of him when he was alive: “Walter Cronkite preempted Disney one night, and all us kids were so upset. We thought you were a trouble instigator marching through our TV set.”
I particularly appreciate the line in the bridge that connects him to other peacemakers. Peacemaking is often confused with passiveness, when it actually requires far more work than reflexive response with violence. “Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus Christ. History repeats itself so nice. Consistently we are resistant.” King modeled his use of nonviolent resistance after Gandhi’s success in India and used the Gospel to make the case to the fence-sitters, a powerful approach given that the same Bible was being used by his opposition to make the case for continued segregation and denial of human rights.
The description of him as a “beautiful fool” captures both the cynicism that was directed at him for attempting to “fight a fight without a fist” and the deep admiration for him trying, even if it was arguably in vain. I suspect that it requires a good dose of hopeless naïveté to change the world, especially when surrounded by cynics who tell you that it’s a waste of time to try. There will always be more of the cynics. After all, cynicism is little more than naïveté without the concern for humanity and willingness to put in any effort for a cause other than your own.
The song is open to wide interpretation, but I feel that the final verse captures when the narrator moves from being a cynical observer of King to one who sees him appreciatively as a beautiful fool: “I saw you on the black and white with blacks and whites applauding you. I saw you on another time without a sign of life in you.”
In conjunction with Earth Day and the global Earth Hour initiative, Belmont University is holding a contest to find their official “green” song. Five songs were chosen by a panel of professional songwriters, faculty members and environmental experts to promote environmental awareness. The competition is comprised of Belmont University students. The writer of the winning composition will receive a $500 Apple gift card and the song will be featured on their website as their official “green” song.
We at Country Universe are excited to announce that Dan Milliken is one of the finalists in the Belmont Unplugged Song Challenge. Dan wrote the witty and catchy “Goin’ Green” with his friend, Jake Hartsfield. He can even be heard singing high harmony to Hartsfield’s lead vocal, along with contributing the hilarious main spoken word portion of the third verse.
Country Universe is rooting for Dan. So, we encourage you to listen to his entry (the middle song), along with all of the other submissions. The winner will be chosen by poll voting. The winning song will be announced on April 22, Earth Day. Check out the songs, cast your vote and then come back and tell us what you think.
Kudos to Belmont University for promoting such a worthwhile cause.
“Just Some Girl” by Joy Lynn White
From the 2005 album One More Time.
When Brad Paisley released the single “Online” earlier this year, I had a visceral reaction to it. A good friend of mine shared my distaste for the song, but noted that she had expected it to turn out differently the first time she heard it. She assumed that by the third verse, the character would end up a computer mogul or such, and would become the ladies man he was pretending to be.
Of course, that didn’t happen, but when “Just Some Girl” popped up on shuffle one day, comparisons to “Online” immediately came to me. The Joy Lynn White track also talks about a character living on the margins of society, not quite fitting in, but the portrait painted is far more sympathetic, even as it is made clear that this is not the kind of girl that the world embraces wholeheartedly:
She was just some girl
She was plain and stout
She was nobody’s dreamboat
Nothin’ to write home about
Her hair was not like silk
Her skin was not like milk
To the civilized world
She was just some girl
White then contrasts this with the girls who seem to have everything going for them from the start:
Some girls are born holding the aces Ya never see tears Rolling down their faces And some girls have dreams And some girls get choices Encouraging voices Assure their place in the world
That was the line that got my attention: “Encouraging voices assure their place in the world.” It is so easy for young people to slip through the cracks, to skate by unnoticed. As a teacher, I am fully aware of how dangerous that can be. As White sings, it can result in this:
She was just some girl
She was painfully shy
Sometimes for no reason
She’d sit at home and cry
With no one to touch her
And no one to tell her
I’ll see ya tomorrow
I love ya, sleep tight
As the character’s isolation builds, hope begins to fade for a happy ending. After a small instrumental break, the fate of just some girl is revealed:
Face down in the shadows
Of a willow
They found her
So wasted away
No one could say
What it was
It was just some girl
Someone no one would kiss
Somebody no one would cry for
Someone no one would miss
And with that, she’s gone. Just as the listener is feeling weighed down by the cruelty of this poor girl’s entire life having no value or meaning to anyone, a girl who is “someone no one would miss”, the final lines reveal there’s more to the story than we suspected:
But her mama’s gonna cry some though
Her papa’s gonna miss her so
There’s a hole in their world
She was just some girl
“Just Some Girl” raises many questions for me. Was the isolation this girl felt real, or was most of it imagined in her head? Was she surrounded by love but unable to feel it? Or did the people who loved her just fail to make that a little more clear? It’s a challenging song, one that resonates long after hearing it. For me, it’s a reminder to pay closer attention. It makes me remember back to what one of my teachers said when I was in junior high school: “The cruelest way to hurt someone is not to make fun of them, it’s to ignore them completely.”