The Florists’ Rose: Soul Music

Lead, Captain, lead!
I’ll die for you,
and you’ll die for me–
the florists’ rose.

Come, Children, come!
I’ll love you,
and you’ll love me–
the florists’ rose.

Work, Stranger, work!
I’ll be your brother,
and you’ll be mine–
the florists’ rose.

Florists’ roses are bred to look beautiful, ship well, and last long. In doing so, they breed out almost all of the fragrance. What appears to beautiful is found lacking.

There are three songs that were introduced to me at about the same time, so I kind of think of them as a trilogy. Taken separately, I don’t think they effect me nearly as much, but I see them all as pieces of the same puzzle.

Alone, the song “We Need Roots” doesn’t hit me hard. It’s a folk singer lamenting a perishing folk history. But I can’t get the phrase “we need roots” out of my mind. I can’t shake being haunted by the refrain “we’ve lost more than we’ll ever know”. Because we do need roots, though not the ones he thinks he’s crying for, and because we have lost so much more than we know.

And maybe I’m not quite getting the full force of “Degeneration” because it’s not sung in a language I know. But it is far more powerful than “Roots”, even though musically I can’t get it. I just watch the sad, sad words scroll across the screen:

Your great-great-grandfather
was the one who cleared the soil
Your great-grandfather
was the one who worked the soil
And your grandfather
turned a profit on the land
And your father was the one who sold the land
to become a government functionary
And as for you my young lad,
You don’t know what you will do
In your little one-bedroom,
Too expensive and cold in the winter,
Sometimes a vague desire comes to you
To own something of your own,
dreaming at night
of having your own little acre of land.

Your great-great-grandmother
had fourteen children
Your great-grandmother
had almost as many.
And as for your grandmother,
three were enough for her
And your mother didn’t even want you
You were just an accident
And as for you my girl,
you go from partner to partner
When you make a dumb mistake
you escape it by aborting.
But some mornings
you wake up crying,
After dreaming at night
of a big table surrounded by children.

Your great-great-grandfather
lived through The Great Misery,
Your great-grandfather
went around picking up pennies
And your grandfather, miraculously
became a millionaire.
Your father inherited some of it,
he put it in his RRSP.
As for you my youth,
you owe your ass to the Ministry,
No chance of getting a loan
from a banking institution
to calm your fantasies of
holding up the bank teller
from a drunken notion stemming from
voluntary simplicity.

Your great-great-grandparents
sure could party
with your great-grandparents
things were swinging hard in the evening
and your grandparents
saw the birth of rock and roll
With your parents it was the disco
that’s where they met.
As for you my friend,
what are you doing with your night?
Turn off your TV,
don’t stay all cooped up.
Thankfully somethings in life will never change
Line up your nicest clothes,
because tonight we’re goin’ dancing.

And that is far worse. It leaves me feeling hollow and sick. At this sad grasping for their lack, and their reaching out for comfort and at all–oh, so little– they find to cling to. But for all the misery in their words, it cannot stay with me. The words are foreign, the tune does not nestle into my mind, and the picture is symbolic.

The one that leaves me in almost in tears every time, the one that stays with and makes my heart ache the worst is “De La Rey.”

Not because I’m a Boer, or at the horror of war and the pain of being torn from land and family. Not for the words, which are still foreign. But for the music and the singing that gives cry to the human heart. Because when they sing,

“De La Rey, De La Rey,
will you come and lead the Boere?
De la Re, De la Rey,
General, General,
as one man we will fall around you.
General De la Rey”

I hear them crying, not for the Lion of West Transvaal on his brown horse, but for the Lion of Judah on His white horse. I hear the longing of a people looking for a savior, to guide them and lead them. I hear the love and devotion for those who know the love and care of the one over them. I hear, not in words, but in music, the longing of the souls of men.

I don’t mean to say that’s what they mean to be singing for, only that I understand that there are certain things that are common to all mankind. There is a resonance between us, because it strikes at something far deeper than individual circumstance and personal preference. It strikes us at our very core, at the parts of us that are common to all.

We grasp it in little bits, here and there. Sometimes it is easier to see our lack than to understand what will fill it. We are physical people, and we want to understand our problems as such—as physical problems with physical solutions. And so we cry about those physical laments, not quite realizing they are an echo of our spiritual laments that will never be filled by the physical trappings of this world.

Somehow it seems easier to cry for a general to lead us against a physical army in a physical war, than to cry for God to give us the strength to get out of bed in the face of a spiritual war. One seems to be so much more real and undeniable; who can dispute it? When ‘our few against so many’ is not a metaphor, but a plain counting of the facts, you can grasp the scope of the problem.

But the spiritual problems seem to be so much harder to grasp. You can’t see, and you can’t count. Some people say they’re nothing more than superstitions; that they don’t exist.

Yet we all want to get up and sing “De La Rey”, even though we don’t know who he is or what he did. The song carries from person to person not because of De La Rey, but because of the common longing to be saved–Because of the common feelings of being overwhelmed and oppressed, because of a common desire to join together under one, to strive toward a common goal. But we would never be satisfied with De La Rey. We would still be looking to be rescued. And we continue to try to fill the gaping hole we find within ourselves.

They may have indeed found very real problems, but their cures fall woefully short, despite their appearance of hope. Those that sample the “cures” find, like Solomon, that it isn’t enough.

So when I hear these songs, I mourn for those who have discovered their loss without finding true comfort, and my own heart aches for my “General, General” to come and lead me.

{Editor’s note: I actually wrote this some time ago, and recently stumbled upon it in my drafts. I think I hesitated to post it, because I felt I was, so to speak, reading myself into someone elses’ work. Don’t get me wrong—I do believe there is that longing, acknowledged or not. But I have enough artistry in me that I think I would be very frustrated/annoyed/etc to find someone else deliberately refusing to pay any mind to what it was that I was trying to say—and essentially, that’s what I’m doing here. I am not addressing what these individual artists have tried to address, but have rather asserted that they are talking about something entirely different than what they have ever spoken upon, and may very well fiercely disagree with.

Well, tough beans to them.

That’s not particularly polite or considerate, is it? No, it’s not. But the fact of the matter is that if you are going to get up and say something publicly, you have accept the fact that you’ll get a few tomatoes thrown at you, or that your words will be wasted on the unwashed heathen, or that people will be sticking their fingers in their ears and humming a different tune all the while you’re at it. I expect, should they ever even discover what I’ve done with their works, that they are already rather used to people defacing their works.

But what it rather comes down to is that they have had their say, and I have had mine. You may ignore us all (it may be best that way), or throw in your own two cents (but beware of falling tomatoes), or tuck all collective thoughts into the back of your mind for later pondering. P’rhaps you’ll come up with something better yet. —The Editor, namely me, who wrote this tattered thought to begin with.}

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