Swing music was banned in Nazi Germany because it had been influenced by black people, but propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels made an exception for Charlie and His Orchestra, a group that recorded propaganda parodies of popular swing tunes in English and broadcast them to the UK. I listened to some this week and found them hilarious, and then I tried to unpack why I found them hilarious and whether it makes me a bad person. First off, though they're occasionally racist - and no different from American music in that regard - they don't really promote Nazi ideology. They're meant to demoralize, not convert. So mostly they just make fun of Winston Churchill and FDR with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and gloat about how badly the war is going for the Allies. That alone, coming from the side that ultimately lost, is hilarious to me. And the German accents juxtaposed with the English lyrics and the very American genre kind of amuse me too. And once in a while they raise a legitimate point, because it's not like the Allies were perfect. In my favorite of these songs, they sing to the tune of "Bye Bye Blackbird:"
I never cared for you before,
Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore -
Bye, bye, Empire!
India I may lose too,
Then I only have London Zoo -
Bye, bye, Empire!
I mean, the UK wasn't torturing and murdering minorities, but colonialism was still pretty crappy. And come to think of it, eugenics was first proposed by British scientists and developed by American scientists. But anyway, this song is hilarious to me because it was prophetic. For once Charlie's gloating was justified. I don't know if I'm justified in putting these songs on a playlist, but I rationalized that I was. Diversity is a big priority for my playlists, and I'm especially intrigued by the perspectives of the "others," the "bad guys" from the western perspective, like Germans in the thirties and forties and Russians in pretty much every other decade. And I had some German songs from the thirties and forties and I made sure none of them were promoting Nazi ideology. And now these are actual Nazi songs, but I rationalized that they don't cross the line because, while I've so far declined to include the most overtly racist old songs, I feel it would be dishonest to only include old songs that measure up to current standards of equity and tolerance. If these songs were part of the forties (and aren't calling for the extermination of minorities) then they should be included in the forties. That's what I told myself. I may be wrong, but I'm usually biased toward whatever conclusion lets me have more music.
Just today I found another (and better) perspective from the forties, an EP by underrated black folk singer Josh White entitled "Southern Exposure: An Album of Jim Crow Blues." I found it interesting because, while black musicians have recording music prolifically for almost as long as music has been recorded, I haven't found many songs prior to, say, the nineties that acknowledge, let alone protest against their second-class status in the United States. Even when they sing about poor economic conditions or legal troubles, they leave race out of it. Obviously there are exceptions like Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam," but this is what I've found in general. I would imagine they didn't want to alienate white people from buying their records. So anyway, it surprised and delighted me to find a song from the forties that names Jim Crow, let alone a whole EP that criticizes Jim Crow. Josh White pulls no punches about racial discrimination in housing, employment, and the US military. This EP makes me so happy.
I recently watched the new Disney+ series The Muppets Mayhem, the first installment of the franchise to focus on The Muppet Show's house band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. They aren't among the more popular Muppets, but half the jokes in this show are about how every other musician alive has befriended, partied with, dated, and/or been influenced by them, and I did find these jokes are funny every time. (There are enough celebrity cameos for three seasons of The Muppet Show.) In order to keep them from being upstaged by Kermit or Fozzie, there are only three other recurring Muppet characters - all original to this show - and some little Muppet bunnies and a brief cameo appearance by two old characters in the finale. At times it feels weird that this Muppet band is navigating an almost entirely human world, but the fact that they do so and nobody comments on it is funny. The human characters are lovable and three of them have an absolutely riveting love triangle that resolves in the most satisfying possible way. There's also a fair amount of focus and commentary on Smartphones, social media, and digital stuff in general, which kind of makes me despise the modern age even while I recognize what a glorious time it is to be alive, and sometimes the characters use Gen Z slang that kind of rubs me the wrong way as a crotchety almost-thirty-year-old. But of course we don't want the Muppets to stay stuck in the seventies because that would be ridiculous too. The major downside of the show is that after seeing Floyd so often, I noticed how creepy it is that his eyes are hollow tubes.
I don't often go to LDS meetings or devotionals anymore, but I went to one Friday night because I was really bored and lonely and it was hosting Madilyn Paige, a moderately successful singer of whom I had heard. She sang some songs and gave some good motivational speaking and showed some cute videos of herself singing as a child, including one where a sibling was saying, "Stop, stop, please, stop, stop." I feel the same about my roommate's singing, but even at that age, hers was actually good. Toward the end of the devotional she touched on something that's become almost obligatory to acknowledge in these settings: faith crisis. She said she's had doubts and she still has questions and it seems like people are stepping away from the church more than ever these days. She said she's thought about what if she gets to the end and it's all made up, but she can't deny what she's felt. And I mentally rolled my eyes at that and then I chastened myself for being judgmental because I was in the same position not long ago. Well, almost the same position. I was never famous or pretty or good at singing.
Because of what I felt within the context of the LDS Church - not often, but often enough - I thought for years that I was doing the right and intellectually honest thing by trying to rationalize or defend every issue with the predetermined conclusion that the church is what it claims to be, and by fighting to hold onto my faith at all costs long after I should have known better. I thought that if I just held on a little longer, everything would fall into place and make sense and the church would stop letting me down. After I had to accept that that wasn't going to happen and the church isn't what it claims to be, I clung to the hope that God still had some important divine purpose for it besides opposing social progress. After that hypothesis failed, I clung to the possibility that, as David Whitmer explained at length in "An Address to All Believers in Christ" (which should be required reading for all Latter-day Saints), the Book of Mormon was true and Joseph Smith started out as a true prophet but the LDS Church fell into apostasy almost immediately when he overstepped his boundaries. I didn't want to believe that I'd wasted so much time and energy defending pure fiction. But that's just how life goes sometimes.
Jeffrey R. Holland recently shared this big steaming pile of desperation in a devotional that I'm not sorry I didn't watch: "Real faith - life-changing faith, Abrahamic faith - is always in crisis. That’s how you find out if it’s faith at all. I promise you that more faith will mean less crisis until, finally, God says, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant.'" Faith is always in crisis, but more faith means less crisis. (With this statement he broke his own previous speed record for contradicting himself, set in 2012 when he lied to a BBC reporter about the pre-1990 endowment penalties before conceding their existence seconds later.) I was never taught anything remotely like this when I grew up in the church, and of course it's not being taught now because it makes any kind of sense but only because none of the church hierarchy's previous attempts at damage control have worked. So now they're trying to rebrand constant cognitive dissonance as proof that the church is true. I did think for a while that I was passing an Abrahamic test, but when it didn't end and didn't end and didn't end, I decided that life is too short to put up with that crap indefinitely.
I don't deny that I felt feelings at times while I was in the church. I don't know what to make of those feelings now because all I have are memories of them, and memory is unreliable in part because it's filtered through my current knowledge and perspective. And of course I have no idea what Madilyn Paige has felt. But I know there have been people in every religion, including suicide cults, who have felt equally confident that their religion was the correct one. I don't know that this is common. The LDS Church places more emphasis than most on personal revelation (although it also teaches that any personal revelation that doesn't conform with its teachings is, ipso facto, invalid), and many, maybe most people just go through the motions in whatever religion they're born into unless and until they have a compelling reason to really think about it. But at least some people in every religion have feelings they can't deny. And then, if they so desire, they can find apologetics and scholarship to back up their predetermined conclusion that their religion is true, and they can reassure themselves that their testimony is based in logic as well as feelings, even though there's almost a 0% chance that they've actually held their religion to the same standard as all other religions. For example, LDS apologists make rationalizations for their prophets' and apostles' words and actions that they would never make for anyone else who claimed to represent God.
This is the infamous video that brought me to that soul-crushing realization. It's a compilation of people bearing emotional testimonies that their various religions, including suicide cults, are true. By that time I had been out of the church for over a month, but it severely shook my confidence in God himself and I haven't recovered. I found it through FAIR. And I'm not being snarky for once, but I legitimately couldn't even understand what FAIR was trying to say in its lengthy and convoluted response. I thought the restored gospel of Jesus Christ was supposed to be beautifully simple. I thought we had personal revelation so we didn't have to get bogged down in philosophy.
So I no longer believe that feelings are a reliable guide to truth. Now I may, of course, end up having to give up on God entirely, but I'm not ready to do that yet. I still believe in him not so much because of what I've felt but because of philosophical arguments and experiences that I don't believe can reasonably be attributed to coincidence or confirmation bias. And I don't believe he cares what religion I belong to or don't belong to as long as I do my best to love others and be a positive influence in their lives. Maybe he did tell some of the people in the video to be part of the religions where they could do the most good. Having recently watched it again after thinking about it for months, I tentatively think that strong feelings, like ones that bring people to tears, are a red flag. I think the teaching that God speaks in a "still small voice" is onto something. And I think certainty is an even bigger red flag. Faith is faith. It is not and never will be certainty. A lot of people in this video think it is, and every month Latter-day Saints reinforce their beliefs by standing up in their echo chambers and proclaiming "I know this church is true" when they actually don't. I think certainty stifles growth and defeats whatever purposes God may have for not showing his face to the world and telling everyone exactly what to do and what to believe.
I don't know what Madilyn Paige's questions are. I'm going to take a wild guess that one of them is why "God" creates gay people and then commands them to stay alone until they die. The world of LDS musicians is a small one, and I'd be surprised if she wasn't personally acquainted with David Archuleta, who left the church because its teachings about his sexuality made him hate himself and contemplate suicide. The answer to this question that I came up with is very simple: God has nothing to do with it, but the church is run by old straight men who think gay sex is gross. Another question she may have is why "God" denies women like herself the opportunities and privileges in the church and in society that men have. My answer is very simple: God has nothing to do with it, but the church is run by old male men who think women are baby factories. Maybe she wants to know why "God" banned black people from the priesthood and the temple for 126 years. My answer is very simple: God had nothing to do with it, but the church was run by old white men who thought black people were inferior to them. Latter-day Saints - including myself when I was one - make these questions out to be more complicated than they are because they can't accept the logical and straightforward answers that don't involve the church being what it claims to be.
I bet I could answer all of Madilyn Paige's questions, but she wouldn't like the answers. And that's fair. I wasn't ready to accept them at her age either, and if she's happy where she's at, I wouldn't want to take that away from her anyway. I wouldn't bother arguing against the LDS Church's truth claims at all if it didn't harm people I love. And I don't think she's the type to use her beliefs to harm people. She's been a more positive influence in the world than I've been. Here's a nice uplifting song she did.
I've had this random idea for a while and decided to do it today so I could take a break from writing long rants and spend more time reading Moroni and the Swastika. I hope it will be of interest to music lovers everywhere.
Apashe - Lacrimosa (2018)
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.