aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

The singers and the song

I was watching a YouTube video of an old Bing Crosby TV Christmas special. Werner Klemperer and John Banner sang a verse of "Silent Night" in German, while Robert Clary did a verse of "Il est ne" in French. At the time, Klemperer, Banner, and Clary were all in the cast of Hogan's Heroes. They did very well; however, I couldn't help wondering about something.

Robert Clary and John Banner were both Jews. Clary had a concentration camp tattoo on his arm; Banner had lost many family members to the Holocaust. Klemperer's family emigrated to America before the war, but his father was Jewish (then Catholic, then Jewish again), though his mother was Lutheran. How did these three -- especially Banner and Clary -- feel about singing Christmas songs about the divine infant, given their Jewishness?

It reminded me of a an old Christmas LP my family had back in the '60s. Goodyear used to churn out a Christmas album of various recording stars singing Christmas classics every year. In the one I'm thinking of, Barbra Streisand -- her voice then at its peak of clarity and brilliance -- did an astounding rendition of "Ave Maria." Now, sure, Mary was as Jewish as Babs, but still -- how does it feel to sing words you don't believe, and not, just not put any stock in, but which you may be highly ambivalent about?

I guess the attitude among artists is, to quote the Muppet Floyd of the Electric Mayhem, "Just play the gig." The people who've asked you to sing are paying you a compliment. They don't realize what the lyrics may cost you, but they mean no harm. Take the money and promote your talent.

But then, is this not also what so many people do at Christmas? They sing sweetly of the infant savior they don't believe in, or they lustily announce news from a heaven and a God they don't take seriously. How many people are just enjoying the moment and have no feel for the weight of what their lips are proclaiming? And which is worse: to feel obligated to sing words you don't believe in, or to freely appropriate words you think are just words?

All I know is my desire to mean the words I say or sing, and to know the reality that they describe.

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