12 July 2008

A question of grammar: "Blasphemous Rumours"


I've always been a huge Depeche Mode fan, going back to hearing "People are People" on the radio in Kettering/Dayton/West Carrolton, Ohio in the summer of 1984. And there's been a question that's picked at the back of my brain for over twenty years now, and I'm still no closer to solving it.

In their masterpiece "Blasphemous Rumours," the chorus goes
"I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours
but I think that God's got a sick sense of humour
and when I die
I expect to find him laughing"

The way Dave Gahan sings it is with an emphasis on the "that" in the second line, which carries with it an interesting variance in meaning.

Looking at the text of Martin Gore's lyrics, the diagram of the line would indicate that God has a sick sense of humor. Simple enough. But the way that Gahan emphasizes that 'that' seems to imply that the sick sense of humor belongs to 'that' God, implying that there are other options. To make this philosophy explicit would have been grammatically unwieldy (I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours/but I think that that God has a sick sense of humour) and counterproductive to the rhythm of the line.

But the fact that emphasizing one word can add a dense layer of philosophical theory to a pop song makes me positively giddy inside.

I always thought I would outgrow this song's bemused frustration with religion... Nope. XTC's "Dear God," also a great song, hasn't aged quite as well for me. But I'm glad to know that controversial explorations of spiritual issues still stir up the same emotions today as they did when I first heard them.

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

Ron - GodEmperorOfNashville said...

Leave it to Gahan to handle something as philosophically controversial as the problem of evil in a pop song. It almost sounds like a gnostic anthem about the demiurge. I suppose "that god" would be a determinist's deity; deliberately responsible for all our lives' intricacies. This would seem to be a critique of the Abrahamic YHWH-Adonai-Jehova variety.

Eastern religions have found ways around the problem of evil and would thus make poorer philosophical whipping boys. It all depends on your model of god. Is the deity something that arbitrarily interrupts our lives with entropy, or is it merely the originator of the universe's nature prior to the big-bang? Then reality becomes a kind of generative art where morality is merely another aesthetic texture. To "that god", Gahan is offering an artistic critique. Rate your deity on PantheonReview.net!

In the Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons refers to unknown ecologies of ethereal entities existing in the vacuum networks of space as "lions, tigers, and bears... [oh my]." If there really are ethereal entities who are interested in the affairs of humans, I wouldn't doubt the possible existence of immense varieties of such beings. Each with its own personality and demeanor. Job's god is a real son-of-a-bitch, but I can't complain about Spinoza's.