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Feb 24 2012

Movie Friday: Laughing With

So for whatever reason, my musical selection is skewed strongly male. It probably has more than a little to do with the fact that I primarily listen to rock and hip-hop, both of which genres have strong macho bias. But whatever the reason, there are very few female singers who I really like to listen to. I’m a big fan of the Cardigans, Lauryn Hill (obviously), I was a big fan of Poe’s debut album (long before her name was a synonym for an internet troll), I thought Tragic Kingdom was pretty good… other than that though, women don’t feature large on my iTunes.

There is one female artist, however, that grabbed me from the moment I first heard her voice in a duet with Ben Folds – Regina Spektor:

(Please forgive the intro and the Spanish lyrics – the official video has embedding disabled)

She has a lot of amazing songs, and a lot of amazing videos, but this one got stuck in my head the other day. The lyrics are incredibly enigmatic, and they strike me as something of a Rorschach Test – the level of subjectivity lends itself to multiple interpretations. Ms Spektor apparently refuses to tell people what they ‘really’ mean, leaving it up to interpretation.

To me, it seems like she’s talking about the concept of ‘God’ as opposed to expressing an actual belief. Everyone takes the idea very seriously when the chips are down, but you’ve got to remember the lighter, more hilarious side of the idea that there’s a supernatural being handing out rewards and punishments. She also singles out its most fervent believers for a bit of ridicule – basically, it’s not something to be taken seriously. It’s a joke that we can laugh with.

Then again, the top-rated comment says something completely different:

Basically, if your plane is crashing, God doesn’t seem like a joke. You can spend your whole life not believing in a higher power and even ridiculing it, but if you’re moments from death and you know it, I think everyone would wonder.

Ah yes, the old ‘atheists in foxholes’ nonsense. Glad to see that some things never die. Wait, did I say ‘glad’? I mean ‘exasperated’.

Anyway, leave your interpretations in the comments! Lyrics below the fold.

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Regina Spektor – Laughing With

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God
When it’s gotten real late and their kid’s not back from the party yet

No one laughs at God
When their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one’s laughing at God
When they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else
And they hope that they’re mistaken

No one laughs at God
When the cops knock on their door
And they say we got some bad news, sir
No one’s laughing at God
When there’s a famine or fire or flood

But God could be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God themed joke or
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ’bout to choke

God could be funny
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’ve lost all they’ve got and they don’t know what for

No one laughs at God
On the day they realize that the last sight they’ll ever see
Is a pair of hateful eyes
No one’s laughing at God
When they’re saying their goodbyes

But God could be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God themed joke or
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ’bout to choke

God could be funny
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war

No one laughing at God in a hospital
No one’s laughing at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
We’re all laughing with God

20 comments

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  1. 1
    machintelligence

    No one laughs at God — Though they may well curse (Him?)

  2. 2
    Eric

    If you want a few more women in the playlist check out the Dresden Dolls, Vermillion Lies, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, and Emma Wallace. They all have a great sound that ranges from Jazz to Blues, to steampunk rock.

  3. 3
    Cluisanna

    Hm I always avoided that song (although I like her other songs) because it seemed to me to be exactly what the youtube comment meant – basically no atheists in foxholes. And I always hated that argument that I wouldn’t laugh at god in a sad situation, because the reason I wouldn’t be laughing at god is that I wouldn’t laugh at anything at all.

    “But God could be funny
    At a cocktail party when listening to a good God themed joke or”
    I thought this was meant as anti-intelligence snark. “Those academics with their cocktail parties, they are laughing, but soon they will be humbled!”

  4. 4
    ischemgeek

    If you’re interested in expanding your repetoire of female rock leads, I have a few recommendations:

    If you like alternative rock? Fit for Rivals, who have some nice angry punky alt-rock. “Crash” is a badass song, easily my favorite by them (which is not to say that their others are bad – the worst song I’ve heard from them is what I’d call “pretty good”).

    If you’re cool with psychobilly, there’s The Creepshow.

    The Vincent Black Shadow (alt-rock), Nightwish (symphonic metal), and the Dresden Dolls (who are more of a punk cabaret thing than rock, but still cool) are all really good. Finally, Emilie Autumn (who defies categorization – best I can say is great music with violin and harpsichord) is made of awesome.

  5. 5
    Patty

    I love Regina Spektor! If you like her, you might also enjoy Kate Nash:

  6. 6
    P Smith

    I’ve not heard of The Creepshow, though I’m familiar with psychobilly. The Cramps are one of my ten favourite bands, and Poison Ivy Rorschach is one of my ten favourite guitarists.

    The Cramps, “Naked Girl Falling Down The Stairs”:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5mH38AhOHI
    (The song starts at 0:25.)

    And favourite band of mine, since we’re talking of strong female presences, is Shonen Knife. And Naoko Yamano is also among my ten favourite guitarists.

    Shonen Knife, “I Am A Cat”:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LR_IMmJrPVo

    They are not “favourite female guitarists” with a qualifier, but guitarists, period. I love the big, chunky sound that both of them have, and both are great players.

    I doubt either band are to our blogger’s taste (they aren’t to most people’s taste!), but you never know.

    .

  7. 7
    Crommunist

    I must say, and I mean this in all sincerity, that I love how often the comments are not at all about what I think they’ll be.

    “Interpret this song!”
    “Fuck you, Crommunist! We want to talk about awesome lady musicians!”
    “Consider me fucked!”

  8. 8
    carinade almeida

    Hahahahahaha so true – our thoughts are not always aligned.

    So, to the question you posed – I enjoy her style but not the lyrics – it seems like she is trying to sell the “god could be funny” angle which I simply don’t agree with. He is in no way funny. At all.

    I do however have 2 words for you… “Tori Amos”. I hope she will rock your world and her lyrics are certainly more in touch with how I feel (about god at least ;))

    Love your blog!

  9. 9
    Kerri

    I’m actually glad to know I’m not alone in thinking this song seems to be about god as a concept. This is what I love about her lyrics; they tend to be more abstract, so many different meanings could be drawn from them. I really love her song Consequence of Sounds for the lyrics.

  10. 10
    leni

    Yeah, that’s pretty much what I got out of it. A milder version of the “It won’t be so funny when you’re burning in hell, funnyman!”

    Mostly I just kept thinking that people don’t laugh a lot when they are frightened or getting terrible news. Or thinking they are about to die.

    But sometimes they do. Humor is a healthy outlet for stress and anger and sometimes the only relief we can get during a hard time. Coping is a good thing and when you are able to laugh with family and friends during the worst moments of your life, well, that’s even better.

    ***

    For a more uplifting song with way better lyrics that don’t make you feel like you’re being lectured by a condescending Christian… Ladies and gentleman, I give you Hedwig!

    (Song doesn’t actually start until about 0:45 or so. Sorry.)

  11. 11
    leni

    See the only thing I got out of the ‘God can be funny” thing was other people’s inferior god beliefs are funny, but hers isn’t. Oh no, hers is deep and profound! It just seemed obnoxious and condescending, but maybe I got her point wrong.

  12. 12
    Stevarious

    I can’t believe this thread has gone this long and not mentioned A Fine Frenzy.

    I probably heard The Minnow and the Trout a dozen times before I realized it was about evolution and cosmology. It’s so subtle.

  13. 13
    hjhornbeck

    Props to ischemgeek for the shout-out to The Creepshow, one of my faves. I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned The Pack A.D., though.

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88h1zx3_R-4&w=560&h=315

  14. 14
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    No one laughs at God in a hospital
    No one laughs at God in a war
    When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor
    When there’s a famine or fire or flood
    We’re all laughing with God

    If God = The Powers that Be = Status quo…
    Bending over backward, a charitable interpretation might be that people with comfortable lives who just mock caricatures belittle the routine random suffering of people who have no power over their own circumstance.
     
    Laughing at with an absurd unjust world makes it easier to accept and ignore, at least while you’re life is stable. Otherwise, you’ve got things on your mind more urgent than existential worries.
     
    A cursory glance at wikipedia shows support of human rights causes for Darfur, Tibet, and Haiti. Then again, she reads Hebrew and comes from a lineage of persecuted Jews.

  15. 15
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    gah. you’re your
    Revised my sentence a few times and overlooked that the word was no longer appropriate to the new grammar.

  16. 16
    SallyStrange

    There’s still ladies doing cool shit in hip hop. Just not necessarily in English.

  17. 17
    ischemgeek

    You’re welcome.

    I’ll be sure to inflict my tangential spaciness on more comment threads.

  18. 18
    mynameischeese

    I resent the song because when I was in hospital and thought I was on my death bed, I did joke around with the doctors to try and distract myself. Also, one of those religious counselor people came in to talk to me (most of the hospitals are catholic because it’s a catholic country) and got really annoyed when I told her I’m an atheist, which I found pretty funny. I told her I wouldn’t go around to the beds of sick catholics and ask them if they wanted to talk about Richard Dawkins, so what’s the point of asking me if I want to talk about Jesus? When I was really bad, all these people were coming in saying they were praying for me, which I found hilarious. When I was able to speak again, the first thing I told my husband was that I was still an atheist.

    Anyway, have you tried any Ani Difranco? I see other people have brought up Tori Amos, who is a genius. Damn, I’m trying to think of female musicians and am drawing a blank. There’s also Kimbra. If you enjoy Spektor, you might appreciate her.

  19. 19
    mynameischeese

    “Humor is a healthy outlet for stress and anger and sometimes the only relief we can get during a hard time.”

    Also, sometimes when you’re in hospital, doctors will give you fun drugs.

  20. 20
    Bean

    I have to say that I found this song hard to swallow as well as I like Regina a whole lot. I find her lyrics generally thoughtful and thought-provoking. I like the sound of this song. It’s very pretty, melody-wise. But I think there isn’t any more to the lyrics than what’s there. If we’re all laughing with god, then we might find him funny but we’re inherently on his side. I have to disagree with Regina on this one.

    I had a similar reaction to (Canadian!) Sarah Slean’s new album Land & Sea. It gets quite goddy at multiple points as she meanders through topics of life’s purpose, universal love and the inherent interconnectedness of all living things on earth. She’s a philosopher and she’s read Dawkins and Hitch so she’s not ignorant of the atheist perspective. I would say her fluffy, gooey, candy floss worldview of god = life energy, love and the universe makes her a deist. So while there’s some disagreement, I would say most theists-turned-atheists would hear echoes of our past in her lyrics.

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