Saturday, December 09, 2017


    Jerusalem is in the news. Obama's replacement, Donald “Orange is the New Black” Trump, moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. A shocking move? Not when you recall a quote from Obama years earlier: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”   

     Technically all Trump did was underline the point by shifting America's embassy. But, in doing so, he upset antisemite Roger Waters and his back up group, The Palestinians. After all, they want Israelis to starve and die. Let's just say that the entire Middle East is literally full of hot heads. The difference is their degree of bloodthirsty fanaticism and how often they blow up innocent people.  

    Israel is the only outpost from which the free world can keep an eye on the increasingly dangerous and psychotic bunch in Iran, Iraq, and all over the region. Israel guards and preserves the historic monuments that mean a lot not just to Jews but to Muslims and Christians. And "Jerusalem"...means a lot to the British. It's one of their favorite songs. 

    Michael Flanders once mused, “England hasn’t got an official national song. What would it be? “Jerusalem!”” 

    Huh? In America, people stand up and sing “The National Anthem” without really knowing what the words are about. Same deal in Great Britain with "Jerusalem." In fact, some argue it shouldn't be sung in church, that it's anti-religion, and that it promotes Judaism. Yes, just as scholars also argue over the history of Israel and whether the Palestinians have any claims to it, interpretations of "Jerusalem" can get pretty heated.

     As briefly as possible, some background on the song:

    Hubert Parry wrote the stirring music in 1916, based on William Blake’s words from 100 years earlier. They appear at the beginning of his epic poem “Prelude to Milton.” John Milton, in Blake’s poem, stares down from heaven (pretty good for a guy who died blind) and finds that most people are leading lives of hellish stupidity and misguided allegiance. Don't people realize that they can do better, and that Jesus once journeyed to set his sacred feet on British soil?? 

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of god
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

     Hold on. "Dark Satanic Mills?" Hayley and John? They weren't born yet, and they were nice people. Is Blake referring to the industrial revolution? Is that when England lost its way? Some interpret this as Blake's message. And some say that it makes the song way too religious to be as patriotic a number as "Rule Brittania" or "God Save the Queen," or "England Swings Like a Pendulum Do." 

     Agnostics, Atheists, and dry-eyed Christians all wonder whether those first lines aren't just rhetorical and ridiculous. Why would Jesus ever want to go walking in Hull or check out the muddy banks of the Humber River? How did he get to Great Britain in the days before BOAC? A slow boat? He walked on the water? Legend has it that The Naz, had a travel companion, Joseph of Arimathea, and the latter brought the “Holy Grail” to Glastonbury, and left it there after the rock concerts. Which involved banging on actual rocks.

    Flash forward to 1916. Blake's poem is put to music. A hundred years later, including the film "Chariots of Fire," the song is a classic. Some say the Internet is worse than the industrial revolution, and we should mind Blake's warnings that the utopia of "Jerusalem" doesn't mean closing the Cadbury factory or buying sweaters made in China. We must preserve ecology and create more places where sheep may safely graze. Some priests take the opposite view and refuse to allow "Jerusalem" to be played at a wedding ceremony, or any religious ritual. Oh, maybe a bris, since that is rarely done in a church. Although accidents do happen. 

     While some get very angry about the whole thing, some find it funny. You might recall the infamous (aren’t they all) “Monty Python” sketch about a weird department store. Neurotic salesman Graham Chapman goes bonkers whenever somebody says “mattress.” He puts a bag over his head and will only return to normal if everyone sings “Jerusalem” to him. Oh, what a useful song it is!

    Below, a version of "Jerusalem" that is both sincere, and slightly comical, since Sir Harry Secombe was both a popular singer and a zany comedian. I mentioned to him how remarkable it was, that the same voice known for comedy, was also appreciated, in all seriousness, for songs of religion and patriotism. Sapristi!   

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!
I will not cease from metal fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.   

"JERUSALEM" Sir Harry Secombe - download or listen on line. No passwords, pop-ups or Palestinians.

1 comment:

MarkhamStreet said...

Growing up in Canada, my first exposure to Jerusalem was in Peter Watkins 1967 feature film, Privilege, as performed by pop star-turned actor-playing pop star Paul Jones, ex of Manfred Mann. The film is set in a a not-to-distant future fascist UK, and Jones plays a pop star. In the opening scene of the movie, he's dumped from a duffel bag onto the stage to perform, handcuffed and watched over by armed guards. He's the country's most influential person, so he's hired by the government/church to help them control hearts and minds in huge public events - including a performance of Jerusalem. Creepy and dystopian, Watkins used the same documentary/newsreel style he used in his other films, like The War Game and Edvard Munch. The film works at times. Im not so sure about the soundtrack LP though...