Friday, June 01, 2012

“Africa” Is a Really Bad Song. Steve Almond Proves It and Shows You the Math

Steve Almond: My name is Steve Almond, but I come to you on behalf of Toto.

Duke Ellington once famously declared that there are two kinds of music: good music and bad music and by “bad music,” I mean specifically the song I Bless the Rain Down in Africa by Toto.

Ellington died two years before Toto formed as a band which I think speaks to his prescience.

What makes I Bless the Rain Down in Africa so bad? Mostly, it's the lyrics; also, the instrumentation, the vocals, and that virulent, jazz-like melody — which, despite the manifest wretchedness of everything I just mentioned, assures that you are still, as you sit there listening to me insult I Bless the Rain Down in Africa, sort of grooving to it, sort of digging it, sort of bathing in the buttery memory of sixth grade or tenth grade or hand jobs or lip gloss and really actually remembering or rediscovering how much you love I Bless the Rain Down in Africa, even as you're hating yourself for this love. It's complicated.

And so are its lyrics:

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whisper of some quiet conversation.
She coming in 12:30 flight.
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me toward salvation

I stopped an old man along way,
Hoping to find a some long-forgotten words or ancient melodies.
He turned to me as if to say,
“Hurry, boy, it's waiting there for you.”

It's true: all Africans of an advanced age are filled with long-forgotten words and ancient melodies. It's equally true and sadly true that all African Americans of my age, an less advanced age, are full of shit. I suspect that's why they shipped our ancestors off to American in the first place: they could see our fates. Knowing how I am not one to let things go, you should have no trouble believing me when I say I suspect two of the long-forgotten words of the African ancients are “I'm sorry?”


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