The Music of My Youth as a Commercial Shill

Union Bus Station, Oklahoma City

Union Bus Station, Oklahoma City

I wrote my master’s thesis on the interaction of media, culture and theology. My point was that culture and theology intersect. We can learn much about the human condition by listening to cultural expressions such as contemporary music, and reflecting on them theologically.

The idea wasn’t well-received by my review committee. They asked me to re-write it. I argued and won small concessions. But they rejected the basic proposition that popular culture and theology intersect.

They did not buy my argument that Paul Simon’s song “America” held theological content. I said it is about the search for meaning. It informs our understanding of alienation, loneliness and the search for community. We seek relationship with each other and with God.

The song describes this search, not for God, but for relationships; about how tentative and faltering they can be. It draws a plaintive word picture of youth searching for America. Young adults trying to find their place in the world.

I like to think my struggle with the committee just indicates I was ahead of the times. But whatever the case, I defended Paul Simon and his songs. They meant something more than jukebox background music, or so I thought.

When I heard this song used in a commercial for a credit card company recently, my heart sank. Paul Simon shilling for corporate America. Is this where the search ends? Is this what the young man was looking for–a lucrative licensing fee?

This is America?

I’m wondering. Is this what I fought for, or was the committee correct after all?

One Response to “The Music of My Youth as a Commercial Shill”

  1. Margaret Novak November 11, 2014 at 12:19 am #

    I can remember the loneliness and alienation I was feeling as I drove to the University of Minnesota campus, listening to that song on my car radio. Both the tune and the lyrics were compelling then, and they invoke more than nostalgia when I think of them now. Where did you go, Paul Simon (that doesn’t fit as well as Joe DeMaggio)? What were you thinking, letting these words be applied in such a way. You were right, back when you wrote that Masters Thesis, Larry. And you’re right, now. And just about the same percentage of people will agree with you now as did then. But that doesn’t make you wrong.

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