Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life by Lundy Zeth

Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life by Lundy Zeth

Author:Lundy, Zeth
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Continuum International Publishing
Published: 2007-04-14T16:00:00+00:00

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

According to the late Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, “chanting the [Hare Krishna mantra] is the sublime method for reviving our transcendental consciousness.” Like the pop song refrains perpetrated by Wonder (a further analysis of which can be found in the forthcoming discussion of “As”), the Hare Krishna mantra seeks to break through the unknowable and trespass into the all-knowing. The all-knowing, of course, is what experience covets the most, what it sees in the recesses of its dreams—practice and repetition, vital to the realization of true adulthood, can take it there.

In a stroke of conceptual genius, Wonder incorporates a Hare Krishna choir into the final minute of “Pastime Paradise”: twelve voices perform the chant, its absence of melody seamlessly bonding with the song’s chord structure, which is faded into the mix upon the start of the final repetitions of the refrain. Shortly thereafter, the West Angeles Church of God Choir is faded into the mix as well, performing a spirited rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” The two choirs, mixed in motley harmony with the song’s Latin rhythm and percussion (Hare Krishna bells, cowbells, congas, handclaps) and synthesizer strings reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” (as was Wonder’s stated intent), serve to provide a tangible demonstration of the song’s thematic intent: unity.30

“Pastime Paradise” decries those who have “been wasting most their time glorifying days lone gone behind” and seeks to start “living for the future paradise.” In other words, a true utopia of shared bliss can only be reached through a rejection of the archaic baggage of ignorance (whether it be bigotry, exclusion or baseless hatred) and an embrace of constructive accord. Wonder’s crisscrossing synthesizer strings are wracked with anxious counterpoint—he’s sustaining the logic of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” (“we got to live together…”), but with the harried reason of a man who has seen worse and knows better. The two choirs that figure into the song’s vision of unity come from two worlds on opposite ends of the social spectrum, but Wonder’s intent is to merge them into a whole. Through this tangling of disparate universes, “Pastime Paradise” practices what it preaches, even though its sermon is harassed with the daunting reality of not-enough-time-to-reverse-centuries-of-injustice.

The Hare Krishna mantra had found its way into rock and roll’s progressive lexicon by way of the Beatles, whose public courtship of transcendental meditation in the 60s was fodder for the headlines. It’s sarcastically referenced briefly in Lennon’s vocal for “I Am the Walrus” (1967), makes an appearance in “Give Peace a Chance,” the 1969 single by Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, and plays an even greater role in George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (1971).31 Apple Records went so far to release the mantra as a single by the Radha Krsna Temple (with Harrison on harmonium and guitar) in 1970. These instances are, arguably, self-conscious soapboxing, announcements (and, in one of Lennon’s cases, criticisms) of in-vogue spiritual predilections sought out to fill the empty chasms carved by fame.


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