Walkin’ on the Sun

Words and music by Smash Mouth. // Thoughts by Nelson. //

I’ve always liked this song, but a few months ago, I heard some lyrics for the first time, and the song seemed much more important after that. In a way, it has convicted me. Below, I have marked up the lyrics with this convention: [words I didn’t hear] (words I thought I heard).

It ain’t no joke I’d like to buy the world a [toke] (coke).

// It ain’t no joke… I’m thinking about the difference between singing this old Coke commercial with conviction (which I have done) and as a cynical adult. There was a time when I thought buying a Coke for everyone was doable and it might just precipitate World Peace. And I was willing to put my allowance to the cause. In a way, my naiveté enabled the marketing to subvert me. It worked. Now I am jaded, and I feel slightly betrayed and exploited.

Buy the world a toke… I am ambivalent on marijuana. I know it’s a drug. I know it can be addictive and destructive. On the other hand, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol are drugs too. And I don’t have to tell you about how they are addictive and destructive in their own way. Why are they legal while marijuana is not? Marijuana is a drug of the under-privileged. It is easy to detect because it stays in your system (deposited in your fat for about a month) longer than drugs like alcohol and cocaine, which metabolize and are gone. If you use marijuana, you are likely to get caught in your company’s next drug screening. //

And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

// Toking and singing “in perfect harmony” make me think of smoking a peace pipe. And the Coke commercial reference is the first clue about the dual themes of marketing and anti-establishment causes. Smash Mouth has paired the theme of peace, which was originally misappropriated to sell Coke, with marijuana legalization. Begging the question, “Could a toke bring World Peace?” Perhaps it could, if we got the right people together and they actually inhaled. //

And teach the world to [snuff the fires and the liars].
Hey, I know it’s just a song, but it’s [spice for the recipe].

// Spice for the recipe reminds me that we are the “salt of the earth.” And snuffing the fires reminds me that the best way to fight fire is to rob it of oxygen or fuel. Perhaps the same is true of liars. //

This is a love attack. [I know it went out] but it’s back.

// This lyric “love attack,” came like a roll of thunder to my ears. (When you read scripture in lectio divina, you listen for the words that sparkle. This one thundered!) It is what drove me to seek out the rest of the lyrics. I had never heard these words before. This song is a “love attack”? Really? Yes it is. And here it comes. //

It’s just like any [fad] (getting fat or phat) it retracts before impact.

// When I thought I heard “fat” it made me think of the lyric “the excess of fat in your American bones will cushion the impact as you sink like a stone” from Chocolate Cake by Crowded House, which isn’t far off, and I still like mishearing it that way.

Chocolate Cake is another song that indicts American consumerism and our shallow culture. There is plenty more to say about Chocolate Cake, but I can’t expand on it now. But it is worth a listen. I liked this appreciation video’s imagery. Enjoy! //

And just like fashion, it’s a [passion] for the [with it and hip] (kids).
If you got the goods they’ll come [and buy it] (nearby it) just to [stay in the clique] (meaning of it).

// Here’s the second statement of the advertising theme. This idea that social causes get turned into fads and then into marketing campaigns is typical cynicism. The brilliant and hopeful insight is that smart marketing campaigns and peer pressure can also be used to further social causes. //

[Chorus:] So don’t delay. Act now! Supplies are running out.
Allow, if you’re still alive, six to eight years to arrive.

// This reminds me that some things take time. First, it made me think about my career. And it reminded me that if I started now, in about 2-3 years, I could wind up in a completely different place. Next, it made me think that things like world peace, environmental clean-up, and culture changes would take even more time. Then, in reading the 4 Hour Work Week, I found out that the “allow 6-8 weeks to arrive” caveat allows the manufacturer to gauge interest before actually going into production. And sometimes, when they say they ran out of supplies, it just means that there was never enough interest to even manufacture it. //

And if you follow [there may be a tomorrow].

// Anytime anyone says “follow,” I think of Jesus who said, “Come and follow me.” //

But [if the offer’s shunned] you might as well be walkin’ on the sun.

// If the offer’s shunned… Shunning an offer made me think about the call to environmental activism being a commercial. If it’s going to work, it needs to be popular. There has to be some peer pressure. It has to be cool.

I thought for a long time trying to puzzle out some meaning in the lyric “might as well be walkin’ on the sun.” From the start, it reminded me of the lyric “We travel on the road to adventure on a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun,” from Dreamline by Rush. In Dreamline, there is another lyric about time and space: “Time is a spiral. Space is a curve.” When I put those two statements together, I see that space is a desert, and we (on spaceship Earth) are on a long and spinning path to the heart of the sun, straight to the bottom of its gravity well.

So, “might as well be walkin’ on the sun” is a little like “whistling past the graveyard.” We are ignoring the ultimate end of our ways; and in the meantime, we are wasting the opportunity to leave the Earth a better place for our kids and future generations.

Then I started wondering about walking on the moon vs. the sun. The former is possible with a huge commitment of time, energy, creativity, and resources. The latter is (humanly) impossible, pointless, and foolhardy. The former (walking on the moon) may be foolhardy as well, but it is at least possible. And then I thought about walking on water, which isn’t possible without the help of a miracle. Perhaps world peace and the solution to Global Warming will take a miracle. In any case, the sun is warming up, and it is likely going to be too hot for humanity to live on Earth in about a billion years. But, in the meantime, in the here-now, this is where the ultimately pointless (an infinite existence for humanity on this pale blue dot) is eclipsed by the possibility of finding a way to get along without destroying the planet for at least a few more centuries.

I read Collapse by Jared Diamond, and it really scared me. He draws an analogy between what happened on Easter Island and what is happening to the entire planet Earth. Like Easter Island is isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Earth is adrift in the vastness of space. Like Easter Island, the Earth is in a delicate environmental equilibrium; and we now have the ability to tip that balance. If we use up all the fossil fuels on this planet before we figure out where we’re going to get some clean energy, we are driving off a cliff. We are in danger of following the Easter Islanders, who cut down all the big trees on the island, built a lot of cool statues, ate up all the big animals and good plants, ruined the soil, and wound up in a desert. The culture went from one of many thousands on the small island chain (who engaged in trade and strove industriously against each other to build bigger and bigger Aku-Aku statues) to a few hundred. By the time the “Western World” “discovered” Easter Island, the natives had forgotten what the statues were even for. //

Twenty-five years ago, they spoke out and they broke out
Of recession and oppression and together they [toked].
And they [folked out with guitars around a bonfire],

// With guitars around a bonfire is the other lightning lyric that struck me. For some reason, the “love attack” and the indictment of the 60’s activists turned establishment sell-outs was pretty powerful for me. I am afraid that I and my fellow Gen Xers are on the road to the same fate. //

Just singin’ and clappin’. Man, what the hell happened?!?

Then some were [spell]bound, some were [hell]bound,
[Some they fell down], and some got back up, and
[Fought] back ‘gainst the [melt] down.
And their [kids] were hippie chicks – [All hypocrites!]

// I didn’t hear “All hypocrites!” I had to read it. And it heightens the indictment. //

Because [fashion] is [smashin’ the true] meaning of it.

// This lyric, which echoes the earlier lyric on fashion, is the two ends of the spectrum. Earlier “the passion” for a better world was like fashion – it was sweeping popular culture. Now fashion is subverting the movement: instead of having meaning, it’s just dressing up. And, for the most part, that’s what the 60’s are to us. It’s the time when people wore bell bottoms, had long hair, and wore peace symbols. Oh… yeah… And they smoked marijuana. When I was a kid living in Wellington, KS, there was a story about a 60’s dress up day in Johnson County, and several of the kids had mistakenly made these posters for world peace with Mercedes-Benz logos on them. Now I’m living in Johnson County, and I’m raising a couple of those kids. The only way I could heighten the irony is if I owned a Mercedes-Benz. (Oh, Lord, won’t ya give me…) //

[Repeat Chorus]

It ain’t no joke when a mama’s [handkerchief] (pillowcase) is soaked
With her tears because her baby’s life has been revoked.
The bond is broke up (broken) [so choke up], and [focus on the close up],
[Mr. Wizard] can’t (reform) [perform no godlike hocus-pocus].

// Mr. Wizard (another TV character) can’t fix it. And it can’t be fixed in a 30 minute sit-com format. It’s up to us.

At 2:10 in the video, the scene is an allusion to the Grease drag scene, but here Smash Mouth is racing a boomer couple. The meaning here seems to be we are in a race with the boomers, trying to out boom the boomers. Or the boomers are trying to relive their younger days. In either case, there are posers on both sides of the contest.

Another interpretation of this scene came to me as I was listening to Rocky Mountain High by John Denver. There is a lyric in one of the verses, “They say that he got crazy once, and he tried to touch the sun.” And that reminded me of the Flight of Icarus, both the myth and the song by Iron Maiden. (Iron Maiden’s lyrics are, “Fly, on your way, like an eagle. Fly. Touch the sun.” And Iron Maiden has a twist on the story, in the final stanza, “Now he knows his father betrayed, as his wings turn to ashes, to ashes and flame,” which is parallel to the scene here.”) This made me think that our reliance on fossil fuels is like Icarus’s reliance on his wings. They work great as an escape vehicle; but if you want to fly to the sun, you’re going to need some other form of transport. Hubris! //

So don’t sit back, [kick back], and watch the world get bushwhacked.
[News at 10:00] Your neighborhood is under attack!
Put away the [crap before the crack] puts you away.
You need to be there when your baby’s old enough to relate!

// I like the irony that the news (from the television, which also brings us advertising) is telling us that our neighborhood is in trouble. Wouldn’t we know that if we looked out the window? The “focus on the close up” jibe in the prior stanza points out that we are more likely to be voyeurs than activists. //

[Repeat Chorus]
You might as well be walkin’ on the sun. (Repeat x 3)

// And at the end of the video, Smash Moth is laid out on the highway. You can only guess that there was a terrible wreck. Did the boomers survive? I don’t know for sure, but I think they did. They survived for the time being. (No one gets out of here alive.) And they survived by cutting off their noses; by wrecking the car of their progeny. In any case, Smash Mouth plays on, nearly lifeless, flat on their backs on the asphalt highway. And the highway, itself a petroleum product, is a gift from the dinosaurs. They play on, but they may as well be walking on the sun or whistling past the graveyard. They will soon reach their ultimate destination.

I used to be all ate up about global warming. I still am, but now it is more like a closet anxiety. Now, this inconvenient truth is something I try to ignore and forget about. For two years, at the turn of the century, I mowed my yard with a reel (push-power) mower. It was hard work, but it was satisfying, quiet, and fairly clean. I got a lot of questions about it. I tried to set a trend. But it turned out to be mostly hard work. And after a few weekends of slacking off and choosing the fossil-fuel-powered mower, it has become my default (almost no-thought) choice. As I’m pushing my lawnmower (hey, having a green lawn is in fashion) I’m also thinking, “I might as well be walking on the sun.” So what to do in the meantime? Run a marathon? Maybe write a novel?

I feel like I have caught a glimpse of the beast in The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats as it slouches toward Bethlehem. And it is frightening, and I want to turn away. But another part of me wants to really see it and to help other people see it as well.

I distinctly remember leading a class on global warming at my church, Grace Covenant Presbyterian (USA). And I remember praying that a lot of people would come. And they did. At the end, a person asked me what they should do. And I pointed out the 10 things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. But instead, now, I wish I had said, “Follow me.” And I wish I could lead us to a better place, somewhere flowing with sustainable, organic milk and honey.

I like to think I am one of the “best” (and brightest) but I stand accused by Yeats of lacking all conviction. And I confess. It’s true. I am full of passion, but I lack conviction. O God, convict me. //

So don’t delay. Act now! (Fossil-fuel) supplies are runnin’ out. (In about 50 years, they’ll be gone.)
Allow, if you’re still alive, 60 to 80 years (for your great-grand children) to arrive.
And if you follow (Jesus), there may be a tomorrow.
But if the offer’s shunned, you might as well be walkin’ on the sun.
Might as well be walkin’ on the sun
Might as well be walkin’ on the sun.
Might as well be walkin’ on (a desert highway straight to the heart of) the sun.

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