Hijacking Pop Songs

Today I posted this to my facebook profile:

The amount of emotion spent in pop song lyrics makes the US-Government’s famed “five thousand dollar hammers” look thrifty.

I think pop songs are a lot like sports. Take soccer. What the hell is that, really? What is a soccer ball? What is a field? What is a net and a goal? Very very little really. But people playing the game try like madmen, almost as if their very lives were at stake, to take the ball from one another and get it into the goal. Really there is no value in the ball or the goal, but we all agree to pretend that there is so we can have fun.

That’s what the entire world is, really. Everything here is certainly vanishing and disintegrating, and so none of it really has any monumental significance. But we all agree to pretend that everything is really significant and meaningful, so we can have fun.

Thus you get the glut of pop songs, with people singing their lungs out like their hearts are about to explode.

What’s a transcendentalist to do???

We still find ourselves watching soccer and singing pop songs, and awed by the outpouring of spontaneous emotion in both the audience and the performers of these things. If someone wants to transcend the littleness and impermanence of the world, what to do?

Well, sure, sing “non-pop” songs.

But that’s not so easy, because most of those “non-pop” and spiritually aware songs are in other languages, like Bengali and Sanskrit, and with other cultural metaphors that we can’t easily relate to.

Here’s three suggestions for the spiritualist who can’t get “I can see your Halo, Halo, Halo” out of their head:

  1. When you find a culture and tradition that seems to have good non-pop songs (for example Bengali and classical Sanskrit culture), learn as much as you can of those languages, and of the metaphors relevant to those cultures.
  2. Write non-pop songs in English (or find the more obscure ones that already exist and have some artistic or lyrical quality that we can relate to.)
  3. Hijack the pop songs – changing the beloved from an illusion to a reality

“You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running to see you again.” It’s not too hard to hijack this stuff if you are fortunate enough to have the wealth of a Personalist spiritual theism.

All the sudden, it dawned on me that hijacking a pop song is exactly what the 15th century pioneer of Radha-Krishna bhakti, Sri Caitanya “Mahaprabhu” did.

Mahaprabhu Hijacks Pop

350s13kIt was during the famous Jaganath Puri Ratha Yatra. Mahaprabhu was dancing constantly in an extreme expression of incredibly beautiful divine emotion. Thousands of people were watching him, awestruck. All of the sudden he lifts up his arms and begins singing… A ROMANTIC POP SONG!

Most all the onlookers and even his close associates were just completely baffled.

Only two people got it: Svarupa Damodara and Sri Rupa. Svarupa Damodara, however, didn’t explain it to anyone as far as I know. But Sri Rupa went home to his cottage and wrote a new song changing the original themes of the pop song. When Mahaprabhu read this verse, his heart melted and he hugged Sri Rupa tightly and blessed him completely. Because of this Sri Rupa is described as “sri-caitanya-mano-‘bhishtam” (The one who deeply understands Mahaprabhu’s heart and mind).

Sanskrit Pop

The original pop song went like this [yeah, there’s also tons of romantic pop in Sanskrit too, its not just used for Upanishads, guys]:

yaḥ kaumāra-haraḥ sa eva hi varas tā eva caitra-kṣapās
te conmīlita-mālatī-surabhayaḥ prauḍhāḥ kadambānilāḥ
sā caivāsmi tathāpi tatra surata-vyāpāra-līlā-vidhau
revā-rodhasi vetasī-taru-tale cetaḥ samutkaṇṭhate

It is he, certainly, yes, the lover who took my youth during those spring nights
Amidst the scent of blossoming jasmine and kadamba flowers
And it is I, the very same girl…
But still, I very eagerly want to return to those dear moments
on the bank of the Reva River, under the Vetasi tree.

Mahaprabhu hijacked this song to fan and express his spiritual emotions. But nobody really knew exactly why, and just what the heck he was feeling in this song. Until Sri Rupa made it clear to all, by transforming it…

Transformed Sanskrit Pop

priyaḥ so ‘yaḿ kṛṣṇaḥ saha-cari kuru-kṣetra-militas
tathāhaḿ sā rādhā tad idam ubhayoḥ sańgama-sukham
tathāpy antaḥ-khelan-madhura-muralī-pañcama-juṣe
mano me kālindī-pulina-vipināya spṛhayati

Here he is, my beloved Krishna, who I am now meeting in Kurukshetra
And here I am, Radha. We are the same two who enjoyed so much pleasure together.
But still, within me I hear the sweet flute sounding the delightfully romantic fifth note
And my mind desires to return to the trees on the banks of the Yamuna

Sri Rupa Goswami Prabhupada ki jai.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ki jai.

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  1. What a refreshing & beautiful article! Can totally resonate. The Book of Odes, oldest compendium of Chinese poetry, consists of a lot of “pop romantic songs” of the day, some hijacked to express divine ecstasy. Music & poetry make the best “bridges.” Thanks for making this come alive for us, Vic.


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