How Awesome Would ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ Mashup With ‘Amazing Grace’

Harlem Gospel Choir Band Aid

Today’s actual Daily Prompt is art of blogging adjacent

You’re asked to recite a poem (or song lyrics) from memory — what’s the first one that comes to mind? Does it have a special meaning, or is there another reason it has stayed, intact, in your mind?

Two songs come to mind, both for nostalgic reasons.

First, Amazing Grace which we sang quite a bit in the Catholic Church. As you know, Catholics are infamous for a 2 verse maximum especially during the Recessional hymn so I have no idea how I learned the entire song. It was probably either when I was dabbling in charismatic Catholic stuff or when I was living in Kentucky among hundreds of non-denomination Christians who sang for all they were worth.

This song resonates with me because of the line most oft changed by modern theology “saved a wretch like me.” Being Catholic, I was imbued with a sense of Original Sin and the need to earn my way to heaven (versus Salvation.) No matter how many Baptist friends I had, I could not accept the notion that some people were saved and others were not or that being saved was a state of permanence achieved by allowing Jesus into our lives. That still seems ridiculous to me while there is so much suffering in the world.

The second song that comes to mind is “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” written and recorded in 1984 by Band-Aid. Keep in mind, I was 14 years old and struggling to make sense of chaos in my immediate world. I was very taken with the notion of so many very important famous people – my pop culture touchstones – coming together to do good. I bought the 45 and memorized that song very quickly.

I was a struggling child in a predominantly lower middle class white world, but not a stupid child. I had read and read and read. I knew intuitively that the lyrics were not right. I know that plenty of rivers flowed in Africa, I knew that plenty of things grew in Africa, I know that African was a vast continent – not a single country. I also knew that many people in Africa weren’t Christian so they would not experience a woeful Christmas.

I was obsessed with the cultural implications of the song, of the act of so many people setting aside their differences to do good in the world – that’s how naive I was. I was sure they all recorded at the same time which seemed miraculous to me. I was sure they were all transformed by the magic of the Christmas spirit and going to do even more good.

As I aged and began to learn about colonialism, racism and the two-thirds world, my affection for the song became more nostalgia driven. I wanted people to do things like that – to collaborate and help. To have an impact. To make Christmas real as a lived experience, not as a pop culture dabble.

As much as I love Bono, I had the most difficulty with his line “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” That always got me tied up in knots inside. What? Who says that? And that line really resonated with me to make me think about privilege when I encountered the concept in the early 1990’s. Privilege is thanking God it’s them instead of you. That shocked me, but it helped me make sense of why the song resonated both as a child growing up in a blue collar Catholic family and as an adult struggling to unpack all of those lessons. I’ve come  along way from “OMG I love this song” squeals at Century III Mall when this came on the radio 30 years ago.

The song is problematic on many other levels. There are few artists of color or female artists involved beyond singing in the chorus. The “poor people” images used in the advertising. The deciders who invested the profits. The way we forgot all about it the next month. Etc. Etc. Ironically the things that made it a commercial success reflect all of the things that are wrong with how we respond to humanitarian crisis.

Amazing Grace is a personal transformative experience being shared with the wider world who are invited to participate. Do They Know It’s Christmas is merely a transaction experience where a branded tee-shirt alleviates suffering of the person who bought it.

I wonder what a mashup of these songs would sound like?

 

 

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