Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thoughts on "My Sweet Lord"

I had George's All Things Must Pass regularly playing in the car a couple weeks back, and it delivered as usual. I realize I'm hardly breaking new ground when I say it's his finest work. That seems obvious enough as the album boasts a very accomplished level of songwriting. And the kind of songs George was composing at the time - loose, warm, and free-spirited folk-rock -, combined with the album's prolific 6-side length, makes for a most inviting feel: George is beckoning us to commune with him and share in this bounteous wealth of music. We, of course, happily comply. Is All Things Must Pass too long? Yes. But that shagginess is part of its rich charm.

Another uncontroversial statement: "My Sweet Lord," George's beaming pop hymn to the Hindu god Krishna, is the album's high point. Like many others, I've felt this way since the first time that I listened to All Things Must Pass. It's the clear standout. Only in the last few weeks, though, have I come to truly understand (or so I think, anyway) the song's appeal beyond its lush and hypnotic sonics. For the longest time, the essence of the lyric eluded me. What didn't register was the exact tone of his words. And that is, George is avowing not mere spiritual devotion to Krishna but a deep tenderness for him: "I really want to see you/Really want to be with you." It almost amounts to a lover's affection (minus the sexual dimension, I should add). George desires to embrace, and be embraced by, his "sweet lord." He wants to feel the sense of completeness or fulfillment that close companionship can bring and that spiritual pursuits often have as their aim. He wants to meet his dear friend, and what seems to be driving him is an earnest, child-like love. This sentiment, delivered so sincerely, gives the song its beating heart.

Maybe a childhood filled with Christian church-going helps to explain why I find this so noteworthy. In my youth, I came across many hymns (which is, in part, what I'm approaching "My Sweet Lord" as), and they usually entailed confessions of faith or expressions of praise to God. Love, of course, is an essential element of this, but it's a love more rooted in reverence and thanks. From my experience, affection of the kind that George gives voice to on "My Sweet Lord" doesn't play much of a role in these hymns. Hence its striking quality for me.

Now maybe I'm mischaracterizing Christian hymns, or maybe I'm not familiar with a sufficiently wide range of them to comment like this. Maybe my comparison of a Krishna-celebrating pop hit from the '70s and Christian songs of worship is just too inexact to yield useful insights. I'm not sure. Either way, I'll stand by my central point: the yearning affection that George imparts on "My Sweet Lord" makes something divinely touching out of a mere pop song. And its power is only enhanced by how simple and plainly stated it is.

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