Subversive Lyrics

As some of you may know, I recently returned from a sweet trip to visit friends in Shanghai.

Lots of late night biking around the section of Shanghai formerly known as the French Concession, fresh fruits and vegetables on sale everywhere (as well as turtles, frogs, fish, and much, much more…) and music.

One of my friends is a wonderful composer, jazz pianist, and teacher. He and his family have been living in Shanghai for seven years, and a couple of years ago he started teaching music in the school his younger child attends.

I was able to visit some of his classes and was happy to see — and hear — how much his students love to sing.

We even taught them a song that my friend and I had written together (back when he lived with his grand piano above an ice cream shop in Allston, MA) called “Let’s Go To The River.”

They learned it immediately, and sang it with great gusto.

I was delighted.

A few days after I returned home to Boston, when it looked like my friend’s primary vocal ensemble might be participating in a VIP concert for the mayor of Shanghai, two of China’s top conductors came to hear his choir sing.

They listened to three pop/rock/show tunes, responded warmly, and asked, “what else do you have?”

My friend projected the lyrics for “Let’s Go to The River” up on a screen at the front of his classroom, and his choir performed a rousing version for them.

After class, the conductors stayed to talk about having his choir participate in the upcoming concert. One of the maestros tactfully talked about the importance of choosing songs with lyrics that would be totally apolitical. He suggested “What a Wonderful World,” my friend suggested “Singing in the Rain,” and they decided that a song in Chinese would be great, too.

The maestro again reinforced the necessity of choosing lyrics with an eye to political sensitivity.

My friend didn’t think too much about the maestro’s remarks until they left — and he went back into his classroom and saw my lyrics still up on the screen.

The two conductors had had a lot of time to study the message of “Let’s Go to the River,” and my friend realized that it may have made them nervous that he was teaching such ‘subversive’ messages to primary school students AND might try to go public with such a message.

I have typed the lyrics below.

Perhaps they are a bit subversive for our ever-more-wired-and-plugged-in-and-distracted culture in the United Stated of America, too!

Let’s Go To The River

What a day! Let’s go to the river — do something we never have the time to do.

We could say today’s a vacation — a small invitation to wander away.

Leave your phone, your fax, and your datebook…

Yeah, even that great book you never seem to read.

Spread your wings and slide out a window — wherever the wind blows, catch a ride.

Can we be without an agenda? Nothing to remember, deliver, or to do.

It’s okay!

The pavement is humming, and there’s different drumming all along the way.

Right away our energy’s rising; no analyzing what we need to do.

We’re on our way to whatever may happen — a tisket, a tasket — and it doesn’t have to rhyme.

Pick up a papaya, instead of a sixpack.

Dance among the plants.

Just decide; today’s an adventure — zip zap bodilee doh doo day.

Break a routine,

Go fly a kite,

Take a deep breath,

And jump in a lake!