October 20, 2005

"From a Distance"
Performed by Bette Midler
Original Text and Music by Julie Gold
Recorded by Atlantic Records, 1990

I have the utmost respect for The Divine Miss M, especially considering the tongue no one evidently saw in her cheek when she released the above-titled single.  In fact, I was shocked that no one got the inside joke and everyone took the song as a sweet, life-affirming, kum-ba-ya type song.

All one has to do is look at the lyrics objectively to find the truth behind the song.  In fact, I am highly amused to see that it is featured at christianbook.com, proving that if a song sings sweetly enough and has the words "God is watching us" in it, no one bothers to pay attention to the words they are mouthing.  The song won A GRAMMY in 1990 for Best Song!  I think that's pretty great too because it proves NO ONE GETS THE JOKE! 

This is as funny as when George Bush stupidly used "Born in the USA" as his campaign song when a good bit of the song is bashing the US.  Someone might have wanted to advise him on that one.

I had to walk you guys through the interpretation of "Puff the Magic Dragon" to show you what it was really about.  You can do this one yourself if I give you one little key, which is at the bottom half of the column.  Remember, perspective is everything, whether it is the perspective of being "from a distance" or the perspective of how people look (or evidently in this case, don't look) at a song.  Here are your lyrics:

From a distance the world looks blue and green,
and the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream,
and the eagle takes to flight.

From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
It's the voice of hope, it's the voice of peace,
it's the voice of every man.

From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.

From a distance we are instruments
marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They're the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.

From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all this fighting is for.

From a distance there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
And it's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves,
it's the heart of every man.

It's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves.
This is the song of every man.
And God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us from a distance.
Oh, God is watching us, God is watching.
God is watching us from a distance.

Pretty, isn't it?  But think about what it is saying.  From a distance, everything looks beautiful.  We have no wants or needs.  There is no hunger.  Enemies are actually friends.   No one is sick.  Everyone is at peace.  All is so eye-tearing-upingly sweet.  Then immediately, it says, "God is watching us from a distance."  God is watching us from a distance.  That means that God sees our lives as perfect and tranquil.  That means that as far as God's perspective goes, we have no needs, we are a peaceful people, none of us are hungry, none of us are sick.

It can't really lay it out there any more clearly.  The structure of the song is very deliberate.  It describes exactly what we look like from a distance (which is idyllic to the point that we all know it isn't), then turns right around and states, "oh and God is watching us from a distance."  That's pretty specific. 

So basically, the whole song is a slam on God, saying that God is not "hands on" and does not know how the world really is.  It says because God is unaware of our needs and sees the world in jaded perfection, that no help is coming and God is just bopping away up there, thinking all is well and marveling at this amazing creation of Earth rather than becoming involved in the problems that exist.   You can't fix what you don't acknowledge and you can't acknowledge what you refuse to see.

Back in the first Gulf War, Desert Shield, tapes of school children singing this song, unwittingly conveying a message of a distant, uncaring God, were sent to the soldiers who were stationed in Saudi Arabia.  How's that for an "up yours?"

"A Person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals."
Agent K from "Men in Black"

I would amend that to say, "A person is smart.  People are dumb."  When one or ten of them have a thought about something, regardless of how short-sighted and incorrect the thought might be, others will latch onto the thought in droves without thinking much about it or really listening to what's being said.  That's how politicians are elected despite very obvious and scary agendas they spout in their campaign speeches.  Like Hitler, they can make anything sound good just by putting it to a nice, catchy tune.  Listen to the words, people, not the lilting music.

All the best,

Puff the Magic Dragon