Did you ever hear a song that perfectly represents your aspirations? For me, that song is “Simple Living,” written by Massachusetts’ own Fred Small.
Small is now a Unitarian minister in Cambridge and a climate activist (a link to his latest song is at the end of this post). He recorded “Simple Living” in 1991, when he was a singer/songwriter with a flair for topical issues.
The song begins with a recitation of the distractions and excesses of modern life, and his frustration that he can’t get beyond them:
“Too many words, too many sounds
Too many attractions turn me around
Too many miles in a chrome cocoon
I can’t get anywhere; I can’t see the moon
Too many commercials, too many lies
Too many celebrities I don’t recognize
Too many brand names, too many magazines
I got so much sensation I can’t feel a thing.”
Then we hear stirrings of Small’s future advocacy of a transition to a fossil-fuel-free economy:
“Too many things we just throw away
If we put it in the garbage, we’re gonna eat it someday
We turn on the lights and a river dies
We turn the TV on to see an eagle fly.”
Small then turns to the meaninglessness of many people’s jobs, and their yearning for connectedness:
“Too much work with nothing to do
Too many dreams that never come true
Too much hurting without a second glance
Too much desperation they call romance.”
Small changes his perspective to conclude the song, focusing not on the alienation of modern life but on how he plans to get beyond it. He wants to concentrate on real relationships with people, opening himself up to nature and the oneness of humanity:
“Gonna take this life, pare it to the bone
Baby when you knock, baby I’ll be home
I’ll make my breakfast, sweep the floor
Open the window, unlock the door
Turn off the video, the audio too
Open my eyes, take in the view
See the divine in the veins of a leaf
In the hands of a beggar, in the eyes of a thief.”
Almost 25 years after he recorded “Simple Living,” Small has adapted an old sea shanty for the movement to encourage Harvard and other institutions to divest their stocks and bonds in fossil fuel companies. “Leave It in the Ground” refers to the imperative that we can’t dig up all the coal, oil and gas that the companies have identified, if we want to avert a climate catastrophe. The photo shows him in his minister’s robes.
My favorite Fred Small albums are titled “I Will Stand Fast” and “No Limit.” The former addresses South African apartheid and the rescue of Danish Jews in 1943. The latter includes “Everything Possible,” perhaps Small’s best-known song, and one about a big-time college basketball coach who quits to become a school bus driver.