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March 23, 2007 | HARMLESS UNTRUTHS

I want to believe

All of the best things in life are silly. Most of the reasons to keep on living are absurd. The most striking and touching and humbling parts of human existence make no sense whatsoever. We’re all irrational, stumbling through life, bumping up against one another and muddling through. It’s pretty awesome, in both the slangy meaning of the term and in the sense of “inspiring awe.”

We find power and majesty in the unlikeliest places, and I reckon it doesn’t really matter where your source of inspiration lies. Many people find it in religion, and I am okay with that: our species isn’t likely to come up with many stories more lovely or stirring than the ones we’ve inherited from our religious traditions. Another good, and related, source is nature, staring at the sky, breathing in the wind, touching the earth.

Me, I am overwhelmed to the point of tears sometimes by our ability to stand up for our silly principles in the face of all the odds out there. We keep making art, we keep falling in love, we keep believing in each other regardless of all the world’s evils. We have this human dignity and we keep insisting that it matters, despite a world of genocide and terror, despite a system of corruption and greed, despite all the rational facts that the economists and the Republicans and the libertarians know. Somehow, we, well… we don’t stop believing .

Today I have been listening to the new Ted Leo album , Living with the Living . I bought it yesterday (making me a bit nostalgic for those days when I used to purchase actual physical CDs much more often) and it came with a bonus EP, and the bonus EP included this song called “Rappaport’s Testament: I Never Gave Up”.

And today at work I have listened to this song over and over. It appeals to me in so many ways I can hardly express it. The song is a cover, originally written by the English anarchist punk band Chumbawamba. I have never given Chumbawamba much of a fair shake, though I know they are politically pretty interesting, but that “Tubthumping” song really ruined them for me. But Ted Leo seems to find his inspiration in every part of rock and roll, he seems to really believe in rock to a level that becomes pretty silly and insane and utterly transfixing. So I looked up the lyrics to find out more about this song.

Turns out that “Rappaport’s Testament” is based upon a story by Primo Levi in Moments of Reprieve , a tale of Auschwitz. I don’t know the context — I’ll read it someday — but it is simply beautiful as a testament to human dignity. Even in the most insane and horrendous of circumstances, we still have this innate humanity, and we don’t have to ever give it up.

I’m note sure if Rappaport was a real person or a composite or completely fictional, but it doesn’t matter. I still feel overwhelmed by the fact that I can be sitting and listening to this cry from the heart and feel so connected to all these fellow amazing humans… to Ted Leo, to Chumbawamba, to Primo Levi, to the victims of the Holocaust. We’re so closely connected, and we can all stand together, and never give up. I’m inspired, and moved.

And next week when Ted and the Pharmacists come to town, I will hope that they play “Rappaport’s Testament” to give me something to think deeply about while I rock out.

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Here are the lyrics:

If you survive me
Tell them this
If you survive me
Tell them this

Almost as if I was planning ahead
I danced, I drank, I made love
I learned to scrape for whatever I could
I never asked for pity and I never gave up

If you survive me
Tell them this
If you survive me
Tell them this

For twenty months I kept accounts
And in the end they’ll balance out
Sometimes I vomit happy memories
Sometimes I laugh out loud just to crack my face

If you survive me
Tell them this
If you survive me
Tell them this

And if I met Hitler in the other place
I’d spit this precious soup right in his face
And all my accounts’d be settled, you see
’Cause Hitler never ever got the better of me

If you survive me
Tell them this
If you survive me
Tell them this

I never gave up
I never gave up
I crawled in the mud but I never gave up