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Spirit in the Songs 1: "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" by Weezer

Disclaimer: The ideas about these songs are not necessarily in conjuction with the intended meaning of the artist.  My aim is rather to show that the Holy Spirit can even move worldly people to proclaim truth, whether they know it or not.

Stirred by this guy, I will begin a series on the blog called Spirit in the Songs were I analyze songs of the variety that are popular, unpopular, semi-popular, but never totally unknown.  My aim 

It seems appropriate that the first song is by my favorite band of all time, Weezer.  Rivers Cuomo and company have had my heart since the first time I heard “El Scorcho” in ’96.  Instead of going to the first album of classic ’90’s rock hits I rather turn to their somewhat maligned third self-titled album affectionately called the Red Album because of its … red cover.  The second song on the album has the epic proportions of “Only in Dreams” from the Blue Album.  Here we come to “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn).”  You can find the song here on youtube.  Hit play and come back here.  


The California quartet creates an anthology of music in one song.  A commentator on Youtube recognizes 13 different styles of music in five minutes and fifty-two seconds.  Its use of reverb gives it the expanse, and the variations on the melody keeps such an ADD song together.  

The intro gives the impression of a live track.  The melody is introduced by a single piano, before being replaced a geek version of rap rock.  This is replaced by sincere melodic and harmonic tunes accompanied by an acoustic guitar.  This seamlessly moves into a Queen bridge.  Quintessential Weezer finally comes in the crying lyrics and crunch guitars.  They turn to 50’s swing only to move to Pinkerton-esque crunch and vocals.  Rivers, then, speaks his mind and tells the story of the main character.  Then, we enter into a cappella, church style rounds on the melody.  Crunch returns to reintroduce Weezer.  The song ends like it would end live.  


What I love about this song is that is a satire.  It is making fun of somebody who is totally full of himself, and by using all these different styles of music, it shows that pride extends over all boundaries.  It doesn’t matter what music you listen to or make, for that matter, there is someone like The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.

You try to play cool like you just don’t care
But soon I’ll be playin in your underwear
I’m like a mage with a magic spell
You come like a dog when I ring your bell

I’ve got the money and I’ve got the fame
You got the hots to ride on my plane
You giving me all that I desire
Cause down with me I’m taking you higher

This is the rap portion of the song.  Rivers seems to want to play out a few things in this.  First, a pimp feels he has all of the power over women because he uses them.  In fact he is bound by his desire.  A prideful man can imagine himself as having power over someone through some sort of magic.  These spells and potions are fortune and fame.  They cast the eye away from the dark reality that this man is indeed nothing but a mangy worm, a speck of dust, a blade of grass that grows in the morning and by evening withers and fades.  This irony is played out by the cocky way that the lyrics delivered.  

I’m the baddest of the bad
I’m the best that you’ve ever had
I’m the top; I’m the king
All the girls get up when I sing, yeah

I’m the meanest in the place
Step up I’ll mess with your face
I don’t care where you are
Look up and follow the star

Notice the childish lyrics.  Their almost sophmoric to a fault.  To me, this brings out that pride is not beauty; it is only worried about communicating it’s own sense of power.  A truly prideful man sees himself as higher than all others, the veritable king of his world.  All follow him, either out of desire (all the girls get up when I sing) or out of fear (I’m the meanest in the place/ step up I’ll mess with your face).  He sees himself even as angelic.  Plato saw stars as separate beings who guide those on earth.  Some have interpreted that as a philosophical insight into angels.  Stars = angels, if you want to think of it in that way.  Even if you don’t, angels live in heaven, a physical analogy could be that of the stars that dwell in the heavens.  They accompany the light of the sun to shine on the earth.  Nonetheless, the prideful man can find himself comparing himself to the higher being of an angel. 

I’m gonna tear down the wall
I may not be here when you call
So best be giving me your all

I grant that what I’m about to say is probably a large stretch from Rivers’ intended meaning, but follow me on the idea of the prideful man.  The prideful man can even at times find himself calling himself Jesus who walks through walls, ascends from view, and asked his disciples for their lives (cf. Jn 21).  The prideful man can think himself God incarnate.  

After the Havoc that I’m gonna wreak
No more words will critics have to speak
I’ve got the answers to the tangled knot
Sleep tight in your cot

The prideful man is always trying to set himself apart from his peers.  This is not only physically, but mentally as well.  Many ideas, plans, contrivances, etc. have come from prideful men.  These things are promised to give man peace of mind, free from confusion (tangled knot) and worry (a good night’s rest).  Whether these ideas, plans, etc. are helpful to man are unimportant as long as they highlight the brilliance of the prideful man.

Oh baby, I’ve been told that I’ve gone crazy
Oh baby, I can’t be held down
Oh baby, somehow I’m keeping it steady
Oh baby, I’m tearing up this town

Hey this is what I like
Cut my heart with a modest cry
Hey this is nothing new
Ive got more than enough for you

I can take on anybody
I can do my thing
I dont wanna hurt nobody but 
a bee has got to sting

Im’a fix it if you mix it up
hoot hooo
Talk smack and Im’a gonna shut you up
hoot hooo

I am the greatest man that ever lived
I was born to give
I am the greatest man that ever lived
Ohh radioactive

Somebody said all the world is a stage 
and each of us is a player
that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you

In ACT I, I was struggling to survive
nobody wanted my action dead or alive

In ACT II, I hit the big time
and bodies be all up on my behind
and I cant help myself
cause I was born to shine

If you dont like it, you can shove it
But you dont like it, you love it

So I’ll be up here all in a rage
Til they bring the curtain down on this stage

I’m the greatest man that ever lived

I am the greatest man that ever lived
I was born to give and give and give
I am the greatest man that ever lived
radio – active

I am the greatest man that ever lived
I was born to give

About Fr. Kyle

I am a priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I was born and raised right outside New Orleans. I attended Catholic school my entire educational career. By the time I graduated high school, I had two paths to choose: rockstar or priesthood. I pursued both for awhile but eventually came to the understanding God's will was priesthood and my will was rockstardom. After making that decision, to allow God's will to be mine, I needed a new way to channel my creativity. I began writing as I finished up my formation for priesthood. I still play music, but priestly ministry comes first. My bride: St. Rita of Cascia Parish in Harahan, LA.

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