Martina McBride’s new cd includes what is perhaps my favorite song right now: “Anyway.” It begins:
You can spend your whole life building
Something from nothin’
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway
You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway
God is great
But sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray
It doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway
And then the last verse, which I imagine every singer and songwriter must have memorized as a mantra:
You can pour your soul out singing
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway.
Of course as with all good music, the song sits flaccid and unremarkable on the page, the lyrics sheared from the music. But the score here is pitch perfect, the arrangement patient and restrained, right up until the moment (in the chorus) when it isn’t, and shouldn’t be.
The melody in the verse stays within a very narrow tonal range so that McBride’s voice in that final line settles down on the one of chord so insistently and meditatively that build it anyway is not so much a command or the expression of a wish but a moral, an existential imperative, a prayer breathed aloud – defiant but quietly, beautifully so. Short of quiescence and despair, there’s nothing left to do but build, dream, sing, hope, love …. do it all anyway, against the evidence of experience sometimes.
The chorus opens the song up expressively: God. Is. Great. … Each word moving up from V chord toward the I in a higher register than the verse. This widens the song’s tonal (and emotional) range and creates a sense of urgency to the lyric’s description of what is essentially a basic paradox of life: we hope and scheme and dream and pray and things still don’t always turn out like we think they should. There’s not much figuring it out; it simply must be accepted. We persevere in hope, in faith, in belief of better days born of a power we might not be able to find in ourselves at the moment but that we trust in all the same … and act accordingly, trustingly, hopefully.
When you think about it, a song like this is spiritually very close kin to gospel music in its insistence on the compensations of grace to relieve and minister to the weary souled (indeed, several songs on the McBride album suggest this kinship). We persist, the song suggests, not because we fail, but despite and in defiance of our failure, in repudiation of it – our persistence itself a testament to the forgivability of human shortcomings and backslidings and reversals of fortune (whether self-induced or not). And if you can get that, if you can accept it and inhabit it (and when I say you, I mean me, we, all of us, because I’m at best an apprentice of this truth), then you can possess the grace necessary to survive, thrive, and maybe take hold of your own measure of sustaining happiness.
Update: Reader Mickey points out a crucial bit of context I missed here … that McBride’s lyric was inspired by a Mother Teresa verse. Due respect to the dearly departed mother, I find McBride’s lyric much more affecting than its inspiration. But no matter. Hat tip, Mickey.Email this Post