For a few decades now, John Lennon’s “Imagine” has served as a secularist hymn. From the end of The Killing Fields to the post-9/11 America: A Tribute to Heroes broadcast, “Imagine” has been there to tell us that the world could be so much more pleasant if only everyone were inclusive enough to set aside what they believe about God, the afterlife and other trivial matters.
Neil Young played “Imagine” on America: A Tribute to Heroes, and now he’s written a song that could join it in the pantheon of believer-bashing hymns.
Young performed his new song during the Live 8 concert in Toronto on July 2. Weekend Edition Saturday played the song again because, well, let anchor Scott Simon explain it: “One week ago today, at the Live 8 concert in Ontario, Neil Young presented a new song, ‘When God Made Me.’ It was his first performance since suffering a brain aneurysm last spring, and after the events of this week, it seems worth another listen.”
“When God Made Me,” like “Imagine,” is set to a simple and haunting melody played on a piano. Young’s lyrics also are simple — concise but saying a lot, posing questions that also function as accusations. Here’s one stanza:
Was he planning only for believers
Or for those who just have faith?
Did he envision all the wars
That were fought in his name?
Did he say there was only one way
To be close to him?
When God made me
When God made me
If that isn’t enough moral authority for you, the Fisk University Jubilee Choir provided vocal backup and the legendary Spooner Oldham (who played on Bob Dylan’s Saved) offered a brief Hammond B3 solo.
The complete lyrics, and a glowing review of Young’s performance, are available at the Neil Young News blog. You can see a video of Young and the choir performing the song on AOL Music’s comprehensive Live 8 site (here’s the Toronto page, which also includes the lighthearted “If I Had a Million Dollars” by Barenaked Ladies).
You’ll likely hear “When God Made Me” many times in the coming decades, especially at elementary schools’ winter holiday festivals and weddings that favor vows custom-written by the bride and groom. Enjoy.