Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Regina Spektor – Laughing With

The queen of the quirk returns…


Jonathan Bradley: What if God was one of us, and went around regaling us with witty anecdotes over drinks? That’s not precisely what Spektor means by, “God can be funny at a cocktail party,” but it sure sounds like she’s painting a scene of the big fella swirling a martini and clapping you on the back while he re-enacts that hi-larious Katt Williams routine. True, that tableau is my imagination running wild, but “Laughing With” nonetheless has a whiff of the Joan Osborne about it, albeit not so doctrinal. But in her self-consciously quirky philosophizing, Spektor touches on a real existential dread. Her somber piano and musings on the random cruelty of fate in lines like, “No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests,” don’t deserve a pat conclusion like, “We’re all laughing with God.” Still, if I can accept corn being a part of R&B and sap being a part of country, I will grudgingly tolerate occasional indulgent whimsy in my indie pop.

Chuck Eddy: Thing is, I really don’t expect to give up my agnosticism (which isn’t particularly laughable) in most of the situations Regina mentions. Which she does give some gravity to, I admit, until her time-signatures get all arch and precious and Jiminy Crickety. Which happens a couple of times, unfortunately. But I was Catholic before I lapsed, and I also have to admit I hear church in her keyboard before her words even start. Punchline is clumsy, though.

Ian Mathers: I’m not an atheist, but I can still tell Spektor gets them wrong: they’re not “laughing at” God, they’re not thinking about Him or Her or It or Them at all. And her blunt dichotomy between times when “no-one” laughs at God and when “everyone” does is the kind of conceit that does nothing but goad you into thinking of counter-examples (and there are plenty). This is a strikingly unthinking, deeply facile, maybe even puerile, song, and it ought to offend the religious and the irreligious alike, not least because of Spektor’s pious first-year-undergrad tone.

Frank Kogan: So, everybody thinks of God as, like, Shock And Awe, but what we overlook is His equally strong talent for whimsical juxtaposition. Like that time Tiffany was no. 1 with “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Billy Idol was 2 with “Mony Mony,” or when Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was 15 and Cheap Trick’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was 16, or… there’s another, isn’t there?… oh yes, for fans of LLCJs, when Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam was 1 and LL Cool J was 2. Just hope the Big Fellow knows it’s appreciated.

Chris Boeckmann: Music’s favorite Manic Pixie Dream Girl can still write cute, solid melodies. Unfortunately, she just can’t nail real sadness. And now I’m suffering painful flashbacks.

Edward Okulicz: Half Fiona Apple, half Joan Osborne! Doesn’t even sound like a parody of Regina Spektor, the chorus could almost be a jokeless Nellie McKay. She can’t seriously think this is worthy of her talent, can she?

Matt Cibula: Everyone’s always saying how great Regina Spektor is and how they have crushes on her or the little hats she wears or whatever, so I went into this ready to submit to her quirky charms. But listening to this manipulative sub-Jehovah’s-Witness-Prince crap made me resolve to laugh at God the next time anything goes horribly wrong for me or anyone else, just to prove her wrong. Also if you’re not Baba Yaga stop singing like you’re Baba Yaga dammit.

Dave Moore: Maudlin as fuck, somehow takes the worst of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” (doesn’t seem to understand basic meaning of central conceit) and Joan Osbourne’s “One of Us” (central conceit itself), then erases any semblance of either of those songs’… y’know, song. Instead she just free associates on some of the great cosmic “jokes” in life, which it turns out are the generic tragedies she’s seen in bad public service announcements and sweeps week episodes of “Touched by an Angel.” All to remind us that we’re not laughing at God, we’re laughing with him, maaaaaaaaaan. This song insults me on so many levels — intellectual, emotional, musical (she even throws in some quirky O.A.R. “rap” patter to twist the knife a bit) — it’s kind of breathtaking. Its own cosmic joke, I suppose. And admittedly, life would probably make more sense if it turned out that God was a smug hack singer/songwriter — then I could just kill myself and get it over with.

Martin Kavka: Musically, this is Regina Spektor by numbers. So all the appeal of this song is in its lyrics, which aim at a theological subtlety that Andy Partridge and Sarah McLachan are unable to recognize. Spektor wants us to attend to the ridiculous aspects of religious culture, and imagine ourselves laughing along with God at superficial displays of faith. In this move, we supposedly gain a kind of faith that is unavailable to those who (rightly) criticize the unsatisfactory theodicies that transform suffering into goods. The claim that we can find God through other people’s hypocrisy is a bit more complex than traditional Christian accounts of humor, such as that of Reinhold Niebuhr, who in 1946 described faith as a humor-like response to the “ultimate incongruities of existence that threaten the very meaning of our life.” I’m not sure that Spektor’s move is a good one; it doesn’t escape Niebuhr’s too hasty assumption that atheists must either be unhappy or stupid. But I’m pleased by the post-Bush re-emergence of this kind of theology; perhaps it meets the needs of a culture that is exhausted from war.

Additional Scores

Hillary Brown: [5]
Anthony Easton: [2]
Iain Mew: [2]
Martin Skidmore: [5]
Keane Tzong: [5]

58 Responses to “Regina Spektor – Laughing With”

  1. People, it’s a pop song! Lighten up!!!!! Has it ever occurred to you that the lyrics are just a splurge of silly thoughts without hidden meanings. Stop digging in pop land, if you want spiritual enlightenment, read a heavy book like the bible or koran or whatever.

  2. God, I hate it when people belittle pop music by pretending it couldn’t possibly MEAN anything.

  3. I stumbled on to this conversation while searching for the lyrics to a different song, but began reading the posts. After reading them in their entirety I must admit I am softly laughing to myself. This is a pop song, and if the term God was removed from the lyrics I suspect this post would be seriously smaller and perhaps non-existent. So the issue seems to be with God, and his existence which the lyrics support. I must agree with Tom, if you are looking for meaning or enlightenment you aren’t going to find it in on the top 40 countdown. If you want to know what God is like you should read his published work “Bible”, besides that, this is just another pop song.

  4. I prefer his recorded work “Kid A”

  5. I like this song. The fact remains that NOBODY knows if a God exists or not. People, religious or not, who get “offended” by a song like this have issues. I’m agnostic and unless I see some hard evidence, I’m staying that way. In situations like a trip to the hospital, I allow for the existence of God to make those around me comfortable. If a prayer circle breaks out, I’m in the middle holding hands and bowing my head – not because I think some magical entity will hear us, but rather to keep the patient in a calm state of mind and to show that I’m “pulling for” him/her. I think the “laughing” she’s talking about here really means “disparaging”. The song ends on a different tone in that final line and the meaning sorta shifts. Any laughing that might occur in a terrible situation is the laughter that comes when human fragility is realized and there is nothing to do but admit defeat. Something more powerful than us, whatever it is, has had it’s say and we are at its mercy.

  6. I can’t believe people are actually getting offended by this…obviously these people are not so firm in their beliefs or disbeliefs if a song is gonna offend them so much. To me it doesn’t make sense at all to suggest there isn’t a higher power…This isn’t just another pop song because Regina isn’t just another pop singer…she isn’t one…her lyrics actually mean something. It’s not some song she picked up from a professional lyricist to sing and make money off of

  7. I don’t know why people have such a problem with this song…atleast there are a few Atheists with some intelligence who aren’t turned off by this song because it mentions God

  8. “Regina isn’t just another pop singer…she isn’t one…her lyrics actually mean something”

    Why do you hate pop music?

    I’m not an atheist and I hate this song because it’s bad, sloppy, lazy theology. Also because it’s a crap melody and she has an annoying voice.