Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bette Midler's "From a Distance"-- What does it mean?

The other day I saw Bette Midler interviewed on CBS Morning News about her new Christmas album. Why would a funky, brazen, wonderful Jewish woman like Bette Midler put out a Christmas album? Well, she said, with 500 other Christmas albums out there, she thought her fans might like one, too. Now, isn’t that a display of a positive attitude if there ever was one. Watching and listening to Bette on CBS was an inspiration. Here is a woman bold enough to be herself, no apologies. She even likes dirty jokes and admitted it on national television!

The first time Bette was recognized for her singing was at a school contest singing “Silent Night.” She was a little nervous to tell her mother that she won the contest, though, because “Silent Night” was not in her family’s “repertoire of songs.” She did tell her mother, however, and what was her mom’s reaction? Pure pride! I was so impressed by the interview that I succumbed to commercialism and bought the CD within twenty- four hours. It is an enjoyable repertoire of Christmas songs with a special flair of Bette’s individualism. A spunky Jewish woman recording a Christmas CD reflects what is best about America – our freedom of religion and appreciation for one another’s cultures.

I was touched by the revised Christmas version of “From a Distance.” When I heard the words,
“From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I can't comprehend
What all this war is for”

I interpreted it to be a message about our common humanity, a message for hope and peace. Now that I think more about it, though, I am wondering about that interpretation. Is the song also suggesting that if you get a little closer, it will be clear that you are not my friend and war makes sense? According to wikipedia, “Somewhat ironically, much of the song's popularity coincided with the first Persian Gulf War. It received a "Minute Man Award" from the United States Army for inspiring the troops and a "Seven Seals Award" from the Department of Defense.” So now, I’m wondering, is it “ironic” that it’s being released again during another war in the Persian Gulf? Is Bette being nostalgic? Capitalizing on an opportunity? Trying to support the troops? Participating in the propaganda machine? Or simply just being herself?


Anonymous said...

Like John Lennon's "Imagine", Bette Midler's "From A Distance" evokes a world of peace and justice. The song envisions a time of "no guns", of "playing songs of peace", and in which there would be "no mouths to feed". The "God is watching us" theme suggests that those who violate these idyllic aspirations might one day face some kind of divine judgment.

In any event, the fact that the Army gave this clearly pacifistic song some special commendation reflects the hypocrisy of the military rather than any devilment on the part of Miss Midler. At least one would like to think so.

Anonymous said...

One must remember the writer of "From A Distance" would have the reader/listener to interpret the poem/song in their own way. Surely Bette knows this.