Weeds: Louis said it all: It’s a wonderful world
I was somewhere with longtime friend Billy Moran. I can’t remember where, a bar or a ballgame? “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong was playing in the background. Bill offered casually, “This is a great song.” Sometimes it is the role of friends to state obvious things that we have missed. It hit me then as I listened to Armstrong’s soulful crooning: this is a great song.
I’ve never been a fan of oldies. Living through the music of the Seventies once was enough. Before that revelatory moment with Bill, “Wonderful World” was in that category of a thousand songs that are on at malls or dentists’ offices that are aural background. After that, I started picking up on it when I heard it. I put it on my Pandora app, and it came around more often. Now, my mind stops what it’s doing to listen. I sing along with Louis, out loud if I’m on the farm, in my head if I’m in town. It’s become a life’s anthem.
There are many reasons to feel down about the current state of the world. If you can’t find a depressing conversation, you can go online and read the comments to any story and be certain the world is going to hell in a handbag. If you can’t find something bleak or dispiriting, you’re not looking.
But in Armstrong’s simple little song, less than three minutes long, there is full and beautiful reminder that it’s not so bad. Many artists have covered “What a Wonderful World,” and bless them for trying. But the gravelly, lilting voice of Armstrong gives the song a quality that is abiding and eternal.
Louis Armstrong was born at the beginning of the twentieth century in New Orleans. It was a world where slavery may have ended, but America’s freedoms were begrudgingly parsed out to minorities if at all. Armstrong grew up poor, left school at 11, and got in various troubles. Early on his talents with the trumpet had him playing in brass bands and on riverboats.
Armstrong went to become one of the first black performers to cross over to white audiences. “Satchmo” was well known in 1967 when “What a Wonderful World” was offered to him. It was recorded at 2 a.m. at a studio in Las Vegas after one of his shows. It had to be re-recorded several times when a train whistle interrupted.
The president of ABC Records was disappointed with the slow-moving song. He wanted something upbeat. “Wonderful World” was hardly promoted and sold only 1,000 records in America. But it became instantly popular in Europe where American jazz had a large following. That gave it a life that it might not have had otherwise, and it gradually grew in popularity on this continent. Unfortunately, most of that came after Armstrong’s death in 1971.
“I see trees of green, red roses too,
“I see them bloom for me and you”
Us northerners know the colors of this season that explode when spring/summer return. Nature swells around us. If you don’t mind the bugs, these days are magnificent. But all the seasons have charms, if you give them a chance. The greens and bright colors of now will be replaced by sparkling white and stark brown six months from now, and that has its own beauty. All those offerings, they are for me and you. Me and you and everyone, regardless of wealth or status. They are a gift from a generous Creator.
“And I think to myself what a wonderful world”
“I see skies of blue and clouds of white,
“The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night”
Blessed and sacred. Here, the song becomes a benediction of sorts. We live spiritual lives, whether we are aware or not. If probably is necessary that we are only part of the time aware of the holy that surrounds us. We must go about our tasks here on Earth and can’t be constantly overwhelmed by awe. Still, it is good to step back and let the sacred wash over us sometimes, whether that is in church, in the woods, or listening to a song with a friend.
“And I think to myself what a wonderful world”
“The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
“Are also on the faces of people going by.
“I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do,
“They’re really saying I love you”
From every religion, and even no-religion and natural wisdom, we learn that we are put here to serve others. Our lives are a tug of selfishness versus the pull of service to our fellow man/woman. Each of us has people in our lives who are easy to love, and then some who are various degrees of challenging. Our finest moments aren’t the easy ones; our finest moments are when we dig inside and find hard-to-reach love.
Last week, an article was around about a small group in St. Cloud that meets regularly to do everything they can to fight the influx of Somalis into their community. It may not be “hate” that compels them. But if you are deathly opposed to someone being near you, it’s certainly a branch of the hate tree. Each of us has perhaps some moments each day we spend in jealousy or resentment or ill will. “The faces of people going by,” each one of those created by God, call for continued effort to live in love.
“I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
“They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know”
Nearing the end of the song, we look to the future. It is in these crying babies that our community will carry on. I love the sound of laughing and playing children. And as I get older, I mind less the sound of fussing children.
Our time here is short. Many great and beautiful things are short: the bloom of a peony, a fresh strawberry, Armstrong’s song. Our lives are like those more than they are like a stone that lasts eons. We will be replaced. My replacement is a remarkable little grandson. But my replacement is also a scared child at the border seeking asylum with desperate parents. All the planet’s children are my legacy. They will carry on when I am gone. They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know, as it should be.
“And I think to myself ,what a wonderful world,
“Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world,