Cake and the meaning of all existence
Whenever someone asks me what my favorite song is, I always respond by saying, “I can't have a favorite song, because it wouldn’t be fair to all the other songs.” It’s true, I have so many music loves that the best of them could only exist in categories. I have considered making a definitive list of songs that immediately make my heart smile as soon as they start playing. And should I ever actually compile that list, “Mr. Mastadon Farm” by Cake would be a strong contender in the abstract 90's alt rock category. The song is ridiculously silly and existentially deep all at the same time, which feels very homey to me.
It’s also the kind of song that you figure either, A) makes absolutely no sense and the writer was just really high at the time, B) has significant meaning hidden somewhere between the notes and lines, or C) both!
I’ve always had my impressions of what the song means, but recently got curious about whether or not my understanding was along the same lines of what the artist intended the song to be about. So, we're now almost exactly 23 years out from the song’s release, and I just recently googled it’s meaning.
I didn’t find Cake’s explanation of the song. Instead, I found this random guy's theory, and was struck by how he heard the exact same song I did, and came away with a completely different meaning. He said the song is a sarcastic observation of some guy who reads too much into everything in life.
What?! Wow! This whole time, I’ve heard it as a song of hope and encouragement!
I picture a guy in the same old rut, but he finds hope and inspiration by getting up and actively observing—contemplating—the birds outside of his apartment. I suspect he refers to himself as “Mr. Mastodon Farm” because he’s been stuck in the past, and he “cuts swatches out of all material” because he’s about to change the direction of his life, and he’s considering his options, figuring out which direction he needs to go.
But some other guy took away an almost opposite message.
Isn’t it funny how we can all observe the same thing, and interpret it in completely different ways?
My husband and I have discussed this concept many times before, because we tend to approach life very differently. He’ll use the Mona Lisa as an example, and suggest that he can look at it and see her expression one way, while I can look at it and perceive it another way, and that is totally fine! The meaning is in the eye of the beholder, he claims.
Then, I’ll respond, “Yes, but as it stands, Da Vinci had his intentions while creating the piece, and if we knew his intentions, we could better understand it. But the fact that we don’t know his intentions is part of what makes it so famously mysterious as everyone tries to figure out what Da Vinci was up to there."
The same is pretty much true for Mr. Mastodon Farm. We can hear it and take different messages away, but ultimately, John McCrea was telling an intentional story. And I’m one who wants the artist’s intentions to inform my own understanding of what their work is about. I want to know what they were trying to tell me. That is successful communication and human interaction. (And if I ever do acquire the official Cake explanation of the song, I will add it to the end of this post as an update.)
Inevitably, the same it true for life, and existence in general. We are all observing the same natural world, participate in the same human story, and we go through it with our unique perspectives and interpretations. It renders some of us bitter and cynical, while others grow to be inspired and hopeful. I tend to be both at times. But what if the Creator of life and existence actually has intentions for all this? Do you suppose that if we could understand what those intentions are, then we could better understand what, who and how we're meant to be?
Religious thought presents the case that God did not make like Cake or Da Vinci, leaving us with an obscure mystery to figure out on our own with nothing but our personal feelings and impressions as interpretive tools. It contends that God actually does reveal Himself and His intentions for our existence, and in learning to understanding that, we begin to understand ourselves more.
Christianity, in particular, claims that God has been revealing himself in history and through creation. He has especially revealed Himself through a series of covenants (think blood bonds) with ancient Israel that culminated in His indestructible covenant with all humanity through Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection. And since then, God continues to reveal Himself to and through this interconnected body of Christ’s genuine followers known as The Church, including within her Traditions this ancient, sacred library now known as the Bible.
God remains mysteriously beyond all of our capacity to understand, but reveals Himself in a way where we can begin to get there. He is unfathomable, but knowable, nonetheless.
The Catholic Church explains it like this:
Man's faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man, and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith.(so) the proofs of God's existence, however, can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason. (CCC 35)
Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. (CCC 50)
It’s really easy to be that guy sitting on the couch in the apartment, assuming the birds outside are plummeting to their death. It might be tempting to ignore those birds, because they just might remind us that we’re headed for our own demise as well. But our natural reason and curiosity tend to remind us that birds have wings. So if we allow our investigative instincts to overcome our desire to stay comfortable, we might be compelled to get up, walk to the window, and see what’s actually happening. And when we do, we just might discover hope, and the truth about those birds. And ourselves.
Consider this material for your swatches.
(Image source: Charles R. Knight, wikipedia)