Ethics & Public Policy Center

What I Sing When Nobody’s Listening

Published in The Wall Street Journal on January 13, 2020



It used to be embarrassing to be caught talking to yourself. The cellphone changed that: Now it is common to see people walking alone, chattering to someone invisible. Singing to yourself is different. Those of us who sing to ourselves do it as a compromise between karaoke and meditation.

On a cold morning, I stood on the platform of a small railroad station in upstate New York, waiting for a train. I thought I was alone. I started singing in a low voice, giving myself up to the song in an abstracted way, half-aware. Singing takes you away from the harassing present. In that, it resembles prayer.

Not that my songs are religious. The ones I know by heart are mostly secular odds and ends from a long time ago—from memorized recordings of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, Burl Ives or, less remotely, from Bob Dylan (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”), Arlo Guthrie (many selections), Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson and Janis Joplin. The lefties had the good songs. Sung at this distance in time, they are cleansed of politics—and therefore sweet.

Click here to read the rest of this piece at the Wall Street Journal’s website.

Mr. Morrow is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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