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If you listen carefully even pop stars sing the blues

By Mark Christensen - posted Thursday, 7 December 2006


A cynic might look at Robbie Williams and see only a womanising show pony, whose fame and fortune could never allow him to relate to Joe Average. Yet get past the hyped bad-boy image and you'll find a unique and refreshing trait, one that is sorely missed in a world increasingly bent on black-and-white truth. For Williams is a much-needed modern philosopher.

His insights may hook into catchy melodies and the lyrics may be less erudite than Plato or Immanuel Kant, but the honesty and intent are real, which makes him accessible. Take these lines from Come Undone:

I'm contemplating thinking about thinking
It's overrated, just get another drink and
watch me come undone.

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The 17th-century French thinker Blaise Pascal would likely be proud of such sentiment, having himself arrived at the confounding conclusion that the mind is a misleading faculty that seems to have been made to lead us into necessary error. Williams seems to believe our rational mind is inadequate when it comes to steering the right path. Pascal believed we are guided by the heart, noting that reason forever will be ignorant of how life's most vital choices are conjured.

Williams' sense of irony holds up - just. You can sometimes feel the self-parody drifting into the sneering crudeness of which he, too, is critical.

But Williams is among the few stars with a mass audience willing to admit, "I'm searching for something beyond my understanding". His songs complement philosopher Denis Diderot's despairing quip that whether God exists or not he ranks among the most sublime and useless truths for humanity. Williams' 2002 single Feel is a classic example of such anguish:

Come and hold my hand
I want to contact the living.
Not sure I understand
this role I've been given.
I sit and talk to God
and He just laughs at my plans.
My head speaks a language
I don't understand.

Much of his work is a call for men to feel more: to trust their hearts. But he also suspects their great successes of the recent past offer no real clue how this is to be done. Material wealth and hedonism don't satisfy and are eventually baffling. Did I just feel an excess of pleasure, or did I simply think I felt it?

Williams epitomises the western male at the top of his game. Whereas previous generations may have subverted their fears and insecurities, he hangs it all out in the metaphysical breeze.

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Aware of the tussle between heart and mind, he acknowledges the battle is being lost. If only the universe - hot babes in particular - would take the time to appreciate the deeper, passionate man. It's hard to hang on.

I just want to feel real love,
feel the home that I live in.
Cause I got too much life,
running through my veins,
going to waste.
I don't want to die
but I ain't keen on living either.
Before I fall in love,
I'm preparing to leave her.

Of course, receptive women will be disappointed. They help but hinder. Men try to become better men for them, all the while knowing that if they fail the woman's inevitable departure will leave them devastated and directionless. Best, then, to cover up their faults, buying time to understand why goodness for its own sake makes sense.

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First published in The Sydney Morning Herald on November 30, 2006.



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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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