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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"I Wanna Be Adored" drew me into a theological self-inspection

Shanah Tovah! ...This time of year never sits quite right with me, and The Stone Roses of all bands helped capture my feelings today.

Today was a bit of an introspective day for me — the parts of it for which I was awake, anyway.

This past week, especially Friday and Saturday with spirit group involvement and the football game, wiped me out. Yesterday and today were slow and lazy days, and I am quite grateful for the long Labor Day weekend in the short term. Yeah, I’m a bit miffed that we as students can’t get into a weekly routine quite yet, but that’ll come pretty soon.

With that slowness and laziness, a lot of the day was left to me thinking about myself and where I might be heading in my life. I failed to reach any satisfying conclusions, other than I wanted to enjoy what I was doing and be liked by others. This internal monologue then morphed into thoughts on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance with it. Those ten days have always been difficult for me to digest for a couple reasons: 1) they always fall during the school year, meaning I can never fully focus on them; and 2) it’s tough for me to reconcile the momentary celebration of a new year with ten days of self-examination and acknowledgment of your wrongdoings.

Especially for someone as hard on himself as I am, this period of the year (which moves between early September and early October because of the intricacies of the Hebrew calendar) can be one of the toughest. It’s hard to get out of your own head when you’re so invested in improving yourself. I tried to distract myself with music, eventually settling on The Stone Roses and their 1989 self-titled debut album. After the initial listen, I kept coming back to the album’s opener, “I Wanna Be Adored.” It has a guitar tone that almost sounds anthemic, and is underscored by a drumbeat that sounds like it’s lifted from disco, but it just has this weight, this heaviness to it that really fits the mood I’ve been in all day.

The song begins with about 40 seconds of an industrial sound collage. The sounds could be taken to represent the band's origins in Manchester, a city whose heavy industry drove England and the UK for decades before a mid-century decline, which was only exacerbated by Thatcher-era economic policies in the time leading right up to The Stone Roses' first studio output. The industrial soundscape is quite ominous, making the listener uneasy as they await the arrival of something more consonant. When those elements do enter — first Mani's bass, then John Squire's two guitar layers and Reni's drums — the collage remains, staying in the background throughout and occasionally asserting itself over the instruments.

As for the instrumental layers themselves, Mani's iconic bass line is simple and solid, not particularly heavy on its own; that heaviness begins to be felt when Squire's layer of low power chords joins the bass shortly after the former's entry. Squire's second layer, a pentatonic riff which starts in the high register, shimmers but has a plaintive tone to it all the while, simultaneously sounding tinged with both hope and sadness. It occupies an interesting place harmonically: "I Wanna Be Adored" is considered to be in G Major, but the pentatonic line is in D Major. The D Major pentatonic scale contains five notes, all in common with G Major (D, E, F#, A, B), but notably does not include G itself. By sticking solely to D Major pentatonic, Squire's line is very consonant, but it dances around the root, the home note, while never actually hitting it. Of course, we still hear the root because of the bass, but the guitar never landing on G while being the only instrument in its register means the line feels a bit unresolved, despite its intervallic consonance.

When Reni begins hitting his kick drum on every beat, it propels the song forward, but also adds considerable weight. The eight bars which follow are the heaviest in the entire track, almost plodding their way toward the return to a backbeat and Squire's first statement of the main riff, which — just like his previous line — does not ever hit the tonic of G. Looking ahead to Ian Brown's vocals, this tendency largely persists. Though Brown does briefly hit the tonic for brief moments, he never stays there. Nothing is ever quite resolved, and it adds to the song's unease.

At last, 108 seconds into the song and around 4300 characters into this post, we reach Ian Brown's singing. The lyrics are the simplest of any song I've looked at thus far for my Senior Year Soundtrack: "I don’t have to sell my soul / He’s already in me / I don’t need to sell my soul / He’s already in me / I wanna be adored." That's pretty much it, aside from some ad-libbing at the end, but despite the brevity of the lyrics, there's a lot that can be read into them. At least for today given what's been on my mind, I interpreted the lyrics through a theological lens. From that viewpoint, the verses (everything but the statement of the title) allude to sin and how it relates to the devil. The narrator has no need to sell his soul to the devil because he already resides within him, whether through the sins he has committed or, in a more explicitly Christian reading, through the principle of original sin.

Having presented a reading which seems to default towards Christianity, I now find myself, a practicing Jew, a bit at odds with my own interpretation. Jewish beliefs on the Devil are not as well defined, but they largely center around Satan being a metaphorical and symbolic representation of the evil inclinations innately in all of us. Simultaneously, Judaism holds to the notion that the individual is responsible for their sins. It's a duality that for many is hard to accept, but I have come to embrace: only I am responsible for myself, and only I am to blame for my wrongdoings. In that light, the lyrics to the verse of "I Wanna Be Adored" are a reminder of my innate capability to err and to sin, unprompted — a sobering reminder indeed.

With the verses tackled, that leaves the chorus and its repetition of the title, which I hear as having to do with vanity. In seeking approval from others, one often inflates their ego, believing they are innately in the right. When their expectations for approval aren't met, they blame the others for not seeing what they see in their now-distorted view of themself. Combatting vanity requires repeated self-examination and understanding of one's own faults. Being down to earth and not trying to one-up others by inflating your ego will lead to more of the adoration you seek, whether it be earthly or more divine. The trouble is doing that without beating yourself up over your flaws. Striking that balance is a long-term battle, but I truly believe that we all can reach that personal equilibrium.

The song's bridge offers a change to a brighter sound and tonality, but it's a short-lived change, as it quickly reverts back to the verse's instrumentation and melodies for the outro. As the track ends with a final, elongated statement of the title and discordant guitar tones, before giving way to the ever-prevalent industrial soundscape, it leaves me with more questions than answers. Why end things the way they began? Why such dissonance as the track closes, a rarity in the popular music world? Is there something wrong, then, with being adored?

I can only attempt to answer the last question: Perhaps it's not wanting to be adored that is the issue, but stating that desire aloud. This answer can simultaneously be religious and secular, theological and humanistic. Adoration, respect, and love can and should ideally be fostered naturally if they are merited. We may only be able to truly control ourselves, but our good ways have a habit of rubbing off on others, and that can often manifest in the validation we naturally seek as humans. I hope that can be the case for all of us in this New Year. Shanah tovah.


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