Friday, December 19, 2008

George Hrab concert in Austin

George Hrab was one of the line of atheist singers and songwriters (Roy Zimmerman, Paul Martin a.k.a Aspiring Atheist, Linda Chorney) that performed for the Center For Inquiry Austin in the recent months. He gave a concert at La Madeleine on November 22, 2008.

I was impressed by his songwriting more than that of others (except maybe Roy Zimmerman, who is quite witty too). Hrab's lyrics are fast -- both in the sense that his tongue goes a mile a minute, and also that they are so full of unexpected witticisms and intellectual references, you blink and you'll miss them. Speaking of Blink -- Malcom Gladwell's book by the same title -- the musician takes a jab at its premise in his song "Assumption". Here's a YouTube video of it.

He takes on all sorts of skepticism-related topics. One of his songs' topic was "grief rapists", psychics that will "communicate" -- for a fee, of course -- with your dead loved one, making money off people's grief and prolonging their suffering. As he says, if your dead loved one was really able to bend time and space and laws of nature to communicate with the living, do you really think the only thing he/she had to say would be along the lines of "you own a locket"?

Here is the video of his live performance of this song. It may or may not be called "Why would they only speak to you?" (That's a line in the chorus.)

Then there is a song "think for yourself" that admonishes the reader to use their mind and read the fine print. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here is the video:

Many of his songs do not explicitly deal with nonbelief in god(s), but address some of the universal themes like relationships or grief. "Small comfort" is a song he wrote after his beloved dog died, during the time at which he had to really resist a comforting fantasy that his dog is living carefree somewhere in the doggy heaven. So he sang about comfort that can be found in an atheist's view of death: at least his dog would not have to miss him. If the dog passed away with a thought of waking up and going for a walk, that was it -- he did not get to find out otherwise.

A video of the grief song:

Then there was a memorable song "How do you do what you do", dedicated to all those people that are more successful than us at the things we strive to do. In the presence of people who are superior to you in the the area that really matters to you it's very hard not to fold and give up. This song, with its edgy, anxious melody, has stuck with me.

A video of "How do you do what you do"

Then again, he had some very outspokenly atheistic songs, like "God is not great" (a YouTube video) -- the same title as Christopher Hitchens' book. Hrab said he secretly hopes Hitchens will get to hear it and maybe like it. This would not be unprecedented, as Hrab's experience shows. He spent a lot of his between-song patter talking about his encounters with famous skeptics and atheists. At one convention he introduced himself to Mike Chapman, the great-great...-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. Chapman had him floored by recognizing his work: "George Hrab? You're funny." Hrab recounts shaking hands with Chapman as "I touched Charles Darwin's DNA!" He had more such encounters with the who-is-who of the freethought pantheon (so to speak :-)). The crowning moment came when James Randi, sitting in the front row of Hrab's concert, was singing along -- he knew the words of Hrab's songs! Hrab fake-swooned when he recounted this. Then again, one must wonder if such idol-worship doesn't run counter to the spirit of freethought? :-)

His most memorable song was "brainsbodyboth", about his dream girl who would have a killer body and brains to match. It's full of funny and politically incorrect double entendres, and each line gives you something to chuckle at (or occasionally cringe). The line that really gave me a pause was where he compares his dream woman's brain and body to a... wait for it... "domain name that's case-specific". I'm not completely sure what that meant. Perhaps there's some kind of a visual analogy created by uppercase and lowercase letters strung together? Hmmm.... :-)

Another source of amusement in his concert was audience's questions. At the beginning of the show he asked people to write down questions for him (about anything in the world) on pieces of paper, and he was going to answer them during the show. He promised to reward the author of the best question with a "Think for yourself" t-shirt. The slip of paper with the question he deemed the best held these words:

" "? This is a homeopatic question.

So we had funny people in the audience on par with the performer -- our own CFI'ers no less!

Bookmark This on Delicious

No comments: