“Who says I can’t get stoned?” – playful or inevitable?

john-mayer-who-says-artwork-01“Who says I can’t get stoned?” is John Mayer’s new release. Just a playfully rebellious chorus or could it be the next inevitable step in John Mayer’s worldview?

In my most recent talk at Veritas, I mentioned how much I enjoy the musicianship of John Mayer. We looked at some John Mayer songs, and we asked the questions: What huge life questions do these songs bring up? What answers does John Mayer give? Are the answers sufficient for the questions? Known more for his soulful voice and guitar virtuosity than his philosophical ponderings, Mayer tackles some of the toughest issues of life:

“Clarity” – even the best things in life are slipping through my hands

“Something’s Missing” – nothing seems to satiate the thirst of my heart

“New Deep” – there are no answers to the big questions in life, so stop trying to figure it out, you’ll be fine

Then we talked about how John Mayer seemed to land on his solution to these issues in the song “Home Life” where he says:

See, I refuse to believe
That my life’s gonna be
Just some string of incompletes
Never to lead me to anything remotely close to home life

By the “home life,” Mayer seems to be pointing us towards romantic love and comfortable life as the answer to life’s deepest dilemma’s.  It seems at the same time both his greatest desire and his biggest hope when he sings:

Home life
Been holding out for a home life
My whole life

I’m not saying that a “home life” is a bad thing to want in many ways.  Marriage is good, children are good, having a sense of belonging to a home is a good thing, but …. is this answer sufficient to the problems he raises in the earlier songs?  I don’t think so.  Even the best of relationships don’t satisfy.  Even if they did, they don’t last.  Even the best of homes have cracks this side of heaven.  Just “refusing to believe” that life is a “sting of incompletes” doesn’t hold up.

So, I was saddened but honestly not very surprised when I heard the latest single from John Mayer: “Who says … I can’t get stoned?”  Although I’m sure that many will enjoy Mayer’s new country-chill sound (yes, I made that up) and attribute the theme of the song to a boyish, playful rebelliousness, I think there is something deeper going on here.

You can’t really listen to the lyrics or watch the video of “Who Says” without feeling the loneliness and emptiness of it.  The video starts with John Mayer walking at night by himself and cleaning up his place while he remembers a night on the town with his friends.  Here are a few of the lyrics:

It’s been a long night in New York City
It’s been a long night in Baton Rouge
I don’t remember you looking any better
But then again I don’t remember you

Who says I can’t get stoned
Call up a girl that I used to know
Fake love for an hour or so
Who says I can’t get stoned

The video and the lyrics are pretty clear: what matters is not the relationship anymore but the pleasure I get from it.  When even the “Home Life” doesn’t satisfy, the inevitable next step is to live for the next experience, the next pleasure, the next high to numb the pain.  The bottom-line message: living for the pleasures of life is all there is.  And since that’s what makes me happy, nobody can tell me that I can’t do that with my life. And yet, whether Mayer meant it or not, the song and video are truthful in that they both portray the utter emptiness and loneliness of this approach to life.  It’s as if we are furiously grasping for anything that will help us to feel again but all the while knowing that the good times won’t last long and leave us feeling as empty as before.

Interesting enough, the apostle Paul recognized this approach to life in his own first century culture when he quoted a contemporary poet: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). This is the same message as “Who Says”: if life sucks and then you die, then who says I can’t live unashamedly for my pleasure? Paul’s point: this is an inevitable and logical approach to life unless … unless Christianity is really true.  Only if Christianity is true do we have hope for real satisfaction not only in this life but also in the next.

Ultimately, “Who Says” is true to life in that it shows us the emptiness of life without Christ.  Simply put: life without Christ is one disappointment after another until we get so sick of being let down that either we become cold and cynical or we say “who says I can’t get stoned?”  I can’t write this without being concerned for John Mayer’s soul … and for yours.  Don’t you want more?  Doesn’t it kind of make you at least want to give Christianity a try?

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