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I’ve considered doing an article series just for Superman songs. There are so many songs that reference or outright discuss Superman but I’ve had a hard time finding one that I feel really understands the character, nevermind speaking to what I love about my favorite superhero. It doesn’t help that currently Superman’s values are either ignored by writers, editors, and directors, or looked down upon as some archaic thing. And yet if someone challenges the laws of physics and comes up with Superman’s powers you better pray to God whether you believe in Him or not that he or she will carry Clark Kent’s values or you can kiss your future goodbye.

While I’ve got enough troubles and article/video/comic ideas to add that project here’s are two examples of what I’m talking about. In this corner we have “Superman (It’s Not Easy” by John Ondrasik, aka Five For Fighting despite being one dude. On the other we have “Superman’s Song” by Brad Roberts, lead singer of Crash Test Dummies despite being a human being. As far as I know anyway. Maybe John is like Trey from Power Rangers ZEO and Brad just has a really good disguise. These two songs attempt to speak to the downsides of being the standard for powered superheroes and the most important of the DC Universe. Which does it better? Let’s examine.

“Superman (It’s Not Easy)” is from the 2001 album America Town. It became a big deal after the events of September 11 of that year, used to honor the first responders, especially those who perished while trying to save people from the crumbling Twin Towers in New York after a terrorist attack led to their destruction. It may honor the firefighters but I don’t think it honors Superman.

In an interview with American Songwriter, Ondrasik was asked about his song in more recent years, seeing how it had been used to  honor not only firefighters but other people in recovery.

I just look at it as a gift. I don’t even feel like I wrote the song anymore. Because it came so fast and I didn’t spend those months pulling my hair our to get it right, I just look at it as a gift. The fact that it really shouldn’t have happened and I barely got a chance to get it out there and when it did – so many stars have to align for that song to reach people. As a songwriter, all you want is one thing: you want an opportunity to be heard. If people like you, great. If they don’t like you, great. But you just want a chance to be heard. And I’m so grateful that I had that chance to be heard with that song. It will always be my first born [Laughs]. I couldn’t write it today, to be honest with you. It’s not a song I could write today because the “it’s not easy to be me,” when you’re struggling in your late 20s and you feel the world’s against you and nobody will listen to you, you can write that song. But through “Superman,” I’ve met people with real challenges – our troops, ALS patients, autistic kids. It’s really kind of humbled me. I couldn’t write “Superman” today. I’ve found it’s actually pretty easy to be me but I’m glad the song is there for the world. It really, to me, is not even my song anymore. It’s for those who’ve embraced it.

I am not one of those people. Ondrasik was inspired to write the song after thinking his voice as a musical artist wasn’t being heard, but this is one I’m not as willing to hear because…it’s about Clark Kent rejecting being Superman. I can’t fathom that. I’m not saying you can’t do a song about Superman not being happy with his life, but this is not the right approach. I could see him, for example, wishing he could do more, or being sad that his values are being more and more rejected by society, or what I think was what he was going for, that part of him would like to live like normal people…except he does live like normal people. That’s what the Clark side of his life is, his reconnection with his humanity and humanity in general.

I also find it telling that he’s having Clark reject flight, which is not only a power many real people wish they had (and arguably his most impossible given a lack of propulsion), but one he uses the most. The DCAU take even shows flying to be Superman’s favorite power, including a great character moment in the first episode when Kal-El learns of his origins.

I absolutely love this moment. Earlier we had seen Clark looking out the window almost jealous of the birds that flew past. There’s so much heart in this moment that I reject the notion that he would reject it. I felt the same way about Smallville though at least there Clark was a bit acrophobic, which I can relate to as I also have a fear of heights…because I can’t fly! It’s my favorite thing to do in video games like Second Life though. Actually, I wish more games allowed you to fly as easily as that one. The closest is going web swinging in various Spider-Man games I own.

This just feels so very wrong. Superman would want to help others and is happy that his powers allow him to do so. That’s never a factor in this song, and one line has him “digging for Kryptonite”, which for Superman (intentional or not on Ondrasik’s part) means he’s trying to commit suicide because Kryptonite slowly kills him unless you want to get into all the various colors. This song basically rejects Superman and thus I reject it.

But what about our other song for this discussion? “Superman’s Song” actually came out in 1991 on the The Ghosts That Haunt Me album. It takes place at Superman’s funeral, though his actual temporary death in comics wouldn’t happen for another couple of  years. I think it speaks better of Superman, though I should warn Tarzan fans that writer and lead singer Brad Roberts seems to absolutely loathe the King Of The Jungle…and learning the reason why ruined the song for me.

Of course he’s using the corrupted version of Tarzan that has become the iconic depiction of the character, the version from the old black-and-white movies starring Johnny Weissmuller. The would-have-been Lord Greystoke was actually quite articulate in both English and the language of the apes created for the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, something only seen on occasion like the Filmation cartoon. (Hey, Warner Brothers, if you’re going to block videos on YouTube from showing the series, how about a full DVD release and telling us when you got the license on a non-DC Filmation cartoon?) Even then Tarzan really doesn’t deserve this treatment in a song about Superman’s passing, from old age according to the music video. From Songfacts:

This song is written as a eulogy to Superman; it points out what many people don’t consider about the superhero: he had a full-time job as Clark Kent and never made any money as Superman. While it would have been easy for him to smash a bank and take whatever he needed, he toiled away just like the rest of us, making a rare sacrifice.

So it sounds like the song is about how Superman could have run off in frustration, similar to the ideas Five For Fighting is singing about, or used his powers for evil, but went on saving people and fighting villains like the name-dropped Solomon Grundy (not one of Superman’s regular foes but they’ve met and it makes for a good rhyme) without any reward because he’s just that good. Then I read this on Wikipedia:

Brad Roberts has stated that “Superman’s Song” is an “analysis of political philosophy” and that the way the song was written alleviated some of the seriousness of the topic. He explained the meaning of the song in a 1992 interview:

“Superman as cast in “Superman’s Song” is obviously a left-wing political figure. His activity in the community is intrinsic to his being. Superman is being juxtaposed against Tarzan, who is kind of a laissez-faire capitalist type who retreats to the forest, and rejects the idea of community. He wants to live in a so-called animal state, and he doesn’t have to be bothered with any kind of political realities.”

Let me see if I understand here. Tarzan, using the version where he isn’t a rich manor lord who is also Lord Of The Jungle, is a stand-in for capitalists (and I kind of reject his view on capitalism but that’s not a discussion for a storytelling critique blog) and you’ve decided Superman is a left-winger because you’re a liberal? I’ve said before that neither liberal nor conservative, Democrat nor Republican, should evern “claim” Superman. This is often done with a combination of not getting Superman and just wanting to stick it to the other side. Superman is for everybody and will even save his enemies. Yes, even Lex Luthor, who by this point had become an actual alleged “capitalist” involved in dirty dealings because John Byrne wanted to turn the mad scientist into something he hated…the rich. So in a proper analysis of the intentions, Roberts was trying to politicize Superman. I don’t think I’ll tear up at this song anymore.

Usually when I do these articles I find something interesting that gives me a more proper reassessment of the song. This time the opposite has happened. “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” is about one singer’s career and “Superman’s Song” is actually another singer’s politics. My search for a song about Superman that is about Superman in a good way shall continue. My list is currently empty. Thanks for nothing!


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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