Back in the late 1980s, I was shocked to learn that there were people I greatly respected who hated the Pete Townshend album All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. How could that be?! I thought it was one of the greatest albums ever recorded. I think that even more strongly today. But I think I have a better notion of why people don’t like the album. It is personal and unapologetic. It is, in fact, a proud statement that stands against the shallow snark and ironic detachment of the modern world.
There really is nothing easier than standing aloof from your art — silently telling your audience, “Don’t worry; I’m not serious; I too think everything is a joke.” The funny thing is, that I agree with the basic idea: everything is a joke. But does that mean that our actual feelings are any less real to us? Hell, I think consciousness is a chemical trick. But I don’t live my life based upon that belief. I really do feel lonely and embarrassed and stupid. And I can wink about it, but that doesn’t make the feelings any less real to me. For all of our society’s ironic detachment, we are still as lost as ever.
For our week of spiritual songs, I could have picked anything off this album. But I decided to go with my favorite: “The Sea Refuses No River.” I love that the metaphor works on so many levels. You can certainly see the song simply as romantic love. A man saying, “If you love me, you cannot deny my love.” But that’s a pretty limited interpretation of it. Better would be death: we all flow into the sea of eternity. But I always think of it as love in the broadest context. The metaphor illuminates the concept, because love is, ultimately, acceptance.