“What the world needs now is love, sweet love. That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
No one sang it better than Jackie DeShannon back in 1965. Her hauntingly lilting hit was written by the world-beating songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. You’ve got to forgive the stranded preposition of a line that so eloquently sums up our eternal love deficit. The world needed love then and needs it now, “No, not just for some, but for everyone.”
What the world most decidedly does not need now is another blog. And yet info-culture seems to have an undying craving for words in motion. Friends and associates keep telling me, “You need to have a blog.” But I already have a cat, I protest. No matter; a huge open journal covers our land, a public diary with no lock. Apparently it’s time to add my entry to the swirling narrative.
I submit mine as soul mail – dispatches delivered from a life spent writing about what others think and do. They reflect 30-plus years of newspaper reporting, 15 of them covering religion, the most hazardous and fascinating of beats. From this comfortable corner of the world in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I have had the privilege of writing about the meaning of life for The Grand Rapids Press. I never run out of material.
I have done my best to capture fleeting spiritual insights while writing about missionaries ducking bullets in Sierra Leone, faith-fueled activists fighting wage theft and the tribulations of The New Pornographers and Calvin College. The man wailing out his demons in a Pentecostal service and the nun who gave up a dancing career both have something spiritual to offer. Perhaps in telling their stories, I do as well.
Jackie DeShannon’s story is quintessentially American – a powerhouse singer and songwriter born in humble Hazel, Kentucky, a tiny burg in the state’s tobacco-covered western tip. While living in nearby Murray I often passed through Hazel on my way to hear music and drink legal beer in Paris, Tenn. You could buy antiques in Hazel, but you’d never expect to uncover a pioneering pop star.
That’s what DeShannon became by force of her considerable will, her songwriting skill (some 700 songs including the fabled “Bette Davis Eyes”) and her affecting voice. You can still feel the love of that voice when you check out her vintage performance of “What the World Needs Now” on Shindig. The arhythmic finger-snapping is a bit bizarre, but the plaid skirt, tumbling ponytail and unironic idealism are pure sweet Sixties.
So is the let’s-all-save-the-world spirit of her 1969 mega-hit, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” Its unapologetically naive opening line, “Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand,” sounds heartbreakingly cheesy in post-idealized Palinized America. All the more reason to hum along.
After all, we’re in the midst of a season that’s all about love and child-like wonder. Our eyes still mist over when Linus quotes the angels’ save-the-world lines to cowering shepherds, “on Earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Surely we can make room in our hearts for “Lord, we don’t need another meadow … Oh listen Lord, if you want to know: what the world needs now is love.”
It was true then and it’s true now. Feel it, own it, celebrate it. Maybe even lend a helping hand.