Monday, December 22, 2014

THE JUKEBOX HERO HYMNAL: Hymn 017: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen by Ronnie James Dio, Tony Lommi, Rudy Sarzo & Simon Wright

What? Four months into The Jukebox Hero Hymnal and we haven’t had any head-banging hymns yet? Well, since there’s no better time to heft a little heavy metal than Christmas (just ask Sir Christopher Lee), let’s rectify that situation right now.

Surprisingly, there are a large number of metal carols out there, many of them not mentioning Satan at all. But which one to pick? Do we deck the halls with a little deathcore or go thrashing through the snow? It’s difficult tochoose because, these days, it seems like there are about as many subgenres of heavy metal as there are Protestant denominations. It’s probably best just to stick with the original style of heavy metal as exemplified by Black Sabbath members Ronnie James Dio and Tony Lommi.

Now, that choice might seem odd given Black Sabbath’s perceived image as a bunch of dabblers in the dark arts, but those familiar with songs such as “After Forever” (if you haven’t heard it, don’t worry, it’ll most likely show up here eventually) know that the band actually had a strong Christian undercurrent. That being the case, it should come as no shock to find some of the members of the band covering that most traditional of English Christmas Carols, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”

You know, if any song shows the power of the comma, it’s God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” For years, I was under the assumption that the lyrics were “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” which implied that God should grant restful sleep to those who had been walking around acting all merry. But, in fact, the comma comes in between merry and gentlemen, which slightly changes things. How so?

Well, for one thing, this implies that the word “rest” is to be taken in the sense meaning "to keep"  or "to continue to be” (as in the phrase "rest assured"). So, the song wishes for God to keep us merry. But not just cheerful and lively as we understand the word “merry” to mean today.

As it turns out, around the time the carol is believed to have been written (still in debate), there was a social movement known as Merry (Merrie) England. The concept  of Merry England was based on the idea that at some point between the Middle Ages and the onset of the Industrial Revolution there existed a utopian English society. This idyllic culture was rural in nature, emphasized community and charity, and clung to the simple joys in life such as thatched cottages, afternoon tea, and Sunday dinner. Basically, the Britain of Merry England was Hobbiton and those who championed the idea wished for a return to the Hobbit-like values supposedly lost during the onset of industrialization.

All of which means that many believe “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” to be a plea to the Lord to keep the listener in a state of contentment with pastoral things. And should the worries of the modern industrialized world start to weigh heavy on his mind, all he need remember is that Christ “was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan's power” and he should be fine.

Now, is that what the sing really means? We may never know for sure since nobody actually knows who wrote the thing. But, you know, it’s not too far off from a message we’ve heard before…

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NABRE)


Xena Catolica said...

Okay, I listened to Ozzy's Boneyard during a lot of our Christmas roadtrip & I'm very fond of Dio (God rest him), but that was just Disturbing! He sings "comfort and joy" like the next line is "but your chains are on!"

EegahInc said...

Ah, poor Dio. Oh well, at least a commenter on Twitter told me this was his favorite version of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen of all time. I'll try and dig up some acceptable metal for you soon.