Listening to Stevie Wonder's "As" this morning, I started to tear up. There are so many perfect aspects of it, but what struck me today were the driving drums, like the rhythmic undercurrent of our lives, the universal constant and eternal heartbeat represented in the lyrics.
I checked out a couple of covers on Youtube, but none can touch the original, because they don't know what it's about, nor can they see through Stevie's eyes. This goes far beyond romantic love -- it's transcendental love. It's a devotional prayer, expressing the love of eternity, the longing to be one with God/infinity/the Absolute. The song expresses in so many ways the impossibility of destroying the Absolute. It's similar to George Harrison's explicitly Hare Krishna "My Sweet Lord", but Stevie could turn the same principle into an uplifting, relatable pop song.
Then he gives his intentions away in his mini-sermon:
We all know sometimes lifes hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
so make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren
And their great-great grandchildren will tell
Herbie Hancock played the Rhodes on "As", and he related an anecdote of a time when he and other Buddhists asked Stevie for a break so that they could do their chanting. Stevie enthusiastically joined them, chanting nam-myho-renge-kyo and staying when the others chanted from a book. Who knows if "As" was inspired by such chanting ("Pastime Paradise", on the same album, features Hare Krishna chanting mixed into the background with a Gospel choir), but it's clear that Stevie deeply appreciated devotional music and felt open-minded enough to embrace many traditions. His sermon expresses the Prajna (words into truth) and Mahakaruna (truth into love) of the Bodhisattva path.
Only someone living in Eternity could create such a song and bring it to fruition with the collaboration of so many others. He wove together the unreal: "Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky" with Suchness: "And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May". Stevie Wonder was and still is a prophet and a genius.
Here he is performing the song a few weeks ago, reunited for the first time with the original bandmates: