Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 84
Mon. April 22, 2013

“Dear God”


“♫ Dear
to disturb

Can you imagine if XTC had release “Dear God” today in this modern age? Even back in 1986, when “Dear God” was released as a b-side to Skylarking’s first single Grass. Radio DJ’s liked the controversial nature of lead singer Andy Partridge’s ironic lyric, resulting in a successful M-TV and college radio hit for XTC. Partridge talked to Todd Bernhardt about why “Dear God” wasn’t originally on Skylarking when he explained, “It wasn’t on the original album because I honestly thought that I’d failed. It’s such a vast subject — human belief, the need for humans to believe the stuff they do, and the many strata involved, the many layers of religion and belief and whatnot. So I thought I’d failed to address this massive subject for all mankind — and also a big subject for me, because I think it’d been bugging me for many years. I’d struggled with the concept of God and Man and so on since I was a kid, even to the point where I got myself so worked up with worry about religion that — around about the age of 7 or 8 on a summer’s day — I saw the clouds part and, you know, there was this sort of classic Renaissance picture of God surrounded by his angels looking at me scornfully.”

Partridge explained to Bernhardt about the paradox that inspired him to pen XTC’s most notorious b-side, when he said, “Yeah, that paradox! People still say, “Well, what’s he doing addressing God if he doesn’t believe he exists?” [fast] But that’s the paradox, asshole! C’mon, get with it! Wake up, that’s the whole idea — that you’re talking to somebody you don’t believe exists, and you’re asking them why, if they do exist, they’re causing all this trouble, but you’re saying at the same time you know they don’t exist!” It wasn’t just the paradox; it was the confused innocent voice at the beginning of “Dear God” that connected with me. Growing up God and religion was always seen as a fearful, you better worship him or else. That young scared voice at the opening of Andy’s song mirrored the confusion we felt at that same age. Partridge believes it was actually producer Todd Rundgren’s idea for having the child sing at the beginning of “Dear God,” when he recalled “I think it was his suggestion for a kid to sing the first verse. I’d told him the title was inspired by these kids’ letters to God, and he said, “Well, why don’t we have a kid sing the first verse?” And I thought, “Hey, that’s kind of interesting.” We might have talked about having the kid’s voice cross-fade and become mine as the song went on, but in the end, we decided she should sing the first verse.”

Andy Partridge explained his initial lyrical intention for “Dear God” when he said, “But with me, I was just so wound up about the idea of religion and guilt and all that kind of thing, even as a kid, that it really plagued me. I guess the song “Dear God” was me trying to come to terms with this thing. Though I thought those Dear God books — you know, kids’ letters to God — were a pretty tacky concept, I liked the title. I liked the idea of writing to God to address the fact that I didn’t believe he existed. I just wanted the thing to come back with an angelic stamp on it, saying “Return to Sender.” Written in fiery letters!”

Even though “Dear God” was released in 1986, Partridge and XTC did feel some wrath from protesters as Andy discussed when he said, “[pauses, sighs] And, of course, I got all the hate mail and the booklets. It all came from America, by the way, all the hate mail. I found that so medieval. I really felt sorry for the people who [pauses] got so upset at someone expressing an opinion that might be contrary to their beliefs, or at who might have another take on their beliefs. How could that make them so violent, potentially?”

Andy Partridge must have some conflicting emotions about “Dear God,” his bands most infamous song. In 2002 Andy said this about “Dear God.” “A lot has been written and wrangled over with this song, and, you know, it hasn’t deserved it. I just tried to wrestle with the paradox of God and the last dying doubts of belief that had hung, bat like, in the dark corners of my head since childhood. I’ll just say one more time this song failed to crystallize all my thoughts on the subject in under 4 minutes. Human belief is too big a beast to bring to the floor in such a short time.”

Devoted worshipers and XTC protestors, disturbed by Andy song, would chuckle to know that Partridge blames his writing “Dear God” for his recurring aliments that haunt him to this day, as he told Scott Thill, “During the time I haven’t been able to play, I’ve had my shed re-wired and re-jigged so hopefully the next lot of recordings that seep out will be better quality. It just seems weird that to the two big injuries have been with my music-making organs, my hands and ears. Maybe my song “Dear God” pissed him off.”

Coincidence…who knows? What we do know is Andy Partridge wrote “Dear God” to ask a question about his personal faith? It was a very ambitious question to ask in such a public forum but the answers that Partridge discovered were quite perplexing and well defining for the singer. Always the cunning British linguist, looking back Partridge pondered his fate for penning “Dear God” when he said, “Surely, for this tune, we will burn in Hull.” Before Andy receives his answer, let’s spin one more for Andy’s salvation and, a last one for the power of expression. Will Partridge continue experiencing the cursed penances for his songwriting sins. . . God only knows?