Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Dan Barker has teamed up to write a song with Broadway icon (“Annie,” “Bye Bye Birdie”) Charles Strouse, and their irreverent collaboration debuts in FFRF’s newly-released third musical CD, “Adrift on a Star.”
Cover: Seymour Cwast Barker and Strouse
The album’s showpiece is “Poor Little Me,” a collaboration between FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who wrote the lyrics, and Charles Strouse, composer. Strouse received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2011. The award, which features a golden statuette depicting the fairy-tale emperor, is reserved for public figures who make known their dissent from religion.
“I had the pleasure of sitting next to Charles at the 2011 FFRF convention dinner,” says Dan. “We chatted about music, the many Broadway and other composers who are nonreligious, and he said if I sent him some lyrics, he would put them to music. So I did and he did. It’s truly a collaboration, because Charles threw away about half of my lyrics, and it’s a much better song for it!”
Strouse is not the only Broadway icon featured on the CD. Dan recorded “Experiment,” a little-known paean to science and critical thinking by Cole Porter, another of the Great American Songbook songwriters who was nonreligious. The title song is Barker’s arrangement of a poem by nonbeliever E.Y. (Yip) Harburg, lyricist of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and many enduring classics. FFRF collaborated with the Yip Harburg Foundation in reprinting Harburg’s Rhymes for the Irreverent. Collecting Yip’s light verse, FFRF's reprint adds additional illustrations by the noted Seymour Cwast, who illustrated Yip’s original books in the 1960s and 1970s. Cwast also designed the cover for “Adrift on a Star.”
To showcase many of Harburg’s witty rhymes about religion, Dan set them to music in “Somewhere Over the Paper Moon,” which he performs as a duet with talented Madison vocalist Susan Hofer. A sample:
Lead Kindly Light
Where Bishop Patrick crossed the street
An “X” now marks the spot.
The light of God was with him,
But the traffic light was not.
Dan also performs Harburg’s song “One Sweet Morning,” a lovely but rarely recorded peace anthem with a freethought perspective. The music is by Earl Robinson (“Joe Hill”).
Barker, who had a musical ministry as an ordained minister before “seeing the light” and is still receiving royalties for his Christian musicals for children, has now written scores of freethought songs in what he calls “reverse penance.” Other new songs in the album include “Get Off Your Knees (And Get to Work),” dedicated to “Gov. Rip Van-Perry Winkle, who has slept not 30 but 2,030 years,” “Reason,” inspired by the D.C. Reason Rally, and Dan’s humorous “Unfaithful.” Dismissing belief in a deity, the lyrics say: “I want you to know it isn’t me — it’s you.”
Hofer performs Dan’s jazz ballad, a love song, “It’s Only Natural,” inspired by Richard Dawkins’ book Unweaving the Rainbow, which makes a plea to integrate science and art.
Dan set plaintive music to poet and lyricist Philip Appleman’s cautionary “In a Dark Time,” written in the mid-2000s.
By popular request of FFRF’s staff, Dan recorded a G-rated version of “Merry F&*#ing Christmas” from “South Park.” Cameo appearances include Australian freethought/feminist troubadour Shelly Segal, who graciously gave FFRF permission to include her haunting song “I Don’t Believe in Fairies,” and Joe Taylor, formerly a Christian rocker, who recorded his first freethought song, “Be Still My Child,” for the album.
Also included is “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” by the nonbelieving Gershwin brothers, sung by Hofer and arranged by Dan with a local band. Bonus tracks include a few extras.
“Adrift on a Star” joins FFRF’s two previous CDs, featuring Barker and friends. “Beware of Dogma,” and the 34-song “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,” with many contemporary and historic freethought songs, also featuring Kristen Lems.