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Janis Joplin, Thanksgiving & A Mercedes Benz

Updated on August 28, 2013
"Oh Lord, won't you buy
 me a Mercedes Benz
 My friends all drive Porches,
 I must make amends."
     ~Janis Joplin~

Succinctly Eloquent

Thanksgiving is a season to take stock of what really influences us. A big dead bird roasted to a golden brown and surrounded by all the traditional trimmings represents much more than just a holiday feast.

In the midst of family we can measure the attitudes that command our lifestyle choices. Self-evaluation implies the opportunity to recalibrate or make course corrections.

The need to adjust or fine-tune our perspective is a recurrent necessity because in affluent North America there is an emphasis that constantly yanks our chains. In our culture personal significance is proclaimed by material possessions. The acquisition of goods—whether it is big-ticket items or knickknacks—often is the target we aim to hit.

Unless we intentionally resist the advertising onslaught, we will coast along the path of least resistance. The danger is that we’ll become engrossed in a hollow value system that is deceptive and potentially detrimental to spiritual balance.

The coaxing and manipulating by marketing wizards is ever-present—the strategy blatantly unrepentant. We are told what we must purchase to be satisfied and content, and we are often duped by their slick campaigns. Never mind the fact we cannot afford what they’re hawking—that’s why some genius invented credit cards and easy money rip-offs.

We want what we want, and we want it immediately, thank you very much. More often than not what we really desire is what someone else has already acquired. We yearn for the shiny car parked in the driveway across the road, or look with longing at the state of the art entertainment center in a friend’s rec-room.

Janis Joplin’s song Mercedes Benz captures the pervasive attitude of the age in which we live. Written by her in partnership with poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, it was recorded in one take in October 1970 as an a cappella pearl. In a much later remixed version a beat and background melody was added, but the original remains the unpretentious, raw-edged standard that hits the mark. The succinctly eloquent lyrics define well the human compulsion to want what others possess.

The Occupy Wall Street crowd embodies the spirit of envy that saturates the human condition. It is a manifestation of mobocracy—those spoiled by the age-old lies of prosperity are now the poster children for pampered avarice. We think we are enlightened and far-removed from the ignorance displayed by our ancient forefathers, but in the hordes of whining occupiers we are witnessing full-blown idolatry—this time the Golden Calf is self-absorbed materialism.

Archaic Sounding

The explosion of unprecedented wealth that occurred after World War II gave birth to a brutish creature with a voracious appetite—the leviathan of consumerism demands to be fed. When it misses too many meals it goes on a mad rampage that wreaks havoc to the economy.

That is why in the era of billion dollar stimulus giveaways we are told that it is our duty to feed the monstrosity by keeping the cash registers ringing. Indeed, according to politicians of every stripe, we are to shop with patriotic fervor to hasten the end of the recession.

How pathetic is that? Wrapping the flag around what is essentially greed is a twisted bit of reasoning. A slight paraphrase of dialog from the movie On The Waterfront underscores the issue: Do you want to know what’s wrong with our country? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s making the love of a buck and the cushy job more important than the love of man.

When economic prosperity for its own sake is the goal it will never be reached because enough is never enough. We’ll always want more. We will chase after what we do not have—we’ll stare with jealousy at the valuables or toys that our neighbors have managed to obtain.

Covetousness may be an archaic sounding word, but it is alive and well in 21st century America. Keeping up to the pace set by excessive opulence never goes out of style. If our friends all drive Porches, then we most definitely must have a Mercedes Benz.

We humans are slow learners at best and flat-out idiotic at worse. Placing all our eggs in the basket of economic prosperity has damaged us in the past. A healthy marketplace is necessary, but it should not be achieved or maintained by surrendering basic principles of decency.

There is an inescapable enticement for us to compromise or look the other way in exchange for robust economic indicators. Are there any boundaries we will not cross in exchange for riches? If human history is any indicator it is clear that in the quest for worldly goods the lines of morality can evaporate as rapidly as disappearing ink.

Marvelous Antidote

The frenzy to satisfy the beast of consumerism is nonstop. Every year Black Friday beckons. It’s always the same: Seemingly intelligent human beings take on the characteristics of rats being led along by Pied Piper advertisers playing seductive tunes.

People camp out to get more stuff—the promise of saving dollars is always overblown and unrealistic, yet barbarian shoppers routinely storm the gates. Stampedes and near riots are commonplace.

What exactly will it take for us to realize that malls are spiritually bankrupt places that cannot speak to what is actually important in life? We need to rediscover that trinkets and treasures cannot determine self-worth or define character—we need to have an awakening to understand the fragile nature of life and relationships.

If that light bulb would switch on we’d hold loved ones just a little tighter—we’d notice sunsets and starry nights as though we were seeing them for the first time. We desperately need to come to the conclusion that the meaning of life cannot be found in buying and selling.

To do so we must heed the profoundly plain wisdom put forth by Jesus of Nazareth: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. This is not a mere walk in the park sort of proposition. It is indeed difficult to stand strong against the overwhelming societal battle cry to accumulate possessions on top of possessions. To suggest otherwise creeps close to being delusional because the latent self-worship within is effortlessly triggered by the surging tide of selfishness flowing all around us.

So while we are immersed in the flood of materialism, what truly motivates us—what keeps our cranks turning? The question begs asking again and again because we regularly flounder in the culturally acceptable current.

Thanksgiving Day is an excellent occasion to take a deep breath and examine our lives in the bright glare of genuine honesty. While basking in the whole concept of being thankful and counting blessings, we ought to be contemplative and take a hard look at our hearts. Have we taken God’s gracious gifts for granted?

To be appreciative of the simple pleasures and tender mercies of life is the beginning of understanding that God is good all the time—and all the time God is good. To regard the wondrous mystery of life itself, and respond by breathing a grateful prayer soaked in humility is where faith meets reality—we ought to invest much time at that intersection because gratitude is a marvelous antidote against all kinds of greed.


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    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      CyberShelley - Thank you. Yes, her version of Me & Bobby McGee could only have be done by her. Great song.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 5 years ago

      Had Janis' gravelly voice in my head all the way through this really great article - Agree totally with your observations. Just to ensure my feet are on the ground I'm going to listen to Janis singing 'Me and Bobby McGee'

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thanks for stopping in & sharing. Your observations are exactly right.

    • profile image 5 years ago from upstate, NY

      "We think we are enlightened and far-removed from the ignorance displayed by our ancient forefathers, but in the hordes of whining occupiers we are witnessing full-blown idolatry—this time the Golden Calf is self-absorbed materialism. "

      The dirty little secret of the left is that despite all thier high minded talk, what thier really about is greed, envy, selfishness and materialism. I might also throw in "pride" for good measure due to thier auro of self righteousness and elitism.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      sheilanewton - Thank you. You are very kind.

    • sheilanewton profile image

      sheilanewton 6 years ago from North Shields, UK

      I used to sing 'Oh Lord won't you buy me...' to the kids when they were little. They'd roar with laughter. Little did I think I'd be reading those words on such a gorgeous and philosphical piece. Wonderful work, Ken.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Mighty Mom - Thank you for your kind words. And for the up & awesome. Much appreciated. I'll pass on any opportunity to be a pitchman for baubles.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Right on. So many incisive points woven together, as one hubber above commented, preacherlike.

      You're very persuasive, Ken.

      Now, if you ever want to make some serious bling, there's a place for you on Madison Avenue... (JK). But truly, Lexus, Acura, Audi, BMW, Land Rover -- they all need good pitchmen for their holiday advertising.

      This year, I see through it even more than I ever have. Good to know know others have not lost their way.

      Voted up and ... awesome (for the ideas and how you put them together). MM

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Naomi's Banner - Thanks for stopping in & sharing experiential evidence. IMHO, Black Friday & the force of consumerism really is a bizarre worldview. Blessings.

    • Naomi's Banner profile image

      Naomi's Banner 6 years ago from United States

      Experienced a little of this last night. I let me daughter in law con me into going to the Wall Mart for a game on sale and was almost smothered... no kidding. IF people would get this excited over their Jesus now that would be something to see. I enjoyed the Hub. It is more true than we want to think. I love the reason behind Christmas but have almost come to not hate but dislike it as it is not about what it is supposed to be about. God bless!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      sweetie1 - Thank you for your comments & affirmation. Much appreciated. Blessings.

    • sweetie1 profile image

      sweetie1 6 years ago from India

      Hi ken, we are living in a age of consumerism. All over the world in every form we are being bombarded by ads of every size and shape, be it tv, paper, road side hording, internet or even paper bags, everything is means to advertise. Very nicely written hub liked it a lot.

    • profile image

      SusieQ42 6 years ago

      You're welcome, Ken. Have a blessed day!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      SusieQ42 - Amen. Thanks for your good words. Blessings.

    • profile image

      SusieQ42 6 years ago

      I agree wholeheartedly! "Though shall not covet" is a command we should all adhere to. I've seen too many people with every toy under the sun, and the bills to go with them! No thanks, I'm not interested. I don't have a lot of wants, thank God! And He provides for my needs.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Goodnex David - Thank you for your comments. Much appreciated.

    • Goodnex David profile image

      GOODNEX 6 years ago

      Great hub Ken. It's really a pathetic state that we've allow ourselves to be lured into. God help us...

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      ScottHough - You're welcome. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      ScottHough 6 years ago

      A great read Ken. I enjoy your style; almost preacher-like.

      "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed."


      Thanks so much,


    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      rasta1 - Thanks for stopping in & sharing.

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 6 years ago from Jamaica

      I have never really thought of occupy wall street in that light. You are right if the whole movement is about getting something out of the 1 percent.


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