There’s a big difference between ‘awesome’ and ‘awful’. And that’s strange. Both words derive from ‘awe’, which originally just meant ‘fear’. So ‘awesome’ should mean ‘instils a certain trepidation’ while ‘awful’ should have the more emphatic meaning, ‘terrifying’.
The use of ‘awe’ in the Bible to describe the mortal response to God’s presence is thought to have imbued the word with its modern sense of wonder and veneration, and in recent times the fear element has faded away so that ‘awesome’ is now synonymous with ‘wondrous’ or ‘amazing’. ‘Awful’ has also been losing the ‘fear’ factor but, in contrast, it has acquired wholly negative connotations so that it now just means ‘very unpleasant’ or ‘disgusting’.
There have been some awful things happening recently. There are dreadful wars in Syria and Iraq. There have been devastating earthquakes in Italy and New Zealand. The British people voted to pull up the drawbridge and leave the European Union. And, most disturbing of all, America has decided that their next president will be Donald Trump, a loathsome man whose policies will likely increase social division, worsen global warming and have who knows what effect on the economies of the U.S. and the wider world.
I needed something to counter the dispiriting effect of these awful things. The best antidote to depression and despair that I know is a favourite old song and the most rejuvenating and life-affirming one that I can think of is the awesome Annie, Let’s Not Wait by Guillemots.
Annie was a track from Guillemots‘ first album, Through the Windowpane, that was later re-recorded and released as a single. The single version has some nice backing vocals but, for me, the album track is the more invigorating pick-me-up. It limbers up with a few electric piano chords as if a sprinter is running on the spot to relieve the tension before a big race. As we watch from the stadium the athletes are called to the start line by what sounds like a giant pigeon coo-cooing “on your marks” over the tannoy.
And then they’re off. Lean muscular legs strain out of the blocks and go scuttling down the track. But we are watching in slow motion and with each thud of a shoe on the pink running surface a string bass thumps a characteristic rising Boom! The piano tinkles rhythmically, drums and percussion synchronise a swaying beat with the athletes’ feet, synthesiser tones warble in and out, and Fyfe Dangerfield’s voice provides a melodious commentary.
The words do not describe the race; they tell, I imagine, of the motivation of the winning athlete. His soul was crying until he met Annie. His friends told him not to rush into another relationship but he was impatient. There was a new life waiting for them on the other side of the river if he could just prove himself as a runner and she had the courage to go with him.
Annie, let’s not wait. Let’s cross the river now.
We could sit for years staring at our fears.
The sound subsides as the competitors go through the half-way point and then picks up again with female backing singers and tinkling guitar adding to the unquenchable exuberance of the keyboards and electronic effects. As the winner crosses the line there is a startling change of rhythm and in that moment of triumph all gloom and despondency is dispelled.
Yes, Annie, you are just awesome!