Chris de Burgh – the quiet revolutionary

Israel is a small county, and when celebrities come to visit, the media tends to follow their every move.

Interestingly, when singer-songwriter Chris de Burgh came to play a single concert in Tel Aviv, the visit stayed fairly "under the radar". That may not be surprising to those people who think of him as "the guy who sang The Lady in Red". But in reality, we are talking about an artist who has sold more than 45 million albums.

What's most impressive about Chris de Burgh is the fact that he has developed such a loyal following in such a diverse group of countries – from Brazil to Germany to Iran. He takes prides in the fact that he has many fans in both Lebanon and Israel despite the tense relations between those two countries.

What is it about Chris de Burgh and his music that has allowed him to become so popular in so many parts of the world?

One aspect, which can't be denied, is that a performer's popularity is related to a certain degree to their personality. True, people buy CD's for the music, not because they were released by a nice guy. But, at the same time, fans can tell the difference between someone with tremendous musical talent who would also be a pleasant neighbor, and someone with tremendous musical talent who you would not want to have anything to do with.

This distinction was obviously not lost on those who attended the Chris de Burgh concert in Tel Aviv at the end of March. I was not at the show, but according to reports, the concert started an hour late due to the box office's lack of preparation for the large number of tickets sold via the Internet. Chris de Burgh not only took this in stride, but compensated the audience with a two-and-a-half hour concert. Not every performer would have reacted the same way. Most Israelis still remember the incident many years ago in which a famous rock star came to Israel for a concert, encountered paparazzi shortly after landing, and then jumped on a plane and went back home (returning the next day to perform only after being begged to by the impresario).

But obviously, personality can only take you so far in the world of entertainment. What is is about Chris de Burgh's music that makes it so popular?

Well, when we say music we're really referring to two things – the notes that make up the song, and the lyrics that accompany them.

From a musical point of view, Chris de Burgh is clearly extremely talented. In general, songwriting ability seems to be age-related. There are plenty of artists who composed great music in their 20's and 30's, but only a select group has managed to continue producing quality songs well into their 50's and 60's (Neil Young comes to mind). While all sorts of bands that started in the 70's continue to tour worldwide, they have no choice but to fall back on their material from 30-40 years ago when they perform. Chris de Burgh, however, can put together a setlist from any period during his 40-year career and know that the audience will go away happy.

If a tune is catchy enough, that's often sufficient to make a song memorable or even a classic. There are no shortage of hits that have withstood the test of time despite their inane lyrics. However, there can be no doubt that meaningful lyrics add an extra dimension to a good song. I believe that there are two key elements in Chris de Burgh's lyrics that give this added dimension to his songs.

The first element is the simplicity of the stories behind his songs.

People today like to think that we live in a world that is infinitely more complex than the world used to be. But while it may be true that today a single laptop can store more information than huge libraries could fifty years ago, the bottom line is that little has changed when it comes to the aspects of life that people consider most important.

The themes in Chis de Burgh's songs – friendship, romance, kindness and cruelty, war and peace – represent areas of life where little has changed over time. People today cherish their good friends just as they did 40 years ago and 400 years ago.

Many Chris de Burgh songs take the listener to unknown far away places and unknown long ago times, making it easier to peel away the artificial layers of complexity that encompass our lives.

The second element in Chris de Burgh's lyrics that I believe makes his music so popular is the optimism that his songs emit. This is most blatant in his songs about war.

While these songs make specific mention of those who have paid the price of war – refugees, the wounded, the boys "left behind in the war" – the message is always that things do not have to be this way. The fact that wars have been fought for so long does not mean that this has to be the case in the future.

This message of hope flies in the face of the pessimism that we seem to be bombarded with in our daily lives. We constantly hear all sorts of adages that reflect the belief that certain things can never change – nice guys finish last, all politicians are corrupt, etc.

Of course, by writing lyrics that send the message that people can change the world, Chris de Burgh leaves himself exposed to being accused of what many people in 2014 consider the worst trait possible: being naive. But given the tremendous number of people throughout the world who are continually sending the opposite message, maybe what the world needs is more naive people.

According to his website, Chris de Burgh's twentieth studio album, "The Hands of Man", will be released this coming fall. If the past is any indication, we can expect the new album to be received very positively by his fans, and we'll continue to see Chris flooded with requests to perform in all four corners of the globe.

Links:

Official Chris de Burgh website

Chris de Burgh on Facebook

The Snows of New York – lyrics

In a Country Churchyard – lyrics

The Girl with April in her Eyes – lyrics

Say Goodbye to it All – lyrics

The Mirror of the Soul – lyrics

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