I was thinking about tone on the long drive back from Syracuse today and how the tone of something makes the same sentence mean totally different things. I thought about this because the I-Pod shuffled up a number of cover versions of songs in close contact with each other, and the differences in tone were stunning. The most surprising difference in tone came with two versions of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus." A third version is added just for kicks.
Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus
Cynical. Egotistical. Predatory. An offer to put himself at the center of the distressed person's universe.
Johnny Cash - Personal Jesus
Prayerful. An offer to help the distressed person find faith.
Marilyn Manson - Personal Jesus
Not on my I-Pod, unfortunately, but a lot of the imagery seems a knowing indictment of those who put their breathless faith in politicians and others who lead secular cults. It's a deeply spiritual version of the song with subversive graphics that reject the notion of earthly saviors. Then Manson mixes that imagery in with the usual jarring Goth stuff and reduces the message to incoherence. Still, I thought he was off to a good start.
In fact, the rejection of secular 'spiritual' leadership makes me think Manson is drawing inspiration from and mashing up this video:
In Living Colour - Cult of Personality
Anyhow, like I was saying, tone matters a lot. English isn't a tonal language so we tend not to treat tone (or its cousin connotation) with the delicacy it deserves. Most of us swing around words the way a bad apprentice framing carpenter swings a hammer. We tend to dent the timber.