Writing, Dan Bern once told me, is a "a place where you don't have to be squeamish in any way. There's nobody looking over your shoulder; there's nobody telling you that you can't say that or that's inappropriate." His song "God Said No," from the album New American Language, attests to his fearlessness as a writer. Here he shares the story of how the song came to be.  https://youtu.be/KF1Y0E4cSEM

The story

For some reason I had been flirting around with the idea of going back in time. I guess it’s a pretty common thing. They say that if you give people the choice of one super power, traveling in time is pretty high up on a lot of people’s lists.
I had several songs where I was traveling around in time. In one of them, I go back in time to kill Hitler, and I actually succeed, only to come back and find that the same atrocities had occurred, only this time led by a Fritz Gruber. But that one seemed long, and required too much exposition, and never really worked that well. Like a lot of people I tend to go very high or very low, and one night I was in Kansas and I was feeling very low. Looking back, I don’t know what I had to feel so low about. I was living in a cool house in the country with a stream running out back and deer grazing around in the morning. I had a bunch of my fellows getting ready to record some songs. We played par-3 golf in the afternoons, for crying out loud. But moods and feelings are what they are. So this one night I couldn’t sleep and I was feeling really low. So I started kind of arguing with God, as it were, about the going back in time thing. For my part I keep coming up with better and better reasons for disengaging with my present, and sliding back in time. And He keeps topping me—not just denying my pleas but systematically laying out why I was not going to warrant the bother and expense or whatever it would take for Him to allow me through the golden gates of time. The next day I was playing the song for my piano pal Wil, and I couldn’t sing the song without getting choked up throughout it. They’re not all like that, but that one was. With that one I felt like I’d finally gotten the going-back-in-time song thing wrestled to the ground for awhile. So I could leave that go for a bit. —Dan Bern

The lyrics

I met God On the edge of town Where the wind meets the stillness Where the darkness meets the light Where the ocean meets the sky Where the desert meets the rain Where the earth meets the heavens Out on the edge of town I met God I asked God Do one thing for me Send me back in time Send me to Seattle Let me go Find Kurt Cobain Take away his gun Take away his bullets Talk to him Make him want to live Tell him how we love him Help him see his glory God said no If I sent you back If you really found him You would only ask him If he could Help you get a deal If he knows a lawyer If he can help you God said no I asked God Do one thing for me Send me back in time Send me to Berlin Let me find The one they call Hitler I will stalk him I will bring him down I will bring along A powerful gun Loaded with bullets Obliterate his memory God said no If I sent you back You would get caught up In theory and discussion You would let your fears Delay and distract you You would make friends You would take a lover God said no I asked God Do one thing for me Send me back in time Send me to Jerusalem Let me go Let me go find Jesus Let me save his life As they try to kill him Let me take him down Down from the cross Take the iron from his body Try to heal his wounds God said no If I let you go If you really found him Walking with the cross You would stare Your tongue no longer working Eyes no longer seeing Ears no longer hearing God said time Time belongs to me Time’s my secret weapon My final advantage God turned away From the edge of town I knew I was beaten And that Now was all I had God said no

Update from JPR

In the fall of 2016, Roger Daltrey of the Who chose "God Said No" (along with Dan's song "Marilyn") for a playlist of favorite songs in conjunction with a British music award. On a personal note, in 2016 I had the honor of accompanying Dan on this song (and a few others) at a house concert—here's a clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJMD14St5jg In 2017, I backed up Dan again at Babeville, Ani DiFranco's venue in Buffalo—a memorable gig you can read about here.


Behind the song The Complete Singer-Songwriter