music

MLK’s Supporting Vocals

We’ve all heard the sound clip of MLK’s speech from 50 years ago when thousands joined him and other leaders for the March on Washington. The refrain, “I have a dream” might be even be more recognizable to today’s students than pictures of the man himself. Whatever your social media channel, it has been overrun with pictures and memories from the moment on the mall.

There is no denying that those are powerful words that have a power today few could have imagined 50 years ago. Much has been made about the genius of King who improvised those famous words that day. Somehow they carried a weight and a provocation even more pressing than the fiery words John Lewis had planned for himself that day. He wanted to threaten to march through the South like Sherman but his colleagues convinced him to tone it down, fearing that it would alienate Congress, the President and other supporters.

There were hundreds of voices that made the civil rights movement a movement that could accomplish change. Instilling the story of  Martin Luther King or  the March on Washington with too much magic puts us at risk of losing our ability to recognize the ugly grittiness of standing up to power.

This weekend NPR’s Sound Opinions, “the world’s only rock ‘n roll talk show,” devoted a whole show to the songs of the civil rights movement and they expertly relayed the real experiences of the movement through  its “supporting vocals.” I highly recommend the podcast to you and imagine some of you might even make the same recommendation to your students or children. Jim and Greg, the presenters, do a fabulous job of documenting the ebb and flow of the movement through the history of specific events and the music that accompanied them.

Horrific moments like pulling tortured and mutilated bodies out of the Mississippi River are presented alongside the powerful voices of the Staple Singers who shared their resolve the carry on even as they sang:

Found dead people in the forest

Tallahatchie river and lake

The whole wide world is wonderin’ what’s wrong with the United States

The hour long show expertly navigated around the temptation to celebrate the magic of one day in Washington and instead told the story of the movement with a powerful playlist that more of us should hear:

“Driva Man” by Max Roach & Oscar Brown Jr. featuring Abbey Lincoln, 1960
“How I Got Over” performed by Mahalia Jackson at the March on Washington, 1963
“In the Mississippi River” by the Freedom Singers, 1965
“Mississippi Goddamn” performed by Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall, 1964
A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke, 1964
“Keep On Pushing” by The Impressions, 1964
“Freedom Highway” by The Staple Singers, 1965
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed by Kim Weston at Wattstax, 1972

I had never heard the track from Nina Simone but instantly recognized its appeal to my punk rock sensibilities. There’s the bounciness of a show tune for a show that, she tells us, is yet to be written. And that bounciness works to emphasize Simone’s raw response to the ugliness of the daily news in “Mississippi Goddamn.”

It pains the imagination to think about what that show might look like…

Perhaps it’s necessary to add a NSFW label to that video but I think there’s every reason to hear the harshness of Simone’s words. Here’s to remembering the thousands who held fast to the courage of their convictions and made it possible for us to remember the magic of the movement while forgetting the horrific stories that challenged their resolve.

 

Politics on the Inside

No, we’re not talking about political insiders. Not those hideous creatures that live inside the much maligned Beltway. We’re talking about one man’s perspective on the truth about politics as he understands it through human experience.

For rapper El-P, all politics is internal to one’s self or to mankind. In an interview on Sound Opinions, Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot asked the rapper about the subversive or personalized politics they heard embedded in his music. Jim and/or Greg (I’ve been listening for years but can’t tell their voices apart) asserted that El-P’s music had captured something important about the “tenor of the times.” The host continued to describe a vibe going around the world, and permeating El-P’s music, that urged people to rise up, defend themselves and speak out. It says, “they may not win the battle but the struggle is worth fighting.”

Politicolor has weighed the political statements of favorite songs from the audience’s perspective on several occasions.  We looked at the messages in the music to determine what resonated with a Federalist way of thinking, how certain titles communicate revolution and constituting a new people, and when music seems to multiply the effect of a moment. Prompted by a NYT op-ed written by Bono, I wrote about how music motivated my own early activism as my young self believed whole-heartedly what Bono suggested in that piece, music has the power to change the world. This all made the interview with El-P even more interesting as the artist was asked to comment on the political ideas a couple of avid music-listeners found in his music.

Remarking that many people walk away from his music thinking it’s all negativity, El-P described the message of his latest album, Cancer 4 Cure, as one of hope, “but not un-battered hope.”

The artist suggested that transcendent moments come with a price of discussing what is uncomfortable and difficult. Transcending those difficulties, El-P says, requires knowing them and understanding them. He explains that his music is his attempt to explain his perspective on the human experience from his own eyes but also, “from another part of me [El-P] that I’m having to contain on these records. This other voice in me that is terrified and angry and confused. Doesn’t really know how to get to point B from point A without wanting to scream.”

El-P’s admits his latest album, Cancer 4 Cure, sounds like a struggle but he hopes his fans finish the album thinking it  was a good fight…

To me the battle is not out there. I mean, it maybe to some degree, but…

To me the battle is internal. And that’s what the record is about. The idea of cancer for cure, the idea of us being the cancers for our own cure; Of fighting ultimately internal battles. I always had in my head something that someone  told me that said ultimately we all have cancer to some degree and our immune system is just constantly fighting it back.

And I believe that, ultimately, that these are the real truths of the struggles that you’re seeing in the streets right now; and the struggles you’re seeing in the world. Nothing happens and nothing gets emanated from anywhere else except from things other than inside mankind, internally. There are no external factors except weather.

I choose to make my political statements from a personal perspective. Because the times will change and the movements will rise and fall and the talking heads will rotate and there are truths that will remain the same. There will still be a struggle.

 

 

Bon Jovi Believes in the Power of We

The nightly news in Austin has been dominated by updates from Fort Hood. Perhaps it’s moments like this that justify that last story on the national news. The one about a long lost teddy bear or crazy cute animals at the local zoo. Tonight, however, that last story was more than a palate cleanser.

On the way to commercial, Brian Williams mentioned a New Jersey boy who was giving back. When he returned he introduced the story over top of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” The piece focuses on Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation and features 52 apartments it has made available for homeless and special needs families. In an easy conversation at the table in one of these new apartments, Bon Jovi struck a constitutional chord:

We have created a society of haves and have nots and there are political differences up and down any state’s borders. And we won’t bother to politicize this but the issue is that we are all in this together. And at the end of the day we’re supposed to be ladies and gentlemen helping other ladies and gentlemen.

Watch the clip below to hear Bon Jovi’s response to the prompt, “Forget the government. Can we fix the problems we have?” When necessary, Bon Jovi wields his celebrity to break the chains of bureaucracy and suggests solutions require WE THE PEOPLE.

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It’s America and We are One

Did you see the We are One celebration yesterday? It was a powerful combination of our best words, music, and ideas. From the MLK and JFK quotes you’d expect to Reagan quotes you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Mary J. Blige or Jon Bon Jovi but they provided a moving performance with a gritty civil rights classic “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Most know me as a U2 fan and it’s Bono’s words that provoked this post. Brian Williams from NBC’s Nightly News interviewed Bono after rehearsals Saturday night. Bono was overheard to say it felt like the band had somehow trespassed on the American dream. His emotional understanding of the moment guided Bono’s responses to Brian’s questions.

I’m going to save his answer just long enough to set the stage…

Aerial views of the thousands of people crowding the mall brought back personal memories for some and a sense of living history for others. We’ve seen crowds on the mall like this before. Is it one of our most public spaces? U2 performed two songs. Where they started is where many worried our march for civil rights had ended. They sang “Pride (In the Name of Love),” their tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King.

The song begins…

One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One come he to justify
One man to overthrow…

The conclusion makes the song  personal…

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of love
What more in the name of love…

If time hadn’t already found itself in a crazy loop with MLK’s pride and passion present again on those famous steps, Obama then took center stage. His speech spoke to this moment while heeding the voices of moments past. This moment, with the past and future present at once, is where Bono’s remarks found their fuel.We now we return to Brian Williams and Bono.

Brian asks Bono what it means to the band to be a part of the inaugural celebration. Bono expresses his hope that it internationalizes it somehow adding, with a friendly jab to the ribs, “You might own the country but you don’t own the idea.”

Bono imagines people around the globe watching the ceremony on Tuesday and adds:

When this man swears in on Lincoln’s Bible, he proves that America exists. It’s an astonishing thing because in a way people had ruled out Amerca. They counted you out. They think… oh yeah, America is just for America. It strangely changes everything.

And with that assertion, that this moment on Tuesday provides proof that America exists, I thought of the question of who we are or, as Matthew added, who we is.  The words we use this week and the moments we create resonate with answers to these questions. Do some words carry the weight of our past while others herald the promise of our future? Are those the same words or are they different? Are some words and moments more substantive than others? What makes the difference?

Music!

I’ve been exploring the boxes through music, and it’s been pretty darn sweet. Minus the Norm-like bar tab, the search has offered continuous insight into the layers.

As last summer, I’ll think that I have it figured out, then realize that I’m deconstructing or simplifying. It interests me to juxtapose anti-fed v. fed with political parties with human behaviors with fate/ free will!

The tracks list represents some of my leisure. I wish I could play music on this site. Alas..! I can and will mail a copy of the disks to interested parties. My first version has been revised and shall continue to be. (Nature of the beast. Pun.)

Like Forrest Gump (one of only many traits we share. Run, Hobbesie, Run!), I’m seeing how “maybe we’re both” or all of the boxes at once. That there’s a pull every bit as real as that between the three branches. Music seems to represent this polynomial, and factoring it presents me with a challenge I’ve enjoyed.

A word on the selections. I’m finding that a few of the songs could fit on any of the disks. One could argue that each of them is federalist, in that they are creative, for instance. “Jump Around” is a high-energy, aggressive song which I placed on the “States of Nature” disk. However, much can be said for the fact that rap handles aggression in a positive way. Phrases which some interpret as violent are most often simply a way to blow off steam. In other words, as sports, music allows a release. I could’ve just as easily placed the piece on disk three.

Anti/ Federalist Vol. I: States of Nature

“Me and a Gun” Tori Amos

“April 29, 1992 (Miami)” Sublime

“Bulls on Parade” Rage Against the Machine

“Pain” 2Pac

“Sabotage” Beastie Boys

“Jump Around” House of Pain

“Wrong Way” Sublime

“Animal I Have Become” Three Days Grace

“Come Out and Play” The Offspring

“Teenagers” My Chemical Romance

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” Nirvana

“Santeria” Sublime

“Been Caught Stealing” Jane’s Addiction

“This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arm Race” Fall Out Boy

“U.S. History” Flipsyde

“Testify” Rage Against the Machine

Anti/ Federalist Vol. II: Meltdown

“All in the Family” TV Theme from All in the Family

“Enter Sandman” Metallica

“Faint” Linkin Park

“Intro” Matthew Sweet

“Ugly Truth Rock” Matthew Sweet

“Enth Nd” Linkin Park

“Army of Me” Bjork

“Duel of the Fates” John Williams

“The New World” X

“You Better Be Doubtful” The Housemartins

“The Shadow Government” They Might Be Giants

“Political Science” Randy Newman

“Holiday” Green Day

“I Fought the Law” Green Day

“Gunslinger” John Fogerty

“Beer for My Horses” Toby Keith and Willie Nelson

“The Government Totally Sucks” Tenacious D

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” Green Day

“Wonderful” Everclear

“Pride (in the Name of Love)” U2

“Pacing the Cage” Bruce Cockburn

“The Way It Is” Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Anti/ Federalist Vol. III: Energy Renewed

“Vertigo” U2

“Icky Thump” White Stripes

“Fight for Your Right” Beastie Boys

“Minority” Green Day

“Float On” Modest Mouse

“Signs” Tesla

“Warning” Green Day

“Everything I Am” Kanye West

“Unwritten” Natasha Bedingfield

“In a Big Country” Big Country

“Closer to Free” BoDeans

“The Middle” Jimmy Eat World

“The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” Cindi Lauper

“New Song” Howard Jones

“Centerfield” John Fogerty
“I Take My Chances” Mary Chapin Carpenter

“Upside Down” Jack Johnson

“Closer to Fine” Indigo Girls

“This Moment” Matthew Sweet

“Lights and Virtues” Jackson Browne

“Imagine” John Lennon

“This Land Is Your Land” Woodie Guthrie

A look will reveal certain biases: Green Day, my exposure, my age and sublurban upbringing… Also, I realize that the voices of women are under-represented. Perhaps, with your input, that’ll change! Thanks again to Shellee, Larry, and Laura for their evolving input.

Hope you leave some comments on the songs if you know them or share in the dialogue by requesting the disks! 🙂

What Are the Most Federalist Songs?

Something Will said this Summer boomeranged and smacked me into thinking about Federalist songs.

What would make a song distinctively Federalist?  I began to brainstorm characteristics which I thought Federalist in nature: SCIENCE, FUTURE, HOPE, FREE, WORLDLY, REGENERATING, OPEN-MINDED, and so forth.  Many songs are upbeat, and do convey multiple aspects of Federalist thinking.  In fact, I think that when some people think about the spirit of ROCK, they do so with a very Federalist ideal: think Jack Black in School of Rock or Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny.

I’m going to withhold my favorites in hopes that we get some traffic going here at the site.  PLEASE (you know you love it when I beg) respond and leave your ideas for the most Federalist songs.  Additionally, feel free to add comments on the nature of Federalism in music, as I tend to focus on lyrics.  (Yeah, I’m tone deaf.)

There can also be submissions for songs that are ANTI-Antifederalist, as I believe “Signs” to be.  You remember that one: “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign…”, right?

If I can find a way to post music, as I think I might be able to at MySpace, I can do some of that, too.

–KEITH