Category Archives: #features

American Tunes: “All Lives, You Say?”

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

“Your skin so thin your heart has escaped.” What an image. It cuts deep, reaching an underlying truth that I’ve been thinking about since this weekend: Shows of force like the one that took place in Charlottesville often betray profound weakness.

Click here to snag “All Lives, You Say” — proceeds benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Wilco — “All Lives, You Say?” [Bandcamp]

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Seen/Eaten/Heard

One of my favorite spots on this pale blue dot. The Beer Garden in Corolla, North Carolina, a couple of minutes south of the northern endpoint of NC Highway 12. You get your Corolla Pizza slice/cheeseburger, you walk over to the Beer Garden, you hear good music like “Nancy From Now On,” from Father John Misty’s first album, and you feel like a human being again.

Father John Misty — “Nancy From Now On” [Spotify/iTunes]

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American Tunes: “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)”

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

For the first few years of my writing this blog (from 2011 to 2014, to be exact), my 4th of July tradition involved posting a rework of the Night Before Christmas poem that talked about trying to find the perfect music to accompany Independence Day celebration, and why K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” fit the bill so well. Here’s a snippet:

And then in the very last place I would look —
the perfectest verse with perfectest hook!
But this just can’t be — a song for the 4th
that’s sung by K’naan, our friend from the north?!?
That’s right — he’s Canadian! Somalian too,
his formative days spent in Mogadishu.
But being a foreigner shouldn’t detract
from the fact that his song “Wavin’ Flag” is jam packed
with the message we’re coming together to send:
That freedom and justice will win in the end.

The national atmosphere has changed dramatically since 2014, and I’m not sure I’d keep using the word “foreigner” in that context, given how bloated with vitriol the term has become, but I still believe that last bit, and believe it or not, K’Naan is still on my mind on the 4th, just for a different song.

The same friend who hosted the annual party described in that original edition of “‘Twis the Friday before the 4th of July” recently sent me “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done),” a track from The Hamilton Mixtape by K’naan featuring Residente, Riz MC & Snow Tha Product. It’s tone is dour in comparison to that of “Wavin’ Flag,” and it’s video has serious emotional stopping power. While I don’t think we should stop celebrating this country’s birth, it does feel like we could stand to mix in some additional reflection — on how we became a nation and how we treat each other now.

K’Naan — “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” [Spotify/iTunes]

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American Tunes: “Witness”

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

Now’s a time for questioning assumptions, biases, and conventional wisdom, and I’m always drawn to songs that make me rethink language that I’ve taken for granted. The beautiful title track to Benjamin Booker’s new album does just that by shining a bright light on that word — witness — from every possible angle.

The electrified gospel tune features Mavis Staples, who repeatedly asks “Am I gonna be a witness?” between verses that describe oppression, injustice, and violence. (“Everybody that’s brown can get the fuck on the ground.”) The repetition of Staples’ question actually reads “Am I/Am I/Gonna be a witness/Gonna be a witness,” which echoes like rumination when you type it out, and it invites you to consider all the ways you can be a witness to something.

A quick list of relevant definitions:

  1. You see something illegal happening that has little or no impact on you.
  2. Something illegal happens, you’re impacted, and you’re able to give an account. (You don’t die.)
  3. You know something illegal is happening but don’t do anything to prevent the situation from continuing.
  4. You’re present during an exceptional time or event and can give an account.
  5. You can validate someone else’s experience.

5 connects beautifully to the gospel tradition the song draws on (“Can I get a witness?”), and I think we can agree we’re all experiencing 4. They all invite and warrant serious rumination. Which have you experienced? Why or why not? Which might you be experiencing without knowing? Now is a time for questioning.

Benjamin Booker — “Witness” [Spotify/iTunes]

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American Tunes: “Wild Indifference”

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

This one goes out to anyone in Congress thinking about casting a yes vote today for this selfish dumpster fire of a health care plan:

In your wild indifference
It’s all centered around you
Ain’t it lonely?

Joan Shelley — “Wild Indifference” [Spotify/iTunes]

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American Tunes: “Black History”

resound

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

Goosebumps. Waves of them.

The singing here is exceptional — the execution, the creativity, the transitions… it’s all stunning. But what made me want to include “Black History” in this series is the way it tells a comprehensive story. The medley weaves together gospel songs that reflect significant moments from throughout the African-American experience, providing a long view that’s at once confounding and inspiring. (Click here to read more about which songs are included and why.)

Never in my lifetime has there been a bigger gap between the need for Americans to understand history and their willingness to do so. The past’s mistakes are being repeated at a dizzying rate. Too many congressmen take advantage of short memories by shamelessly arguing opposite sides of an issue, depending on which is presently advantageous. Too many people who benefit from systematic discrimination refuse to acknowledge that those systems discriminate.

What we need is more of the long view. More history. More of the kind of deep and broad understanding Resound is voicing here.

Resound — “Black History” [Spotify/YouTube]

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Seen/Eaten/Heard

Alternative Lyrics from Plan 9:

bulls-on-parade

Jimmy Buffett — “Bulls On Parade” [YouTube]

cheeseburger-in-paradise

Rage Against the Machine — “Cheeseburger In Paradise” [YouTube]

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