Since the election, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make this little corner of the Internet more… something. Productive isn’t the right word. Influential? Helpful? I just don’t want to keep feeling like there’s more I could and should be doing to make a difference, especially when it comes to the political realm.
A week or so ago, I decided to start a series of quick posts that each share a song that reflects what’s happening on the national stage. Protest songs. Thoughtful, incisive songs. Songs that help when you’re feeling like all is lost. Who knows what the next four years have in store, but I know this much: We’re going to need to stick together and motivate one another. The only thing stopping me from starting the series was a title. I was coming up pithy crap like “2020: Are We There Yet,” but I don’t want to count down the days until this crazy person is out of the White House. We need to make these days matter, and sarcasm doesn’t feel like the right the way to do that.
I was mulling this over on the way to lunch with a friend. We were going to Mission BBQ, a spot that has great brisket, pretty good mac and cheese, and more patriotism than any other restaurant I’ve been to. Tributes to various branches of the military and first responders line the walls and everything stops at noon each day so patrons and employees alike can stop, remove their hats, and salute the flag while the National Anthem is played over the PA system. There’s even a flag hanging down in the middle of the dining area that everyone faces. It reminds me so much of the start of NASCAR races at RIR (minus the flyover).
I started going to those races not long after I graduated college, when George W. Bush was president. That was a time when patriotism had been strategically claimed by the political right, and in some ways, being at those races and participating in gushing displays of patriotism felt transgressive. Like I was signing off on something I didn’t agree with. At the same time, it felt transgressive in a positive sense, like I was reclaiming something that should never have been taken from me in the first place. Being proud of where you’re from can certainly go off the rails and turn into an ugly form of nationalism, but patriotism isn’t inherently bad — and it’s certainly isn’t exclusively owned by the party that won the most recent election.
While I was driving to Mission, I caught myself dreading their noontime ritual. I wasn’t looking forward to standing there and wondering how many people in that restaurant voted for Donald Trump, but I thought back on those late 2000’s NASCAR races, and that’s when it hit me: American Tunes. That’s what I’ll be sharing. Some will be quiet, some will be loud. Some will be sad, some will be angry. Some won’t even be by Americans. But my hope is that each one will help on the rough road that lies ahead, because I’m not willing to let the right wrap themselves in the flag and claim this country as theirs. Let’s stay focused, stay inspired, and maintain our stake in a shared and crucial project that’s been going on for nearly 250 years.
Each post will include a song, maybe a few key lyrics, and a recommendation for when I think the song will be most useful. We’ll start with Allen Toussaint’s version of the Paul Simon classic that this series and Toussaint’s final album borrow their names from. I’ve been listening more closely to its lyrics, and they describe this perplexing and worrisome moment in America pretty aptly:
Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home
And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong
This one’s for when you need to be reminded that we’ve made it back from the point of despair before, and we can do it again.
Allen Toussaint — “American Tune” (Paul Simon cover) [Spotify/iTunes]