Anger Is an Energy, but Sometimes I Have Hope
September 4, 2008
I have not been so angry at any time in recent memory as I am right now after Sarah Palin’s speech last night. But I’m in no mood to be articulate about that anger, and I don’t even think that if I were in the mood I could, at this point, be articulate. And I am tired–so tired–of being this angry about politics, of listening to angry political music to abate my angry political disappointments.
So, I am reminding myself not only of the deep connection between popular music and politics, but also of the great songs that are not jingoistic or knee-jerk political and that are about what makes this country great. Here are five classics of hope. And I do not mean “hope” in an instant gratification kind of way, but in a long-term, someday-this-will-be-fixed kind of way.
1. “A Change is Gonna Come.” Sam Cooke (but I also like the Otis Redding cover… certainly not a bad cover version!). One of the most beautiful songs of the Civil Rights era, supposedly inspired by #4 in this list. Prior to this song, Cooke wrote ballads and pop songs; after, he turned towards Civil Rights activism.
2. “People Get Ready.” The Impressions. Uses religious imagery in a way that does not make me automatically shout, “Separation of church & state!” Mostly because it’s not saying, “God is going to smite you!” but rather, “We will be delivered from this suffering.”
3. “We Shall Overcome.” Traditional, but popularized by Pete Seeger, who credits Guy Carawan (my SF roommate Heather’s dad!) with the nice little rhythmic twist in the song. Seeger also added a verse to the song.
4. “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Bob Dylan (but performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary). Sure, it might rip off the African-American spiritual “No More Auction Block for Me,” but it’s one of those songs that presents Bob Dylan at his best, writing in poetic, yet understandable language. It’s at once depressing–because the answer seems to be “forever,” but also suggestive that it’s obvious to fix the problems at hand.
5. “Free Your Mind (And Your Ass Will Follow).” Funkadelic. Yes, it’s basically a very long, very high song with no clear political message. But, you know, freeing your mind is pretty damned important.
Notably, all these songs are from no later than the 1960s. I tried very hard to include more recent music, but most of the political stuff from my lifetime seems too damned angry, not as hopeful. And I was really hoping (ha!) that this election could be about hope, and not a bunch of dishonest mud-slinging. And so I try to think of last week, rather than this one, and think, “A Change is Gonna Come.” Someday.
P.S. My favorite jingoistic American song? “Round & Round Hitler’s Grave,” the Almanac Singers.