Diablo Dispatch, Part One - Anthems
The same year that I started trashing Reaganomics* for its racism, carelessness, negligence, and greed in in my sinisterly named high school newspaper the Diablo Dispatch, the Ramones released a song that became an anthem to me...
You've got to pick up the pieces C'mon, sort your trash You better pull yourself back together Maybe you've got too much cash Better call, call the law When you gonna turn yourself in? Yeah You're a politician Don't become one of Hitler's children
Shouldn't wish you happiness, wish her the very best Fifty thousand dollar dress Shaking hands with your highness See through you like cellophane You watch the world complain, but you do it anyway Who am I, am I to say
If there's one thing that makes me sick It's when someone tries to hide behind politics I wish that time could go by fast Somehow they manage to make it last
Never let it be said that the Ramones were not prophetic songwriters. But, of course, musicians know...
In a tidy bit of continuity, Guthire wrote a song about Trump's racist, swindling father.** But this post isn't about Trump. I'll let George Will revile the beast he helped create:
What is most alarming... is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history... the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.
Movin' on. Arthur Conley asked, "do you like good music?"
Sure you do. And no matter what you're listening to, it's immigrant music. Even country is a big old melting pot stew of influences... English, Irish, African, French, Caribbean, Polynesian (that lovely steel guitar and its sliding technique is Hawaiian)... American music ain't exclusive. Like the country & its populous, our music is a shape-shifting sponge.
Listen to Amerikkkas Most Wanted or Home Invasion and consider that both Ice-T and Ice-Cube later portrayed cops... as protagonists. Reinvention and change is in our blood.
There's a lot we can agree on. Soul music is an easy first step. Consider how everyone in the world has sung Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1,000 Dances"... even if it was just the "na na na" part at a sporting event. Soul music crushes divisions... like sports.
Anthems are powerful and silly. Ours is comprised of odd lyrics and an English drinking song. According to Greil Marcus' The Rose & The Briar, virtually every secular tune was once a drinking song… or a murder ballad. Or both. I suppose we should be grateful that the music of our national anthem isn’t a borrowed from a murderous tale... although that third stanza about putting runaway slaves in their grave is ugly.
"America the Beautiful" is a finer song. It speaks to the aesthetics of place. It also features a shout out to fallen veterans and music borrowed from a church hymn. But if either is to serve as a test of patriotism, the song better be prepared for some hard questions. It can't be treated as some sacred creed. Patriotism is not obedience. And best not fret over any perceived disrespect. The country is not some fragile, precious heirloom. Like the country they represent, anthems better be tough enough to withstand some poking and prodding.
When my elder son got beat up elementary school, he was justifiably mad. I was too. I played him Rise Above. Third graders cannot appreciate Black Flag, of course. But when others behave badly, I continue to remind him that it's preferable to rise above. I suppose it's become somewhat of a family anthem. This weekend, athletes rose above a petulant, racist President. That takes guts.
The Alt. Right thinks I'm a sensitive snowflake. Fair enough. "Oh Voltaire. Oh Humanist. Oh Nonsense," Nietzsche scoffed. But Fredrick died from syphilis alone (save for his sister) while Voltaire lived long, traveled well, and essentially became synonymous with "enlightenment." Also, Candide is clever and entertainingly caustic. Humanists are capable of biting wit.
A quarter century ago, my girlfriend and I were asked about our interracial relationship. I didn't know what to say. I'm not colorblind. She was from Indonesia. I'm Todd Pound of Connecticut. But it hadn't ever occurred to me that we were anything but just two American teenagers. A Mellencamp song. In the years since, I've attended a great many unions of wildly divergent cultures. They all felt right at home. It's the single best thing about the United States.
We are not fearful of a big, multicultural future. Bring it. We'll add to our anthems. ***
Sweet's Desolation Boulevard is effeminate and burly. It's crass and, well, sweet. It full of innuendo and sly boasts. "Ballroom Blitz" is the ultimate rock song (even the Damned couldn't improve upon the original). Only Bowie's Hunky Dory surpassed this record with a better mix of glam and rock.
Since I mentioned 'em prior, give the Ramones pop record a spin. Produced by the inventor of the wall of sound and tormentor of Brian Wilson, this record has punk gems cuddling up alongside Velvet Underground-esque pop like "Danny Says." The band even featured a conservative member, albeit one addled by opioids (see "Chinese Rocks').
I love the Beastie Boys. My sons love the Beastie Boys. My wife loves the Beastie Boys. Even Chuck D loves the Beastie Boys: "People talk about Jay Z and Eminem... that's evolution, but the revolution is LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys." There are better songs, of course, but what's that you say, MCA? "I'm a funky-ass Jew and I'm on my way. And yes I got to say fuck the KKK." I miss these dorks.
The Mekons are my all-time favorite band. I've had the pleasure of singing sea shanties with 'em (again, drinking songs). They're a friendly lot. This is a personal anthem.
I will teach them from my lesson I will teach them from my song I will speak of all lives wonder Where I land will be renowned Where I land will be the fortress Of this fight against the tides Tides of rotten patriarchy Tides of greed and tricks and lies
The last anthems come from the source of everything. The brilliance of this sound... follow it through blues, soul, rock, and hip hop. There is no Atlanta crunk, no dancehall, no rock, no ska without these growlers and beats. This is the root.
And since we're all in a fightin' mood, I'm going to suggest one more. Zeppelin, Black Sabbath... nobody can match the heaviness that happens at the 2:02 mark. To quote The Staple Singers, "Heavy makes you happy."
Ain't nobody leaving, so we might as well start humming more anthems together. There's music playing somewhere. If happens to be hardcore in a gay leather bar, go bounce around and drink beer with punks and homosexuals. Or take a knee during the Star Spangled Banner. This is America. It's not scary and nothing's shocking.
*For a reminder, see Kansas. Not the band but the supply-side state as it slouches towards irrelevance and debt.
** I'd like to hear Springsteen resurrect this song:
I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts When he drawed that color line Here at his Beach Haven family project Beach Haven ain't my home! No, I just can't pay this rent! My money's down the drain, And my soul is badly bent! Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower Where no black folks come to roam, No, no, Old Man Trump! Old Beach Haven ain't my home! I'm calling out my welcome to you and your man both Welcoming you here to Beach Haven To love in any way you please and to have some kind of a decent place To have your kids raised up in. Beach Haven ain't my home! No, I just can't pay this rent! My money's down the drain, And my soul is badly bent! Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower Where no black folks come to roam, No, no, Old Man Trump! Old Beach Haven ain't my home!
*** The New Colossus would make a fine anthem...
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Sounds like something Robert Plant could sing. Immigrant Song Part II.