Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Tide is Turning: America sings from the big RED heart


Sunday, January 18, 2009, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, under the umbrella of a concert event called “We are One”, the gorgeous moments were plentiful. There was Bono singing tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., reiterating that the dream is “not just an American dream, but an African dream, a European dream, an Israeli dream, and…[long pause before he hollered it into an isolated American consciousness]: “a Palestinian dream…” There was Bruce Springsteen and a gospel choir performing “The Rising”, a song whose challenge and hope we failed in 2002, but redeemed six years later. There was Stevie Wonder in his opulent Obama jacket, playing “Higher Ground” to a country that finally decided to take it.
But the best moment was a veritable coup. I imagine its masterminds are still laughing joyously at having pulled it off. Richard Nixon’s grave has been desecrated. Ronald Reagan’s library probably collapsed on itself. The voices of millions upon millions of murdered, imprisoned, disenfranchised and disheartened leftists of the twentieth century were finally allowed to join in the chorus of a song at an American inauguration.
Why? Because the concert closed with communist folk singer Pete Seeger standing next to his heir, Bruce Springsteen, singing Woody Guthrie’s communist hymn, “This Land is Your Land.” To be sure, the popularity of the song was always a coup—little grade school kids all across America singing a communist song during the Reagan years has to be one of the more amusing and bemusing instances of our long and storied tradition of incompetent lyric reading. But in America’s defense, we were never taught to sing the whole song. Conveniently excised were the parts that impugned private property, the church, and our callous practice of writing-off the homeless and poor as having poor ‘work ethic’.
But those verses were not only included Sunday night, they were spoken by Pete Seeger, clearly and loudly and insistently, before each line was sung, so that we could not possibly indulge in our habit—developed during decades of opiate-lyric abuse—of closing our eyes and simply swaying to a familiar melody:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing
That side was made for you and me

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people
By the relief office I seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me

Take note, Metallica—those words aren’t anybody’s intellectual ‘property’. They are our intellectual inheritance and our intellectual hope. The tide is turning. When we let go of the old allegiances and welcome whatever seems the most democratic, the tide is turning. In the rubble of the Berlin Wall in 1990, Roger Waters and friends sang his “The Tide is Turning” in honor of the fall of a communist regime and the hope of democracy. Sunday the tide was turning away from a horrifically capitalist regime towards a hope of democracy, this time inscribed by the greatest communist song ever written.

Perhaps the remnants of Bush’s police state are intact enough to track people like me who blog words like ‘communist’ and ‘Hugo Chavez’, who want to legalize drugs and prostitution, who don’t think Antonio Negri is a terrorist. Even so, nobody living can ever make me turn back. This land was made for you and me, not for anything so crass as a ‘nation’, a ‘people’, an ‘audience’ or a ‘demographic.’

1 comment:

MAX said...

You belong to every generation. You are the horn blowing at the head of a procession of a million, billion horses dragging this sorry species into the light.

The Sacred Dice - A Revolutionary Salon

The Sacred Dice is a salon of musicians, scholars, poets, sound sculptors, activists and artists of all kinds committed to art that is committed.  That could get us committed (to an asylum).  That disdain's art for art's sake and artists who have no idea why they do what they do.  We know why we do what we do--to create and celebrate community in a country still stuck in capitalist fantasies of individualism.  If you want in, you're in.  If you want out, don't worry--you already are.