Posted in Headlines, Music, Politics, Racism, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 10 Highwomen

When Brandi Carlile first made her mark in the Indie-Folk/Adult Alternative world in 2007 with her Grey’s Anatomy featured debut single, “The Story” I would have never guessed that a decade later she would go on to form an all-women country supergroup. But that’s probably because I wasn’t paying really close attention to the music world at the time. In retrospect it all makes sense, “The Story” was produced by none other than T-Bone Burnett. Carlile, like Burnett, has made a career of producing music that brings the fringes of folk, alternative, and outlaw country to mainstream audiences.

So, when Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires formed the Highwomen as the female answer to the male country supergroup the Highwaymen and rounded out the roster with Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby it all seems to somehow make sense now. Their Dave Cobb produced album, The Highwomen is as pure as country music gets. Cobb has produced for a number of my favorite artists doing contemporary “neotraditional” country and folk that blends and bends those definitions further with elements of roots, rock, pop, and alternative music: Jamey Johnson, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and my personal favorite, Ian Noe.

The album breathes a strong, independent, fierce, sensual, feminine, and feminist (in the best way) breath of fresh air into the still male-dominated world of Country music, hell the world of music in general. The album’s songs are packed with lush acoustic guitar and piano, much of both instruments are handled by Carlile. There are punctuation marks of old-time violin played by Shires. The songs on the album provide anthemic and often brilliant portraits of the lives of women: lovers, mothers, single women, working women, straight women, gay women, and on the album’s (and the group’s theme song) a strong black woman.

The decision to remake the group’s theme song to the tune of the original Highwaymen theme song was bold. As Carlile described in Roling Stone, of the ladies giving the old country, outlaw, ghost anthem an update:

[Their characters] all died doing things that men do,” says Carlile. “Willie was a bandit. Johnny Cash drove a fucking starship, nobody knows why. We rewrote it with fates that befell women: a doctor convicted of witchcraft; an immigrant who died trying to get over the border but got the kids over safe and sound; a preacher; and a freedom rider who gets shot.

It is perhaps the decision to include the story of a black freedom rider on their theme song that was the group’s boldest and riskiest move. Maren Morris sits out on her lead vocal duties on the album’s lead track and the Supergroup’s theme song. In her usual place is Yola Carter (formerly of Phantom Limb and a powerhouse of a vocalist in her own right) singing a verse only a black woman can sing: the story of a freedom rider killed in the bus attacks carried out by white supremacists groups in the south, in this instance in Virginia in 1961. I mean theses kick-ass women made a theme song that doesn’t include one of their key members. This is a key “Character” to the group, to the degree that The Highwomen is a re-envisioning of The Highwaymen. It’s as if Carlile, Shires, Morris, and Hemby know that no circle of women singing feminist anthems is complete if it only includes white women.

And that’s why it makes it to today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track. These women aren’t making merely feminist country music. They’re at least attempting to make inclusive feminist country. It may not be consciously womanist, but it is at least intentional about the inclusion of black bodies when they sing their song of women outlaws who laid their lives down to change the world and now live on.

After all, the roots of Country Music, like all almost all forms of American music trace their roots to black music: the banjo, the gospel choir. Country, perhaps even more than Rock and Roll, has become a predominately white art, deeply indebted to black art. Not just Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, though they’ve made some fine contributions. But Country music is deeply indebted to traditional African American Music that goes all the way back to slave spirituals and field songs.

Bravo ladies! Folks we are never going to make it as a society though if the lives and bodies of all women and in particular black women and other women of color aren’t seen as more than symbols of powerful women from the past and still today, as tokens, tools, useful for their electability and the power of their potential voting block. That’s the way public discourse about potential VP running mates for Joe Biden seems to be taking place. And the way the public seems disinterested in the acts of aggression both presidential candidates have committed against women is just astounding. We need to be reminded still – and sadly more than ever – that the lives of women – all women – matter!

As always, please enjoy, subscribe, follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I always appreciate when you folks share these posts on social media. Thank you so much for those of you that have been doing so! Please remember to include the hashtag #PlaylistfortheApocalypse

And please, whether you’re in quarantine, an essential worker, or in a place that is back open if you’re enjoying the posts and the playlist, say hi, feel free to introduce yourself or interact. I am always up for community building. And as I’ve said I am in Michigan, with a stay at home order, now expanded until March 28. So if you have requests for content, questions, or comments it looks like I am going to be having some more time on my hands when this playlist ends next week. Until Monday, Namaste.

*It seems WordPress and Spotify are still not getting along. Apparently, I’m not the first or only one this has effected. Sorry, but for now, no embedded playlists.

Posted in Headlines, Music, Politics, Religion, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 09 Don’t Worry If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go

Curtis Mayfield released “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” in November of 1970. As part of the Soul/R&B vocal group, The Impressions, Mayfield had already given the world “People Get Ready” in 1965, which helped to provide a soundtrack for the civil rights movement. In 1965, JFK had just been assassinated. But there was still hope in the air that we breathed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “People Get Ready” the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song was used to provide solace and motivation to marchers.

The public mood had definitely shifted in the five years between the uplifting Impressions track and “Don’t Worry” in 1970. The US was a mess of social unrest: deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War. The summer of 1969 brought American young people Woodstock. However, the stabbing and death of Meredith Curly Hunter, Jr. in October of 1969 at a Rolling Stones concert had revealed that the dream of “all god’s children” singing and holding hands was yet a ways off.

It was in this environment of social unrest, confusion, and rebellion that Mayfield released his first solo project. “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” was the first song and first single released from Mayfield’s 1970, debut solo album, simply titled Curtis. The first words people heard from the “People Get Ready” artist, gone solo were: “Sisters, n___rs, whites, Jews, and the crackers: Don’t worry, if there’s hell below, we’re all gonna go.” And then Curtis screams as a fuzzy bassline gives way to a funky explosion of sound.

Like the songs from the 1960s that made the Playlist last week, we can see that Curtis Mayfield was addressing many of the same problems we are still facing today: crooked police, “political actors,” drug abuse, “catcalling, love balling, fussing and cussing.” He also expresses angst about pollution (this was the same year as the first Eart Day) and he namechecks Richard Nixon, who in his first year of office was trying to assure people not to worry. He also went on to – as we all know – do some very corrupt things. His rally cry in the post-JFK, post-LBJ, world was “unity.” In his Inaugural address, Nixon said, “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

While that sounds like really great advice, how did the be quiet let’s all just get along and let the government do what they do approach work out for the American people? How are we here? 50 years later? Same problems!?!?! Now with a pandemic on top!?!?! And supporters of two of the worst presidential candidates in history, want us all to just get in line and choose the brown pill or the red one? How can we be quiet? I don’t know what all the answers are. But I know it starts with love. And I agree with Mayfield, if there’s Hell below, we’re all gonna go. Of course, I don’t believe in a literal Hell. But we all got ourselves into this mess. We have been living a lifestyle that is unsustainable in a multitude of ways for so long. It seems everyone has a hustle from the police and political actors, to the fussing and cussing dealer, pimp or… hustler. #PlaylistfortheApocalypse

Posted in Headlines, Mental Health, Politics, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 08 Ball of Confusion

Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)

People movin’ out, people movin’ in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run, but you sho’ can’t hide
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I’ll set you free
Rap on, brother, rap on
Well, the only person talkin’ ’bout love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation,
humiliation, obligation to our nation
Ball Of Confusion that’s what the world is today


Every single line in this song is relevant today. Need I say more? Now listen to the damn thing, share it, and tell a friend, to tell a friend, and have them send it to their aunt Karen’s iPhone. Teach aunt Karen how to use Spotify! Where else are you going to find your daily news with a dose of comic relief, a dash of existential uncertainty, and a kick-ass Playlist? This is your chance to be at the front of something big. The stock market is tanking. Don’t you want to be able to say that you shared the #PlaylistfortheApocalypse before it went viral? You do not want to be in the “long time first time” queue when people are having that conversation, do you? So jump on now.

Seriously, I hope you’re enjoying the Playlist. I hope this is not turning out to be an Apocalypse for you. I feel in some ways like each day is a mini-apocalypse for me since this all began. You see, I’ve been trying to save the world since before I knew what salvation meant. I inherited this from my mother in two ways: First, and most importantly for my mom, it was important that people “hear the gospel.” My mother and the church culture I grew up in told me that we were all born with some cosmic debt owed to a holy and righteous but angry god and if we just accept Jesus’ human sacrifice for our sins, his death could be the substitution for our cosmic debt. Secondly, my mother – and later the Reformed tradition that I came to be ordained in – taught me that we need to be in the business of “saving” people – flawed human beings, saving each other – from the complex network of structures that keep us all oppressed in some way.

So, where were we? Oh, yes! My daily mini-apocalypse. I became indebted to Uncle Sam in order to college and Study religion. Then it was Seminary to become a pastor. I was trying to help myself – and the world – climb out of our cosmic debt. Somewhere between my mom’s death, coming out as bisexual, and an agnostic atheist or a mystic Christian (it depends on the day and who is asking, either way, I’m a heretic, haha), I also stepped away from church leadership. For the last couple of years, I have been working a series of underpaid customer service and manual labor jobs while I try to “figure my shit out.” Well, I felt like, for the first time in years I was on the verge of “having my shit together” when I heard the words novel coronavirus and Pandemic strung together for the first time.

I had just accepted a new position at a nonprofit, working with disadvantaged youth. I had one paid four-hour training session before Michigan went into Stay at Home Orders. I thought I was totally screwed. I could not work. But I could not file for unemployment. Then, at the end of March, I got a notification in the actual paper mail. I was informed that an unemployment claim I filed in December had been reevaluated and I had to call to certify. For the whole month of April, my daily task was trying to certify my claim – both online and on the phone. Two days ago, finally, success! I was approved for unemployment plus the extra $600/week through the CARES Act.

But, this morning I found out online (after waiting for a deposit that never came) that my claim is being reevaluated again. Meanwhile, I am stuck at home for 10-12 hours every day while my wife is working (the perks of being an essential worker). My kids are with their mother. My parenting time with them has been reduced walking with them around their mom’s neighborhood, six feet apart, with masks on. I want to snuggle with them on the couch and catch up on Marvel’s Runaways with my son and Party of Five with my daughter. I can’t even hug or kiss them right now!

When I say each day is a mini-apocalypse, it’s because I know that other people have it much, much worse than I do. Somehow, that notion has never provided me with much comfort. I hope I have a job when this is all over. I hope I have some form of income before then. But in the meantime, I know how fortunate I am to have a partner with a job, a steady income, and good medical benefits (that I hope to god we don’t need for COVID-19 related disaster). We will probably get through this time (nothing is ever guaranteed).

I guess I don’t suppose anymore that any of us can ever really “save” anyone, existentially, financially, emotionally, or otherwise. But, I hope I am in the business of helping people – community: us helping each other – navigate the complex network of structures that keep people oppressed. I think the best way I can do that – with or without a Pandemic – is through my writing.

I have a memoir I am working on. If you like these posts full of daily news with a dose of comic relief, a dash of existential uncertainty, and a kick-ass Playlist, then I think you’ll love the book. My daily routine for keeping sanity these days is to work on these posts for my anonymous, faceless, followers.  A few “likes” on Social Media and site statistics tell someone is there. When I am done with the daily posts, I put whatever remaining energy I have into Playlist: A Memoir. It’s a reflection on finding love, self-worth, and a passion for life after leaving the Christian faith behind. The “lens” for looking back and forth from Childhood interactions with my mother to the present day is a Playlist I made the last night she was verbal, a few days before she died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Someone somewhere will call it “a triumph” and “a celebration of the human spirit’s resilience” or some shit like that.

Until that’s ready, for however long this national ball of confusion drags on: Whether you’re in Quarantine or an essential worker in Michigan, a barbershop owner dealing with reopening in Georgia, working on the front lines in a hospital or doing your best to wash your hands and stay safe at the office, I’d like to go with you! And hopefully, when this is all over, I’ve finished a book I have been dreaming about and conceptualizing forever, but didn’t feel I had time to work on until now. I don’t need a Kickstarter campaign. But I will ask one favor, if you’re enjoying the music or finding any comfort, solace or mere comic relief in the daily posts, then please listen to the Playlist, read, comment, and share #PlaylistfortheApocalypse

Posted in Headlines, Hip Hop, Music, Politics

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 07 Reagan

When my wife and I entertain guests, you know, back in the days when we could have gatherings at our house without worrying about somebody’s grandma dying because we wanted to gather together in community and eat tacos and listen to music and discuss things with like minded people. Anyway, when I make playlists for company, I try to place similar genres together in small sets, so hopefully everybody gets to hear a little something they like. We are at the pinnacle of a Hip-Hop set in our Playlist for the Apocalypse.

Killer Mike embodies so much of what I love about Hip-Hop. When I was 12 years old, I listened to NWA because that’s what rebellious white kids listened to in the late 80’s and early 90’s. But I fell in love with Hip-Hop later, after Ice Cube went solo. In 1992, when his third solo album The Predator was released, it offered me a completely different commentary on the LA Riots than what I got from my parents or the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. As I say in a spoken word piece I often perform

I learned about Rodney King, Dr. King, my white privilege and Malcolm
I fell asleep every night for a year listening to that album…
I’m not kidding when I say
I sit beneath the lilac tree in the cool breeze
While Ice Cube spit hot ash
And that’s why I sought a seminary degree
Because despite a thousand sermons
He was the very first person
I heard preach about Justice

Killer Mike and Ice Cube are kindred spirits. Killer Mike is a self described “Pan Africanist Gangster Rapper, Civic Leader & Activist.” Just the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with, or at least listen to on a frigid May afternoon during quarantine. Some days I go a little bit insane staying in the house. Today I set up my deck chairs and furniture for my outside listening area on my front porch. The plan was to listen to the playlist, drink coffee and write outside. But I decided it was too cold outside today here in West Michigan. So Killer Mike’s music will have to help me transcend these four walls.

When I feel helpless about how comically sad our society is while people protest not being able to get their nails done, Killer Mike’s music reminds me of the true priorities of protest: taking on systems of power. Today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track, “Reagan” uses the imagery of the Beast from the book of Revelation and likens it to the American government, particularly Ronald Reagan. And don’t come here with that Fox News, Geraldo Rivera, “hip-hop has done more damage than racism” bullshit either. Mike’s not having it! He offers an in house critique of some of the themes in Hip-Hop that at times seem like “advertisements for agony and pain.” What Mike offers is a meta-critique of sorts. It is one in which, governmental and world powers might be held to closer scrutiny because of their enormous power and responsibility. In the end, we all carry the burden of our collective responsibility, even if some people with their great and terrible abuses of power shoulder more of the guilt. But nobody is spared in Mike’s prophetic critique of American politics

Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor
Just an employee of the country’s real masters
Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama
Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters
If you don’t believe the theory, then argue with this logic
Why did Reagan and Obama both go after Qaddafi
We invaded sovereign soil, going after oil
Taking countries is a hobby paid for by the oil lobby
Same as in Iraq, and Afghanistan
And Ahmadinejad say they coming for Iran
They only love the rich, and how they loathe the poor
If I say any more they might be at my door
Who the fuck is that staring in my window
Doing that surveillance on Mister Michael Render
I’m dropping off the grid before they pump the lead
I leave you with four words: I’m glad Reagan dead

Posted in Hip Hop, Music, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 06 Upside Down

Royce da 5’9″ is one of the five greatest rappers alive.

Oh! Wouldn’t you like to know? I’m not arguing about my Top Five list with Hip-Hop heads today, haha. Not that I think too many Hip-Hop heads read what I write. But I guess you never know. That I know of, I have a small and very eclectic conglomerate of people who follow or at least check my feed with some regularity: Family or friends I grew up with (mostly, conservative evangelicals but there’s a few exceptions), friends and acquaintances from seminary (progressive evangelicals with a few exceptions), friends I have made in the spoken word and artistic scene in West MI (mostly social progressives from a wide variety of ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds). And maybe a few vinyl enthusiasts.

So I don’t know how you’ll feel about today’s song. If you’re white and you think it’s okay to say the N word because you say it when you’re around your black friends and they don’t correct you, you might not like this song. If you’re white and you think it’s okay to say the N word because you say it when you’re drunk and listening to 2 Chainz and all you’re white friends laugh and think it’s okay, you might not like this song. If you’re white and you think it’s okay to say the N word because “they” say it and you think that it’s “reverse racism” when you’re not allowed to say it, you might not like this song.

Some of my favorite passages on Royce’s most recent album, The Allegory, are the skits. I am not a big fa of concept albums in general or skits in Hip-Hop *usually.* But everything works perfectly here; and for one hour and eight minutes, through 22 seamless tracks, Royce takes his listeners on a super woke head trip full of historical tidbits, and social commentary on wealth, investing, American spending habits and some words about how Hip-Hop brings more races and various walks of life together than any other art form or “ism” on earth (with some help from long time collaborator Eminem). By far my favorite of these, are the Ms. Grace Intro and Interlude, where a father and daughter have some candid conversations:

Daddy taught you that you a goddess so you could never be anybody’s what?
Bitch or ho
Who was Huey P. Newton?
An African political activist, a revolutionary who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966
Who’s coming to save you?
Nobody, I have to save myself
If I die today, then what’s your job?
Pick up where you left off and take care of my siblings
Good job, good job

If you don’t know, Huey P. Newton was the founder of the Black Panthers. A lot of progressives (myself included) are disappointed with a Presidential primary season that started with one of the widest, most diverse candidate pools ever, only to wind up with a party coalescing around a morally unscrupulous centrists. And with Pandemic in the air and people facing enormous financial uncertainties, a lot of people are talking about “revolution.” These days almost all talk I hear of revolution, focuses exclusively on wealth inequality. But I think we need to revisit some of the revolutionaries of the past.

Intersectionality! That term has probably been more overused in progressive circles in the last few years than Karen memes have been this last month. But it is still a very important task to live into. Huey Newton knew that well. He had an all inclusive vision when he spoke about revolution, “When we have revolutionary conferences, rallies, and demonstrations, there should be full participation of the gay liberation movement and the women’s liberation movement.” Maybe we need to talk about more than just money, when we talk about policy reform, domestic and abroad. In the meantime, enjoy the video. Butcher Comin’…