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, Health, Music, Racism, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 02 Changes

What can I say about “Changes” that hasn’t already been said? I mean everyone from Ed Sheeran to The Catholic Church, loves this song. Maybe Pope Francis should listen to it again and contemplate the themes of social justice, instead of comparing the suffering of Jesus to that of a Cardinal who abused children. But I digress.

Tupac Shakur originally recorded changes in 1992. It was not released until it was remixed and issued on his Greatest Hits album in 1998, two years after Shakur’s death. Since then, it has become one of the late rapper’s most widely recognized song. Did I mention it made a playlist at the Vatican?

We have another song with lines that could easily be ripped from today’s headlines or a Facebook status:

I see no changes wake up in the morning and I ask myself
Is life worth living should I blast myself?

I see no changes all I see is racist faces
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races

And still I see no changes can’t a brother get a little peace
It’s war on the streets and the war in the Middle East

Feelings of despair, racism and violence in the American streets and abroad. The song also touches on poverty, police brutality against the black community, the prison industrial complex and “the war on drugs.” And then there’s what’s probably become the most talked about line of the song. Pac spits, “And although it seems heaven sent, we ain’t ready, to see a black President.”

White people reacted to the election of former President Barack Obama in a lot of really gross ways. Much has been said about the “conservative backlash.” Everything from the birther movement to tiki torches in Virginia has been framed as the reaction of white people feeling a loss a power. But it wasn’t just conservatives, much of white America thought we had finally arrived. In addition to athlete, rapper or actor, a black man could now be president. Racism was over.

Of course it wasn’t. It’s still not. The penitentiaries are still packed. And they’re still filled with blacks. The prison industrial complex is alive and well in the era of the New Jim Crow. Police still kill unarmed black men, women and children. Before Joe Biden served as Vice President under Obama, he was the chief architect of the United State’s “war on drugs” that terrorized African American Communities. Now he is running for President himself.

But has anything changed? Since 1992? 1998? 2008? Have we reached some previously unknown state of racial reconciliation and reckoning with this county’s racist history? As we have seen in headline after headline the present pandemic is having a devastating and disproportionate impact on the Black community in America. There are of course many contributing factors: redlining, racial wealth gap, massive disparities in education and employment opportunities. The list goes on, but much could be summed up under the umbrella of systemic racism. Maybe we still need to make some changes.

We gotta make a change
It’s time for us as a people to start making some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live
And let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
What we gotta do, to survive.

Posted in Headlines, Mental Health, Music, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 01 Eve Of Destruction

You start a new project with good intentions. There are ambitions, promises, and hopes of rejuvenating your website. The next thing you know, you’ve spent a month of disbelief at home in the middle of a pandemic, worried about elderly loved ones, family and friends with asthma or immune deficiencies, and just a little bit about yourself. Meanwhile, your whole country is living in fear of a complete and total financial collapse. In the United States, we were already living a completely unsustainable way of life before we ever saw headlines reading “Novel Coronavirus” or “COVID-19.” The virus and our government’s inept response has exposed the raw nerves of all of our broken systems to the world: the failure of unfettered capitalism, a healthcare system that is tied to employment and politicians that care more about their own finical interest than they do about the health and well being of their constituents.

While certainly we need to hold our elected officials to higher standards, I would also like to take this time to reflect deeply on some unsustainable habits, selfishness and complacency in my civic and personal life. Sure, with great power comes great responsibility. But I also believe there are many ways – both big and small – that we all contributed the place we find ourselves in, dangling over an existential cliff at what seems like the end of the world. So, since I’ve got some extra time on my hands, I would also like to share my “Playlist for the Apocalypse” with you: 15 tracks to play while we watch watch the world burn, duck the flames, and hope for the best.

Several of these songs are from the 1960’s, another time of great unrest and upheaval in the US and around the world. Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction” is the first on the list. My mom was a little bit obsessed with the end of the world. When I was a small child, she read the book of Revelation to me for bedtime stories.  So it makes sense that she loved this song so much, with its bleak outlook and allusions to the Bible.

And it’s a song for our time as much as it was a song for 1965. It’s both amazing and sad how much the social anxieties of 1965, sound like those of 2020: War, fear of Nuclear proliferation, senators that refuse to pass desperately needed legislation and policy reform, fear of Communism, and good ‘ol American made, home-cooked racism. Does any of this sound familiar?

In the coming days, I’ll share some of my thoughts, questions and observations about how we got here.  The “City on a Hill,” the country that goes about its business on the world stage (almost entirely unchecked) occupying, bombing and sanctioning our neighbors in the name of freedom and democracy has always been slow to change, eager to concentrate power and wealth among an ever decreasing number of people, and prone to fail the most vulnerable people on the margins of its society. The present state of insanity that we find ourselves in did not begin with the election of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, here we are in a country with vast amounts of wealth, full of brilliant minds and access to some of the world’s most amazing technologies and we are leading the way in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and deaths related to COVID-19, the vicious respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Meanwhile, we have a cartoonishly outrageous and crude president spreading misinformation, encouraging militia groups, offering dangerous off the cuff interpretations of scientific data and holding what amounts to daily televised rallies during a crisis in the midst of an election year. To his credit, he is likely, at least marginally, more intelligent and politically savvy than mainstream media corporations like CNN and MSNBC make him out to be. And he’s also more of a populist than the truly fascist GOP establishment. But none of that makes him a good person and there were certainly more than enough egregious speech and behavior  – prior to his administration’s mishandling of the virus – to make him unfit and unqualified to be President of the US. And he is certainly not the valiant defender of American values from an imaginary bygone era that FOX, Rush and all the right wing media make him out to be.

But the Decrepit National Centrists are not offering the American people much hope or change in this dark hour. A few years ago, I thought most progressives would have agreed that as long as systems of systemic oppression are in place all of us who benefit from those systems in some way – big or small – share the burden of the guilt until we eradicate such systems. Now it seems like as long as there is a D in front of the name, Democrats will do anything to defend their status quo, Wall Street appeasing, Centrist (read Reagan era Republican) candidate. In the case of Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, it seems that means defending systems of oppression and becoming apologists for rape culture. I guess people really do become what they hate. But I heard somewhere that darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that:

Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.