Three weeks in and I’m exhausted

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This blog has been a tough read over the last few weeks. No, let me amend that. It’s been a tough read since calendar flipped over to 2017. Let’s review:

  • Jan. 5 — I tried to grapple with the challenge of teaching international relations in an era when the US is poised to upend the norms and institutions that have given us relative global peace and stability for the last 70 years.
  • Jan. 9 — Donald Trump as the foreign policy opposite of the Obama Doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit.”
  • Jan. 11 — I tried to explain why I’m not loyal to the president. Any president. (Amazingly, of all the stuff I’ve written since I started the blog, this post was one of most widely shared on social media.)
  • Jan. 13 — The only thing we have to fear is Donald Trump’s control over foreign policy.
  • Jan. 16 — A little lesson in presidential personality types, in which I reference one of the classic works in the field of political psychology and foreign policy analysis and I refer to the president-elect as Caligula.
  • Jan. 20 — The White House is destroyed. And Trump is inaugurated.
  • Jan. 25 — As Trump begins fulfilling his campaign promises on immigration I call up a reminder of America’s shameful abandonment of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.
  • Jan. 27 — Depressing musical interlude.
  • Jan. 29 — I try to convince myself that Trump will fail because at some point the fundamental decency of Americans will rescue us from this downward spiral before it’s too late. (Another surprisingly popular post. I guess we’re all looking for a straw to grasp.)
  • Jan. 30 — Another angry white man commits a brutal act of terrorism, gunning down six Muslim worshipers at a mosque in Quebec. The only really surprising thing is that this time it happened in Canada.
  • Feb.1 — The travel ban kicks in, chaos ensues, and Trump stokes the fires of fear of the other. Muslims are victimized again, this time by conscious policy decision.
  • Feb. 2 — Trump picks a fight with the prime minister of Australia and I get to post a “Road Warrior” clip.
  • Feb. 5 — I review the president’s foreign policy record to date against what he said he’d do during the campaign. So far he’s been a man of his word. That’s not really praise.
  • Feb. 6 — A reminder that angry white men have committed some really bad acts of terrorism in the United States. Like Oklahoma City.
  • Feb. 9 — A smug Wisconsin congressman tries to argue that the angry white men who commit terrorism are way less worrisome than the Muslims who haven’t committed terrorism that Trump wants barred from entering the United States anyway. Evidence would suggest otherwise.

I’m exhausted. Let’s do this instead:

‘Nobody living can ever stop me’

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I probably first heard, then sang, “This Land is Your Land” some 40 or more years ago as a schoolchild.

The lyrics of the song, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 and presented to us as a celebration of America and all its wonders,  seemed tailor-made for elementary school assemblies:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

The version we sang was bucolic, inclusive, and uplifting:

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me

The version we sang as kids was also incomplete, leaving out the verses of biting social commentary that Guthrie wrote in reaction to his Depression-era wanderings alongside Dust Bowl refugees and other road-weary travelers.

I’ve been thinking about and singing this song a lot more recently, in the band that I play with and in living room jam sessions with friends. We sing all the verses, especially the radical ones:

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.

The verses I sang as a kid are beautiful. The verses I sing now are powerful. The verses I sing now are challenging. The verses I sing now are inspiring.

The verses I sing now are right for these times.

Music to start the weekend

Anais Mitchell and Jonathan Hamer.
Anais Mitchell and Jonathan Hamer.

 

My blog has been way too dark lately. So here’s a little something different. Old songs, sung and played beautifully.

While some of you may rock out on a Friday evening, this is how I usher in the weekend. Hope you enjoy it.

An artist on her creative process

Annie Lennox, artist.
Annie Lennox, artist.

 

True confessions time: Back in the ’80s I had a crush on Annie Lennox, and it’s never gone away. Me and millions of others.

It wasn’t just her striking good looks and the magnetism of her performances that drew me in. It was also the complexity, nuance, and fierce intelligence in the music she made with Dave Stewart as the Eurythmics. Her solo career has been just as compelling.

I was thinking about this today after stumbling across a pair of videos in which Lennox talks about learning how to become an artist and sheds light on her own creative process.

The first was part of a series of short videos by The Atlantic exploring the idea of creative breakthroughs. To be an artist, she says here,

You don’t have to be the best, best, best. If you love doing what you’re doing and you have a passion for it, it’s good enough.

The second video was produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum to accompany an exhibition of celebrating her image and creative vision. That video opens with a discussion of the nature of inspiration:

The inspiration for song writing … hmmm … I think it starts with this capacity to respond to sound, to rhythm, to melodic line, to chordal progressions. And also at the core of it is something about needing to express something. I think that human beings are like sponges for all the externals that are affecting them.

To bring a lift to your Friday afternoon, here’s a performance of one of my favorite Eurythmics songs, recorded live in Sydney, Australia in 1987.