You know it, and I know it: things are bizarre. Hopefully, we will not be slipping into a Hobbesian “war of all against all,” but I am not taking any bets. The closer we get to a culture of “show me your papers,” the closer we get to societal chaos.
In that spirit, I have put together a little playlist to help navigate the season of this our angst. You will notice that most of these songs are from my youth. I remember reading an interview with John Lennon just before he died (I think it was in Rolling Stone) and the interviewer asked what he was listening to. He answered, “Old rock ‘n’ roll. Chuck Berry, Fats Domino. I’m like our parents, you know: That was my era.” Even though I left the music business for the most part in 1987, while still a babe, I haven’t really tried to keep up with what the cool kids are listening to since then. But if you have suggestion of songs to add, mention them in the comments.
1. Beatles, “Revolution.” Speaking of Chuck Berry, John Lennon’s evocation of the guitar god at the opening of this tune is one of the most ferocious sounds ever to be recorded. I also love his equivocation about destruction. “It’s gonna be alright.”
2. The Call, “The Walls Came Down.” Michael Been, lead singer, songwriter, and leader of the band The Call employed biblical allusion to the walls of Jericho in his castigation of American “nation building” (meddling to you and me). It seems particularly poignant right now in light of the disaster that is Afghanistan. Interesting trivia, No. 1: In 1985 I opened for The Call in Detroit and talked to the band quite a bit in the dressing room. Been was ALL ABOUT THE POLITICS, a very earnest and sincere man. Interesting trivia, No. 2: A few years later, when I watched Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, I was surprised and pleased to see Been in the role of John the apostle. Unfortunately, Been died prematurely of a heart attack in 2010.
3. The Hooters, “All You Zombies.” Speaking of biblical allusions, this song by The Hooters is just crummy with them. The Hooters were outstanding musicians, very inventive and accomplished, but they were also cursed with good looks, so the record company marketed them as heartthrobs. To their credit, they didn’t play along.
4. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, “Ohio.” This is one of the great monuments in the catalog of protest songs. Written by Neil Young about the massacre of students at Kent State in 1970, it captures that moment like nothing else could. I show this video just every semester to my college students, telling them that they shouldn’t ever think it couldn’t happen again. It can. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video circulating of Autralian police pepper-spraying a 12-year-old for not wearing a mask, but I’d say Western democracies are moving dangerously close to turning on the unarmed citizenry. Don’t think what happened at Kent State can’t happen again.
5. “Get Up, Stand Up.” Bob Marley and the Wailers. This one, Peter Tosh’s masterpiece of resistance, really needs no explanation. I was very pleased to see it used at the conclusion of the recent protest against vaccine passports in New York City.
6. World Party, “Ship of Fools.” Karl Wallinger is a great and underrated songwriter. This scathing indictment of the political order has been my theme song for a good long while, even more so over the last eighteen months.
7. X, “The Have Nots.” One of the most disappointing developments of the last year and a half has been the vilification of the working and poor classes as part the propaganda apparatus of BigPharma and friends. The caricatures of doltish Trump supporters as the symbol of “vaccine hesitancy” is one thing, but New York mayor De Blassio’s vaccine passport actually impacts 60% or more of his city’s African-American residents. More propaganda. My sympathies are with the working classes and the poor, not with corporate, political, and media elites. Whose side do you think Jesus would be on? X’s song is a validation of the working poor—and it mentions Detroit’s Aorta Bar where I hung out once upon a time. This song is Charles Bukowski set to music.
8. The Parachute Club, “Rise Up!” Nothing says “80s” quite like parachute pants. Canadian band The Parachute Club offers an optimistic song here. I used to hang out in Toronto quite a bit as a young man (it’s only four hours from Detroit, where I grew up) and this song perfectly captures the mid-80s Toronto vibe. So rise up already.
9. Steppenwolf, “The Pusher.” This one goes out to BigPharma.
10. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “(What’s so Funny about) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Something to remember! Costello’s turn on Nick Lowe’s song (Lowe did it more as a ballad or lament) is as earnest as it is aggressive. And what a great description of our own moment:
As I walk through This wicked world Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity. I ask myself Is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred, and misery? And each time I feel like this inside, There's one thing I wanna know: What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?
This version, from when Costello hosted The David Letterman Show, is gold.
11. Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure.” I don’t think any song has captured existential angst better then this one from 1981, an earlier time of existential angst (trust me, I was there). It also describes our own time. Bowie and Queen must have been reading their Heidegger, as the antidote to this angst is found in care, Heidegger’s point. We should try to remember that. This video beautifully complements the music.
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at email@example.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine.