Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve been taking a break. I have a lot of professional obligations this month, and, to be frank, I’m trying desperately not to write a “what it means for Barack Obama to be president” post. There are some pretty good post-mortems out there detailing how Barack won, but anyone who claims to know “what it means,” within a week of the first black president being elected, is a goddamn charlatan. As a student of the 19th century and a child of the 20th, I can tell you this is one of those moments not only by which we will be judged by future generations, but with which we will continue to define ourselves as long as there is an America. For real.
That said, I think a far more honest thing for me to do would be to pick an arbitrary number of songs to explain to you how I’ve been feeling about our guy winning last week. I’ll try to tell you “what it means” eight years from now, but even then I imagine the task will be beyond me.
The Mountain Goats, “Stable Boy Song”
“Here come the times of changing time.” This is a song about hope, and the terrible patience it requires. I suspect it may be about Jesus, but having been raised unsuperstitious, the only analogue I have is a president who’s not a coked-out man-child. That’s my Second Coming. Download a longer version.
Dead Prez, “Hip Hop” from Let’s Get Free
Ignoring what could be taken as a pun in the band’s name, this song is all about scope. “It’s bigger than hip hop,” the song tells us, and you might think Dead Prez are just calling out the competition’s “fake, fake records.” But this is one of the great revolutionary bands of our generation and they aren’t content with simple one-upsmanship: “Would you rather have a Lexus or justice/ A dream or some substance/ A beamer, a necklace, or freedom?” That’s a pretty good description of what I voted for. Buy it.
Thom Yorke, “Black Swan” from The Eraser
Ignore that pun too (sheesh). Thom Yorke is, if anything, a poet of cultural despair. Could anyone else make the line “This is fucked up,” sound so much like a deeply felt statement of the human condition? No, but on his lips it becomes the perfect intersection of political apathy and postmodern high school breakups. Did I mention that Barack Obama has explicitly promised to fix everything “fucked up” in this song, beginning with putting a smile on Thom Yorke’s face? Done and done. Buy it.
Bill Withers, “Lean on Me” from Still Bill
You know what, fuck you. It’s a good song, and one that captures a spirit not only of cooperation and shared burdens, but of the kind of pain that makes coming together necessary. Barack Obama knows sorrow in a way that most former presidents probably don’t believe exists anymore. Listen to that first “Lean on me,” when Bill Withers comes in, sharp and quick. That’s not a guy telling you he want’s to be your friend. That’s a guy telling you the boat is sinking, and he’s here to help. Buy it.
Jimi Hendrix, “The Star Spangled Banner” from Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock
Reminding us that patriotism is a kind of protest when your country has been hijacked by crooks and liars. Forget for a moment the context of endless war and Nixon in the white house, listen to what Jimi says: “I’m American, so I played it.” That’s what none of the hooting retards on the Right could understand, that’s why Barack had to be a Muslim or a Socialist, or some other “evil” thing. Because the real America scares the shit out of people whose lives are defined by fear and hate, even if they’re living right in the middle of the good old U.S. of A. Buy it.