Five Songs for Barack Obama

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.

Reader Comments (4)

Speaking of Woodstock, shouldn't we all meet in D.C. for the inauguration in January? I mean, doesn't somebody we know have a heated tent or something that can sleep 14 people?

I mean I think you're right: this is not only history, it's like super-history. It may end up representing a turning point in the power-dynamics of politics that have been with us since forever... of course, it might not. Maybe we'll find out that Obama's just a white man in black man's clothing (or, whatever garbled metaphors I was going for there) -- but we should be in D.C. just in case, right? Needless to say, there are no places to stay for miles around...

November 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

I was thinking about what to say to you, my son, and to your sister about this election. History in the making, the black guy won, and all that. This election will only be meaningful if the spirit that got everyone out to vote stays alive. In the 60's we were spirited but naive; and when the war was over we went back to sleep. We don't want to know about the mechanics of government--that's why we hire politicians in the first place. I know that this election was a popular--and populist--uprising of sorts, but unless we keep awake and keep watching these bastards, Barack will be a one term president and an asterisk in history.

If it doesn't turn into something beyond "the black guy won" and "it's history in the making" after January 20th, in 2050 it's going to look a lot like 1950. My generation pissed away our '60's. Don't let your generation piss yours away.

Do you remember the day I made you both stop what you were doing to watch Nelson Mandella get out of prison? Barack's election is just as important from a civil rights point of view; but it's more important to me in terms of the policy changes that BO (god, are we gonna call him that?) espouses than about his ethnic background. It's what he's been all about, and that's one reason I am hopeful.

If you looked at the speeches--just the text--of the campaign of 2008, you could tell the color and gender of all the candidates except for Obama. Hillary never failed to mention herself as the female running for president--the glass ceiling, the 18 million women, and so on. McCain and Palin of course have the white codewords embedded in their genes; they don't even have to try to be white. Only Obama was the candidate you wouldn't be sure about--except in a few speeches that were aimed at racial topics. Remember that stunning speech on race that he gave early in the campaign? Best stuff since MKL. But the rest of the time he was the man of ideas, resisting the flow of negativism and ad hominem attacks. He proved that he is a better man inside. Fuck race and gender. It really is about character.

All that being said--watch him. Don't let him turn into another politician. Stay active and alert and educated. He's still a politician and that makes him a suspect. Keep his feet to the fire and keep voting for an enlightened congress. Dennis Kucinish, vegan congressman, was reelected in Ohio. Dennis might still get that impeachment going before W. retires.

I wish Molly Ivins had lived to see this day.
I wish Dr King had been here.
I wish Obama's grandmother had lived to see him win.
I wish my dad had lived to see him win -- it would have killed him.
I wish all the martyrs who died in the civil rights movement had lived.
I wish John Lennon had lived to see this day.
Jimi too.

I wish Al Gore had won in 2000, in which case much of this would have been unnecessary. Oh, wait. Al DID win. Well, you know what I mean.

I'm glad my grandson will never know a time when we didn't have a history of integration in the White House. I'm glad my children grew up wise enough to understand the importance of this election. Fucking radicals--your hippie father is proud of you.


November 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterYer Paw

Well, the whitest white boy of them all did to the country what I think racists are afraid a black guy would do. Ever by accident or with malice. And enough people were able to get past the color of Barack's skin to see that he was the only one who could lead us out of the dark ages again. I do think it's going to take a long time to understand the significance of that, but you can feel something important is happening. I'm not psychic, but watching him in 2004, I felt like I was watching something amazing and historic beginning. And it's just kept feeling like that. I don't think he's going to let us down. He just doesn't have it in him.

November 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Otis Redding's "A Change is Gonna Come" could be number six.
And the Dead Prez song is prefect, I played that track constantly up to the election. I took some cool screen captures from the video a couple of months ago that seemed pretty appropriate:

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterIce Black

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