Music Monday: This is America

Christa Blackmon covered this song, and some of the inspired covers, on LGM a while back, but given recent events I found myself watching the (brilliant but heart breaking) video:

The running at the end…just watch it.

It’s an interesting contrast to “The President Sang Amazing Grace”, though I think people misread “President” more.

Things are going to get a lot more broken before they have any hope of getting better. That means lives blighted or lost.


This Week in Zoe News

Another NPR interview:

I mean for instance, if it hadn’t had ‘Another World’ and ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace,’ it would have been a beautiful album of very pretty songs. But it wouldn’t have the depth that it has. So some songs like the president song drop out of the sky, and are just my good fortune to hear.”

The Boston Globe:

The album’s centerpiece is Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” written in the wake of the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C.

For the first few weeks on tour, Baez couldn’t sing it. “If I see the audience get teary, then I’m in trouble,” she explains. “I’d get started and it was so overwhelming. I’d give up and try again the next day.”

The not-so-subtle message of what’s said and not said in the lyrics — about the dignity of the office of the presidency — is not lost on international audiences, Baez reports.

“It goes over the same in Sarajevo, in Turkey. I always say, ‘Turn to your neighbor if they don’t speak English.’ It gets through very quickly.”

And just in case a few people in attendance aren’t following the thread, she makes “a couple more blatant comments,” she says with one more laugh.

Some cool stuff is happening behind the scenes including, I hope I hope, movement toward a new album.

Music Monday: Talkin’ Bout a Revolution

I played the crap out of my cassette of Tracey Chapman. I recall it as a perfect album…some amazing songs but no duds. I’m relistening to it for the first time in years! Indeed, in the last free-ish week before term, I intend to listen to her full corpus.

“Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” is maybe my current favourite:

I remember thinking, in the naiveté of youth, that this was the sort of song that could change the world, like the folk (and other) music of the 1960s. As a baby buster, I had pretty serious ’60s envy and bought a lot of the myths (why wouldn’t I?).

But “Talkin'” came out in 1988…that’s 30 years ago. Further away than the ’60s were for me growing up. Lots of things have changed, but rising inequality seems to make a mockery of “Talkin'” as prediction or herald.

Of course, it’s not fair to burden a song with one’s own misconceptions. The descriptive parts still ring true and the aspirational chorus still inspires:

Oh, I been standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion
Don’t you know they’re talkin’ about a revolution, it sounds like a whisper
And finally the tables are starting to turn, talkin’ ’bout a revolution
Yes, finally the tables are starting to turn, talkin’ ’bout a revolution


This Week in Zoe News

A couple of nice, recent notes.

Robert Rodi:

The album’s most moving cut is Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” an almost-journalistic account of the 2015 Charleston church shooting and its aftermath, set to a simple piano arrangement. It’s the only cut on which Baez does not play guitar. “No words could say what must be said / For all the living and the dead,” she sings about Barack Obama’s address at the memorial for the victims, “So on that day and in that place / The President sang ‘Amazing Grace.’” For the final repetition, she alters the lyric: “My President sang ‘Amazing Grace.’” And if that doesn’t get you where you live, you’re no friend of mine.

This site does “top 25” lists and Sept was Joan Baez month. “President” made number 4:

To go along with her Fare Thee Well Tour, Joan Baez also released a new album called Whistle Down the Wind. I always try to include a modern song on all of these countdowns as a way of saying that none of these artists have truly passed their prime, but that the music industry has changed instead.  Journey had “After All These Years”, Cat Stevens had “See What Love Did to Me”, and unfortunately Nina Simone passed before I could throw a post millennium song on the countdown.  This selection however, seems like the best one of the modern choices thus far.  I’ve highlighted a few of Joan Baez’s songs that deal overtly with political situations throughout the 60’s and 70’s, and she is an artist who has spent her life advocating for social justice and reform.  I mentioned previously that a lot of these issues have come full circle, and we are often confronting harsh realities and deep divides even within tight familial units.  I try to not be overtly political in my articles, but with an artist like this you really can’t help it, and I deeply deeply believe that the current administration has pushed down the gas pedal on the issues that drive people with different viewpoints further apart.  So after about a decade of not releasing any studio material, Joan Baez released an album of new music, and on it she released the song I’ve selected here.  “The President Sang Amazing Grace” (another interpretation, not originally her song) is about the shooting that took place in Charleston, and Obama’s reaction.  It opens up with a very church sounding piano, and Baez’s voice sounds weathered and aged, but still immaculate; almost as if she’s acknowledging that she has been singing for all these years and what has really changed? A nation and community that so desperately needed healing, and needed to feel like things were going to be alright, were met by a leader who seemed to know exactly what to say.  He did not try to drive a divide between the shooter and the victims.  He did not advocate for the white supremacist shooter or have to be begged to condemn the shooter.  He placed emphasis on the word “United” at the end of his sermon, with the goal of bringing people together, especially in the wake of tragedy.  When he begins to sing, you can see the faces in the crowd light up, even after such an unspeakable tragedy;  a President, who was bashed for being a “secret Muslim” performing one of the most beautifully Christian eulogies I have ever seen by a sitting President.  I could go on for paragraphs, but I will just include the link to the song, and then the link to the event the song is based off of, and hope that you can feel a semblance of the optimism I feel when seeing/hearing those two back-to-back: it’s an optimism that I haven’t truly felt in a couple years.

Living in the City

We really live in one of the best, if not the best, parts of Manchester. We’re right next to the Curry Mile, we have easy access to the city centre via cheap buses, and we’re right next store to two great parks including Platt Field Park which is the main “in city” fairground. So there are a lot of events which are a quick walk but not right in our faces.

Today was the Manchester Festival which I didn’t know was happening and upon which we stumbled because we were getting a veg box from the Platt Fields growers (fresh kale!).

The evening show had a giant rolly peacock and a gianter light up floating swan

This show (“Swan Song”) was better in theory than practice, alas. Right after, however, there was SPARK! (light up dancing drummers):

They were fab.

No driving, no fussing, no mussing, just a short walk we routinely do anyway.

Life in a small city.

Zoe in the Washington Post

While in Charleston for the memorial, Zoe was interviewed by a Washington Post reporter for a piece (and video!) about Baez. Alas, Zoe didn’t make the video, but she did make the article which came out today:

Joan Baez watched the mayor of Charleston, S.C., work himself to the point of tears. “She is going to sing not just a song, she is going to sing … the song,” John Tecklenburg declared from a makeshift stage in a downtown park. “This is a lady who’s not just talked the talk and sang the songs of our life, but she has …” and he kept on rhapsodizing until he got out of breath. “She was there in 1963, and she is here with us today … Joan Baez!”

The song she would perform is called “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” and it recounts how President Barack Obama spoke — and sang — at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the church’s slain pastor. Zoe Mulford, an obscure folk singer three decades younger than Baez, wrote the piece. But Baez — who has been lifting up others’ songs since she championed the first protest visions of a scruffy waif named Bob Dylan — recorded the version that got people’s attention.

Mulford was in the audience at the rally, slightly dazzled. “I heard Joan’s voice for the first time in music class when I was 8 years old,” she told me. “I was listening to her music when I was in my 20s and picking up a guitar and deciding what I wanted to sound like. She has been one of my heroes.”

These pieces are a bit odd. They Post did a ton of work on it, but it doesn’t really dig out anything new or synthesize much.

Update: And the video went up, which has a snippet of “President”.

Music Monday: Silver Blade

“Silver Blade” is the companion song on Whistle Down the Wind to “Silver Dagger” on Baez’s debut. The fourth video in the “visual album” version of Whistle was released a couple of weeks ago and it’s the most straightforward since the one for “President“:

This video mirrors the events of the song, somewhat…at least the aftermath of the rape and revenge murder. We only ever see the blade owner (except for maybe one but in the middle where there may be an extra hand).

It’s ok. Having a clear connection to the song is nice esp after “I wish the wars were all over” but I don’t don’t it compelling. It’s nice that it’s not super frantic but the editing doesn’t seem to attend to the song at all.

Also….the blade seems to have a wooden, not bone, handle.

I have to question the drip, drip, drip method or releasing the videos. Maybe it was impossible to do otherwise because they are not all completed, but given the huge disparity in views (“President” has 300k while the others all have <10k) it probably would have been better to try to exploit coattails.