“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King,Jr
2020 has been one of the most extremely awful years in my lifetime. It wasn’t enough that a global pandemic is killing people around the world including over 100,000 in the United States. Now, the U.S. has been torn in two by long term, systemic racism. As a white person I can’t begin to assume to know what black people go through in their lives. I can say that watching the news these days has me simply heartbroken. There’s no other word for it. I was too young to remember 1968. I remember the Rodney King riots after the police who beat him senseless were acquitted. It’s hard to believe that was thirty years ago and we’ve made almost no progress. I had hoped Obama’s election was a sign that we’d moved forward but as Depeche Mode sings, “We’re going backward…”
The recent unrest in the U.S. was sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. I don’t care who you are and what you’ve done, no police officer gets to put his knee on your neck, effectively becoming cop, judge and sadly executioner. While the officer in question has been charged with second degree murder and the officers with him were charged with accessory to murder, this is just another in a long line of blacks who have been killed at the hands of the police. Breonna Taylor was recently killed by cops and those men continue to walk free (as of this writing). Ahmaud Arbrey was hunted down by an ex-cop and executed. I keep hearing politicians referring to the Black Community as being “frustrated” with law enforcement in this country. Uh, I think they have every right to be not only frustrated but really pissed.
When I was in high school a few of us were leaving a keg party… the police had come to break up the rather unruly affair. Tempers were running high. One of my close friends was black. This isn’t one of those, “I have a black friend, I’m not a racist” stories. Anyway, we were getting into the car to get out of there and the cops attacked my black friend as he was about to get in the car. He pushed back and things got ugly. He was highly agitated and I think it was because one of the cops said something shitty to him. I’ve never known what was said, I was already in the car. We grew up in a predominantly white suburb of Kansas City and looking back that had to be very hard on my friend. Nobody hassled me on the way to the car and I’d probably had more beer than anybody involved. We never really talked about it, my friend didn’t want to, but that had to be pretty traumatic. It left me with the sense that you can’t be non-racist in this world, you need to be anti-racist. You have to actively combat it. We aren’t born that way – it’s learned behavior.
Many people in this country feel strongly enough to go out and protest this police aggression. I am in 100% support of all of these people who are out protesting. It’s an American tradition to protest injustice. If it weren’t for Covid, I’d be protesting with them. It’s wonderful that we’re free to do so. Most of these protests have been peaceful. In Kansas City, the protests have been centered in the Midtown area in the Plaza neighborhood. It’s surreal to see my old neighborhood, where I lived for much of my adult life overrun with cops in full riot gear surrounding protestors. I was fried and went to bed early last Saturday night only to wake up to find out that the cops dropped tear gas on the protestors down there… because they were walking in the street. Wow. I realize some of the protesters were throwing some things (water bottles, milk jugs) out of sheer frustration… but the cops were in full riot gear? The reaction seems… harsh? Overblown? Tear gas two blocks from where I used to live…just, wow.
The whole nation is feeling very “Kent State” to me right now. Because everyone has a phone I keep seeing scenes of different cops hitting people or knocking them down. The cops in Buffalo knocked an elderly peaceful protester on his ass and cracked his head open. Even the press has been seemingly targeted for beatings or shot at with rubber bullets by cops. “Protect And Serve” is supposed to include everybody… Curfews have been instigated across the country and even in Kansas City. Maybe if the cops took a lighter touch these peaceful protests wouldn’t erupt… As Martin Luther King, Jr also said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Maybe a little more empathy and a little less tear gas? I think a lot of people are conflating the protesters with the looters that are taking advantage of the resulting chaos, as inevitably happens. It also appears that white supremacists are infiltrating the protests to insight violence. Don’t let those fuckers confuse you – these are mostly peaceful protesters that are legally exercising their right to assemble. Where was this police reaction when those nut jobs showed up to protest Covid-19 lockdowns?
Where do we look for solace in dark times like these? The current occupant of the White House won’t be offering any, that’s always been obvious. There are no sports yet… Hell, even Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints is out there saying stupid stuff and I used to be a fan of his. For me, the only solace I can find is where I always find it, music. I couldn’t sleep last night, the heartbreak has been washing over me when the sun goes down. As I lay there ruminating on peaceful protestors in Washington D.C. being tear gassed for a photo op, I thought of my favorite line from CSNY’s “Ohio,” written by Neil Young, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own.” These days feel eerily similar. Other protest songs began to pop into my head and before I knew it, I was putting together a playlist. Not all of these are classic “protest songs,” but are songs whose theme I feel fit these current troubled songs. And some of these songs have a notably hopeful message. I’m a sucker for hope. These are some of my favorites but per usual it’s not meant to be exhaustive. I mean, Gail Gadot ruined “Imagine” for everyone so I left it off and there was no way I was putting “Ebony and Ivory” on here (I love Paul McCartney but not even I can support that cheesy track). If you have suggestions, make them in the comments section and I’ll add your song to the playlist on Spotify.
Some things in this world really need to change. I’ll admit, I don’t know what to do about racism but I’m going to do everything I can to educate myself on what I can do to help. And above all I urge everyone hungry for change to do the most effective thing you can do to make it happen – VOTE. If you’re out there protesting, stay safe, be careful. Here are some songs I thought might help get us through. As always you’ll find this playlist on Spotify under the title, “BourbonAndVinyl.net Songs Of Protest And Hope – Black Lives Matter.” And, as usual, I’m all over the map from Bob Dylan to Hip Hop to Jazz. If the music can be diverse, so can we.
- Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come” – This song is one of the greatest songs ever. Sam was inspired by Bob Dylan to sit down and write this track. It went on to be a key track for the Civil Rights Movement.
- Aretha Franklin, “Respect” – Written by Otis Redding and owned by Aretha, the Queen of Soul. Respect is the name of the game. Respect your fellow man.
- Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” – Haunting song about lynchings. I don’t think I’ll ever get over this track.
- The Rolling Stones, “Street Fighting Man” – This one is for all of you out there on the mean streets of the cities and towns around the world. Be careful out there.
- The Doors, “Five To One” – “They got the guns, but we got the numbers.”
- Aerosmith, “Livin’ On the Edge” – The lyrics on this Aerosmith rocker can sometimes be awkward, but you can’t fault a song that starts with the lyric, “There’s something wrong with the world today…” Indeed there is.
- Bob Marley & The Wailers, “No More Trouble” – Isn’t that what we all want, no more trouble? I think we’re all getting a little tired.
- Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ In the Wind” – So many have recorded this song, but I like the original. “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?”
- Nina Simone, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” – I’m just now getting into Nina Simone, but what an amazing, important artist and an amazing, important song. I like her preamble in this live version.
- Warren Zevon, “Disorder In the House” – From his final album, The Wind. Springsteen plays a savage lead guitar on this track. The line, “helicopters hover over rough terrain” grabbed my attention as I’ve been watching helicopters hover over Kansas City all week.
- The Doobie Brothers, “Takin’ It To The Streets” – Laugh if you want because Michael McDonald sings this song, but it makes me wanna get out in the street.
- Grand Master Flash, “The Message” – “Don’t push me cuz I’m close to the edge…”
- Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth” – “There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware”
- Bruce Springsteen, “The Ghost of Tom Joad (Electric Version) – I like the original, but this version from High Hopes features Bruce exchanging verses with guitarist extraordinaire Tom Morello. “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy… look for me Ma, I’ll be there.”
- Lenny Kravitz, “Black And White America” – Title track from another great Lenny Kravitz album.
- Stevie Wonder, “Living For the City” – I just felt this playlist needed some Stevie Wonder.
- Marvin Gaye, “What’s Goin’ On” – The genius title track from what was known as his “protest” album. I could have put half the record on here… seek that LP out.
- Little Steven, “Justice” – This is the crux of why all of the people are out in the streets. “No peace, no justice.”
- U2 with The New Voices of Freedom, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Live)” – I went with the live version from Rattle And Hum since they brought in the New Voices of Freedom a Harlem choir. Beautiful, moving stuff. We’re all searching for justice and freedom.
- Depeche Mode, “Where’s the Revolution” – From the amazing record Spirit (LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic).
- U2, “”40″” – Adapted from the 40th Psalm. A moment of hope.
- Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain Is A-Gonna Fall” – If we don’t solve the problems of racism and an unequal justice system a hard rain will be coming… I almost put “Slow Train” on here because of the chorus, “there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend.”
- James Brown, “Say It Loud (I’m Black I’m Proud)” – Wisdom from the Godfather of Soul.
- Pearl Jam, “Can’t Deny Me” – The protesters give me this vibe. They won’t be denied. I love Pearl Jam doing angry music.
- CSNY, “Ohio” – The greatest protest song ever. With all the guys in military gear surrounding the protesters I’m getting that Kent State, they’re shooting as us vibe. “We’re finally on our own…”
- Bruce Springsteen, “American Skin, (41 Shots)” – Springsteen took a lot of shit from police organizations when this came out. It seems he was right as the song is as relevant today as it was when it came out.
- Neil Young, “Southern Man” – Sadly this song about racism in the south now applies everywhere.
- Bruce Springsteen, “We Shall Overcome” – I probably should have gone with Pete Seeger’s original version but I just don’t like his voice. Bruce puts a little more oomph into this classic protest hymn.
- Elvis Presley, “If I Can Dream” – The King wanted a song with a strong message about racial and national unity to end the “68 Comeback Special.” I’d say he succeeded.
- The Clash, “Know Your Rights” – “A public service announcement…with guitars.”
- Green Day, “American Idiot” – For the man in charge…
- Depeche Mode, “Going Backwards” – Another great track. Can’t believe it’s been four years since Spirit came out.
- Elvis Costello, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding” – I’m not a huge Costello fan but I love this one.
- Public Enemy, “Fight the Power” – Indeed, fight the power… just be careful out there. I love this song.
- John Lennon, “Power To the People” – Lennon was dinged for being too political by his old Beatles fans. His music has transcended time.
- U2, “I Threw A Brick Through A Window” – I am in no way condoning violence but I chose this song to acknowledge that due to frustration the urge to throw something can be very strong.
- Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin'” – I never realized how fond of adding an “A-” to words Dylan was. Title track from his great third album.
- Lenny Kravitz, “It’s Enough” – Great track where Lenny channels his inner Marvin Gaye (Lenny Kravitz: New Single, “It’s Enough,” His Inner City Blues Are A Smooth Groove).
- The Beatles, “Revolution” – Great rock and roll… turn this one up loud. It hasn’t lost its power and punch in all these years.
- The Clash, “Guns On the Roof” – I see cops everywhere. They even had snipers up on the roof of some of the Plaza buildings this last week. I never thought I’d see that.
- The Impressions, “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield’s classic has been done by others like Rod Stewart/Jeff Beck but the original was the best fit here.
- CSNY, “Find the Cost of Freedom” – “Buried in the ground…” I wish these guys could get along and record some new protest music for us.
- Rage Against the Machine, “Killing In the Name” – “Some of those who work forces are the same that burn crosses.” Heavy track. I could have literally put their whole catalog out here… Everyone should be blasting Rage right now.
- CSNY, “Stand And Be Counted” – Great David Crosby track. Please do stand but more importantly be counted – VOTE.
- Lenny Kravitz, “Mr. Cab Driver” – From Lenny’s debut album. It’s a song about a situation a lot of black people face every day.
- Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Get Up Stand Up” – From the original Soul Rebel. Now is the time to get up and stand up for your rights.
- Scorpions, “Under the Same Sun” – Odd choice but such a hopeful song. I had to add it… some times the songs are just for me.
- U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” – For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Bob Dylan, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol” – Recounting the story of a rich white man killing a working class black woman.
- Sly and the Family Stone, “Everyday People” – A happy song about inclusion. I needed some light.
- Tracy Chapman, “Talkin’ About a Revolution” – “Poor people gonna rise up…”
- Patti Smith, “People Have the Power” – Poet, rocker, protester.
These are some of my favorite protest tracks. I wasn’t trying to insult anybody’s sensibilities here, political or otherwise. I just think music has an amazing way to bring us together.
These are dark times. Be careful, be good and take care of each other out there.