On September 11th, 2001, I was sixteen years old, and I watched our world change live on TV in my high school chemistry classroom. I lived in a very small town in rural Iowa. I hadn’t really ever seen much of the world. I didn’t really know what it meant, but everyone somehow knew that nothing would be the same. Since then, I’ve watched escapism completely overtake our culture. The march of growth has brought us a million ways to distract ourselves from reality. Netflix, Facebook, a world where we only see what we want and there’s a never-ending supply. Our attention spans get shorter and shorter, news is delivered in memes, and how many books sold are actually read? If it isn’t entertaining, we just switch it off, turn the channel. So it’s no surprise that a reality TV producer, a master of lowest common denominator amusement, is the President of the United States of America (insert crying emoji here).
This failure of society isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s everyone’s fault. It’s time to be better. Most of our current adult generations seem to be a lost cause, sadly. The majority of us are set in addiction to mediocre culture and denial of culpability for humanity’s problems. When I first sat down to write this, I concluded to myself that really the only hope is in our youth, but a few recent performances I gave led me to reconsider. I was reminded of the power of creative expression, I saw people come together around music. I saw empathy in those crowds, and love. The world is very dark right now, but people want to see. It only takes the tiniest bit of light. The truth is that it isn’t very hard to be a hero. Who among us will be artists? Who among us will take the time to read books and study the news* and the facts (alternative or otherwise) behind it? Who among us will embark on intellectual explorations to uncover original thoughts? Who among us will have the courage to share those ideas with the world? I really believe that it takes just a small minority of empowered thinkers and creators to subtly shift the world on a path toward justice. The truth is there, waiting to be seen, while the world sits in darkness, oblivious. Who among us will be a light? (No, the light of your smartphone screen doesn’t count.)
While I hold onto optimism for today (and boy can it be tough), I know that real, lasting hope is in our young people, the next generation of leaders, those who don’t remember where they were when those buildings fell. We need to educate our children to value critical thought, to really understand how government works, to have a deep comprehension of American and world history, and to read regularly**. Progressive values come naturally to people educated in this way. If the schools won't do it for us, then parents and community leaders, you need to do it on your own. And we all can vote for representatives who value science-based education and development of critical thinking skills, and protest the hell out of those who do not.
“My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy.” - Maya Angelou
Modern liberal democracy as we know it expanded to world dominance in response to the Third Reich and the Holocaust, in which at least 6 million Jewish people were slaughtered (Don’t let Mr. Bannon erase that). Now we see that grand vision in a fight for its life. Is America à la Trump the new norm or the death rattle of the 20th century "good ol' boy"? (Check out Randy Newman's album Good Old Boys if you don't know what I'm talking about) I don’t know, though I am hoping for the latter. What I do know is this: Nationalism is a sickness. Globalism is the only possible future in which our planet doesn’t die, in which everyone on Spaceship Earth (thanks, Buckminster Fuller) works as one “crew” with a shared interest in our one set of resources and our one home. Humanity is only as good, only as strong, as our weakest and poorest. It’s a crime that we shut ourselves off in relative decadence while people starve and live in real terror.
The only possible future is one in which we all live equally, and if that means that we in the “First World” have to sacrifice some of our wasteful luxury, then so be it. The only other possibility is not a future, just a road to the end. This isn’t a complicated idea, but since I’m more of a songwriter than a speechwriter, here’s a new set of lyrics I wrote for Inauguration Day 2017 (not sure if/when I will release a recording):
Two buildings fall, a September day
A country goes to war, someone’s gotta pay
I remember it well, I was sixteen
Watched it live in class, I think it was chemistry
I walked the streets that night of a dark little Iowa town
And I remember my friend saying “I guess everything is different now”
And I remember a couple days later, my brother left to join the fight
And I remember my mom crying herself to sleep that night
And I remember deciding that life it must go on
I went to college, I started a band, I wrote a whole lot of ok songs
Saw the world and fell in love about 13 or 14 times
15 years later, still nothing seems to rhyme
So I sit at my piano as the darkness closes in
Their words ringing in my head: “Don’t let the terror win”
It’s just another Inauguration Day, but this time I really see
Those words they said about terrorists, well, this is what they mean
Because they win with every bullet we decide to fire
Mistrust is coming up the lane, and the fear is creeping higher
And it doesn’t really matter now, who fired the first shot
The world is full of real poor folk and a shot is all they got
They did it 100 years ago and it started those great big wars
And the wars led to horror, and then to relief, and the world said no more
But people forget so easily, or maybe we just don’t care
History books are hard to read when there’s fake news to share
If we can read the signs but don’t, we’re not illiterate, we’re worse
We willfully play a part in the casting of the curse
And it’ll all come down just a-crashing amidst calls of “Kingdom Come!”
All because we spent our lives
If you waste something enough, eventually it’s gone
Those history books we never read will say wasted freedom
But no one ever wrote them, ‘cuz there was no one left to read
The whole world’s just towers now stretching as high as I can see
Everyone has got their own, we’re all trying to reach God
God is shivering in the cold, it seems a shot is all he’s got
And this song right here, it was never heard
Except for in the tune of the last blackbird
Who in his final moments learned
That even he was
And the greatest movie ever made is called “Wasting Freedom”
And they even made a video game called “Wasting Freedom”
And the toys have been a real big hit for “Wasting Freedom”
And they’re gonna make a sequel to it, called “Wasting Freedom 2”
And I hear there’s gonna be a spin-off show called “Wasting Freedom”
And hell, why not? even a Broadway musical called “Wasting Freedom”
And nobody ever seems to know that we’re Wasting Freedom
*Regarding news sources: I think the most consistently neutral are probably Associated Press and Reuters
**Can you tell I’m obsessed with people reading? Read anything, people! It allows for self-reflection, it slows one down, it exposes one to other perspectives, and hell, it makes people better at spelling and grammar!
This week I’ve got a few fun new things for ya:
- My podcast Conquered 4 Life returns with a discussion on songwriting with my producer Patrick Tape Fleming, a great songwriter in his own right. Listen:
- Cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” and Tom Waits' "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" over on my Patreon page, check it out (this is also a really easy and super nice way to support me and to keep the tunes rolling on!): https://www.patreon.com/ctconquered
- Some new songs for my 100 Conquered Songs project, one in which I attempt 90’s Leonard Cohen vibes, cheesy drums and all, one based heavily on Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain!, one going for a Lou Reed vibe and another throwing back to some Nat King Cole styles. Can you guess which is which? Listen here.
- The music video for the song "Everybody Rains" is going to be featured on a new Iowa Public Television show called "The Film Lounge". Filmmaker Bruce James Bales and I talk about the making of the video in that, as well. Details here.
- As always, I am constantly updating my upcoming shows list. Check out performance dates here.
If you want a very funny take on "freedom" and pretty much all of the world's ills, listen to comedian David Cross' album It's Not Funny. Lots of people always tell me I bear resemblance to him, by the way. I totally agree.
Oh, and here's a video of a performance I gave last year in New York City in which I elaborate on equality a bit more, um, intimately.