I’m staying right here.
I’m not in Cleveland this week, despite the fact that I believe the current divisiveness in the country has created an environment in which music has perhaps its most significant role to play since the days of the original Civil Rights Movement.
I was not there when Prophets of Rage – the new conglomeration featuring members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill, launched specifically in response to the current election cycle – played a show at the Agora Ballroom, a bit over a mile away from the Republican National Convention site.
Nor will I be lining up for media credentials for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “Race, Culture and the Power of Rock & Roll,” running concurrently with the RNC.
I believe that what the Rock Hall is calling “rock ’n’ roll” is really just another word for mostly non-mainstream strains of popular music, including Hip-Hop, R&B, blues, folk, jazz, funk, and that the best of this music is designed to rise to occasions of deep social and political and economic unrest, exactly like the current climate. I’ve believed this for as long as I can remember, and have been hungering for, clamoring for, column-izing for an historical moment when the music might matter again, might make a difference, might capture the zeitgeist and point a way forward.
And now, here it is. And I’m not there to see it.
Not because I don’t want to be. Not because I’ve underestimated the significance of the moment. Not because I’m lazy.
No, I’m skipping out because I’m scared. Plain and simple.
As I write this, I have been listening to the just-released single from Prophets of Rage, an updated, muscular take on the Public Enemy song of the same name. To say it is the right song at the right time seems to me a gross understatement. This is revolution rock and thinking-person’s Hip-Hop rolled up into a tight fist proudly displayed with arm stretched heavenward.
On Friday, no less than Jeff Beck – guitar god, and a man who could easily rest on his considerable laurels and crank out instrumental guitar jams until the day he drops – released a new album called “Loud Hailer.” For this record, Beck enrolled gritty indie rock duo Bones – made up of guitarist Carmen Vandenberg and singer Rosie Bones, young women less than half Beck’s age – for a collection of blisteringly visceral, lyric-based songs delineating the sorry political, social, racial, economic and environmental state of the world. These are raw broadsides.
All this music is designed to fill listeners who take umbrage with divisive politics, racial injustice and “business as usual” economic policies with a sense of righteous rage. It certainly has been doing as much to me.
But I’m staying put.
This Rock Hall exhibit is enticing, too. Reads the press release for the exhibit, in part: “The history of race relations in the United States has long intersected with the history of rock and roll music,” which of course, it has. “The Rock Hall serves as a fitting backdrop for conversation about a topic that has been in the news and on the minds of the nation – race relations in America,” the statement concludes, and if one feels just a tinge of opportunism on the part of the Rock Hall here, well, that feeling is far outweighed by the necessary belief that dialog on this topic is perhaps more necessary today than it has ever been.
But I’m not going.
I’m having trouble trusting you, America. I hardly recognize you these days. My desire (and right) to partake in historical events that might have some positive impact is being outweighed by my instincts, as a father and a husband, for self-preservation. If others feel the same, and I’m pretty sure they do, what does that say about us?
On Sunday, I attended a “Gospel Brunch” held at the Hydraulic Hearth in the Larkin District, presided over by Buffalo-based musician David Michael Miller & his band, the Other Sinners. The music was deeply American, meaning it was rooted in the blues, gospel, and R&B. The audience crossed a plethora of cultural, racial, generational and demographic lines. The event was peaceful, calming and uplifting. It also was inspirational. It proved how easily music can do for us what we can’t seem to do for ourselves these days – celebrate our differences and our similarities simultaneously.
On Tuesday morning, Miller offered a Facebook post that cut to the quick. It read:
“’Hate … blah blah blah … blame … blah blah blah … more hate … blah blah blah … lie and exaggerate … blah blah blah … let’s add some fear’…
“Musicians, we got a lot of work to do...”
Let’s get busy, then. This living in fear nonsense is not cool with me, and it shouldn’t be cool with anyone else, either.