Eat your fruit loops in the dark
So here we are, one week into 2021, and I've had enough of this year already. Covid numbers are through the roof, our NHS staff are under the most awful pressure, we are back in lockdown which is damaging our financial and emotional health, there are unnecessary post-Brexit political frictions with our European cousins, attacks on liberties in Hong Kong, and those truly terrible scenes from the USA where a mob attacked the democratic process when fuelled by a dangerously corrosive conspiracy theory from a delusional, deranged, egomaniac.
One week in, and the world is in chaos. It feels like music and art is the one island of sanity in an ocean of troubles.
This is what democracy looks like
Music has always played a role in peaceful political protest. Back in the early years of this millenium, people were taking to the streets worldwide to protest the ongoing military actions in Iraq. One of the songs to arise from that era was "New Kicks" by Le Tigre. Kathleen Hanna's original video for this song has disappeared, probably because it made extensive use of clips from genuine TV news footage and fell foul of the copyright police, but here is an alternate version, created in the same spirit, which has survived.
A bit if trivia for you: Kathleen Hanna was one of the pioneers of the punk feminist riot-girl movement, the founder member of Viva Knievel, Bikini Kill, and Le Tigre, and also the person who came up with the title for Nirvana's greatest album, "Smells like teen spirit".
You do the maths
Do you remember "Occupy Wall Street". If not, you are just too young. To me it feels like just yesterday that this peaceful protest was dominating the news, so I was really surprised when I checked the dates and discovered it was all the way back in 2011. On a cold October afternoon back then, Amanda Palmer decided to show her support for the protestors by taking her ukulele down to Times Square and playing an impromptu open-air gig for them. This song, the Ukulele Anthem, was fortuitously captured on someone's camera. The sound in this video is pretty poor because she is playing and singing at the top of her voice, to be heard above the city traffic, whilst precariously perching on top of a litter bin and being battered by strong winds.
Another bit of trivia for you: That song was "crowd-sourced". In the days before the internet was dominated by manufactured pop stars, social media influencers, corporations, and lie-peddling presidents, Palmer asked her Twitter followers to come up with tweets about ukuleles, which were woven together into a song.
The world keeps turning
We are all suffering right now, but I feel so much for today's teens and early twenties who are at that time of life when many of them were looking to the future, making the transition into adulthood, looking ahead to university, jobs, relationships, independance, and dare I say it, even forming a band and playing gigs, but so much of all that is now on hold. I was thinking it feels like a terrible time to be 21, but that thought reminded of the famous conversation in 1989 between Billy Joel and Sean Lennon, (the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono).
Lennon had just turned 21 and lamented that it felt like a terrible time to be that age, which prompted Joel to write a laundry list song chronicling people and events thoughout the forty years of his own life to that point, to say that every year can seem like a monumental, memorable, chaotic, or life-changing year. That song is, of course, "We didn't start the fire"
Did you spot "vaccine" in the list, sandwiched between Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth? That was a reference to the polio vaccine developed in 1952, less than 70 years ago, something that was truly a miracle of its time and has altered all of our lives ever since, and yet it is something we take for granted today. Most of us don't even know the symptoms of the disease, and there hasn't been a polio outbreak in the UK for half a century. I wonder how long it will be before today's rapid-development vaccines against covid and similar diseases cease to be a "miracle of modern science" and something that we equally just take for granted?
So I think to myself....
Maybe I'm premature in my disdain for 2021. Maybe it will turn out to be a wonderful year, in a wonderful world, like this wonderful video from "Playing For Change", an organisation which aims to inspire and connect the world through music.
We are in for a few tough weeks ahead, but the vaccine programme has started. We are heading in the right direction, but until we get there, please keep yourselves safe and healthy, both your physical health and mental health, and reach out to friends who might be struggling. Please keep up with the social distancing and the face masks, and please don't listen to the covid conspirators who are putting us all in danger with misinformation. And of course, keep making music and making the world a better place.