One of the things we love about music is its power to tap straight into the emotions you need to feel and get out, the ones that defy words and logic. This week saw me put in my earbuds and walk and walk and walk, finding messages in every song I heard that helped me process shock, disappointment and fear.
I’m trying to be ready to move on. And if you are too, I’m sharing a list of inspirational protest songs to fuel you for the hard work ahead of us. What would you add to the list?
“Can’t You Tell?” — Aimee Mann
In the run up to this election, Dave Eggers’ 30 Days, 30 Songs project saw artists released 30 songs in the days leading up to Election Day, “united in our desire to speak out against the ignorant, divisive, and hateful campaign of Donald Trump.” It’s no longer a campaign but a presidency, which just makes the need for creative protest and creative community more urgent. I mean, as Aimee Mann notes, it’s not like the guy even wanted the job. A gem of a tune with a refrain that will get stuck in your head — for better and worse.
“We Shall Not Be Moved” — Mavis Staples
Listen Here. This, I think, is the song that meets me where I’m living right now, full of dread and disappointment but knowing I have no other choice but to resist the calls to hate: “fighting for our children, we shall not be moved.” Nothing stiffens your backbone more than Ms. Mavis Staples’s beautiful voice.
“When the President Talks to God” — Bright Eyes
How absurd and surreal was this election result? No more surreal than leaders who believe they’ve been divinely chosen for the job. That used to be called “monarchy” and was the entire reason for the American Revolution; now it’s standard Republican operating procedure. This song by Conor Oberst was written for a different president who – god help me, I can’t believe I’m writing this – is starting to look less awful by the second.
“Fight the Power” — Isley Brothers
So much bullshit going down. The Isley Brothers will get you through. (Thanks @wendiaarons for the suggestion.)
“Declare Independence” — Bjork
Bjork calls this one a lullaby. A lullaby in which we make our own stamps and our own flags. (credit to @smacksy for this find.)
“This American Land” — Bruce Springsteen
Although I once heard this Bruce Springsteen song described as “what Americans think Irish music sounds like,” it has one of the truest lines about immigration ever written: “Their hands that built the country we’re always trying to keep out.”
“Get Better” — Frank Turner
I can’t tell you how many times this Frank Turner song has lifted me up. “They threw me a whirlwind and I spat back the sea…” Hell, there’s even a nod to FLOTUS and the high road!
“Fight the Power” — Public Enemy
Spike Lee commissioned this one for his movie “Do the Right Thing” back in 1989, and the call to fight the power resonates just as strongly now.
If I Had a Hammer — Peter, Paul and Mary
Just because it’s been around for a while doesn’t mean it’s any less relevant. Plus, you probably know all the words to this Pete Seeger song.
“Rise” _— Public Image Ltd.
They may go low, but we go high with Public Image Limited’s “Rise.” (thanks @joncwriter for the reminder!)
“My Shot” — The Cast of Hamilton
But the truth is, the only music that soothed me this week was the Hamilton soundtrack. It reminded me that our country has been through turmoil and anger before, and that the determined efforts of a small group of people could make big and positive change.
We are called to that duty now. And I for one am not throwing away my shot.