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Alfred Hayes/Earl Robinson: Joe Hill

“I never died, says he”—and thus Paul Robeson sings of the union organizer Joe Hill, a man who did die for his cause. Perhaps today, as so much is said about dark times we live in, it is critical to remember there were much darker. And the society grew through such struggles, and eventually grew that much stronger. Progress is never inevitable. But music, when in the service of protest against injustice—meaning in the service of progress—cuts to our heart, as this song does. Quicker, more effective than many speeches and declamations, it tells us that ideals never die. And that, with sacrifice, human spirit does—inevitably—find its way to truth.

Yoko Ono: Approximately Infinite Universe

Much has been said about Yoko Ono, her music, her art, and her relationships. There is plenty of recorded history, stories and legends around these topics readily available to the interested. Let’s leave almost all that behind. Listen to these songs all together now. Let specific lines and notes jump out while allowing yourself to wander off in thought like a dirty French novel. She chooses to express her voice with Rock & Roll which is historically a male voice focused on his “things.” The songs are melodic, catchy, and accessible on these records, nothing deviates into the abstract or absurd. There are many words and phrases of beauty and truth that one should hear, not read about. It has taken so long to hear this person free of all that pinned her down and judged her. It makes one wonder what else we are missing women say when their relationships cloud our view.

For me, this is a woman exploring the joy and trauma of love, existence, being with a man, and her voice within the universe. The emotions are just as base, raw, and conflicted as any masculine rocker but she asks you to contemplate, think, stare, hold a snowflake. She speaks of the sorrow and loneliness that settles into a soul after protest making the anger feel flawed yet delicate. She looks to society and politics creating this grotesque patriarchy and inspires change while embracing the futility and frustration of that action. She demands equal blood and sacrifice from her partner but also beseeches her sisters to forgive him and let him rest. There are moments of absurd giddy fun, anger, crying, exhaustion, and existential malaise just like a protest march. The protest is angry and vengeful and extends out from her personal problems to the world and eventually the universe. The difference is that she as a woman offers a profound poetic forgiveness for all things simultaneously including herself and the listener. The total journey and message inspires me (especially as a man) to be a better and more aware person, partner, and punk.

Here is a link to the whole record.  My favorite song from it:

Melissa Etheridge: Silent Legacy

It was the winter of 1993 and I was in my grandmother’s kitchen nervously attempting to tell her that I was gay. I had grown up hearing the word faggot so regularly that the idea of confessing that I was one of “those people” was a threat to everything I held dear, especially my relationship with my grandmother. She paused after I told her and took cookies out of the oven and began to tell me about a cd she bought called Yes I Am by a musician named Melissa Etheridge. She said she purchased it because of a song called “Come To My Window” and put the cd on for us to listen to and at the end of the night, she told me she loved me and that I should take the cd with me. I put the cd on and began my journey home. The first song that played on my discman was called “Silent Legacy” and it felt like a blueprint from the gods. I pressed repeat and took the long way home because I wanted to ingest this song until it became part of my body. With each play, I walked faster trying to catch up to the tears of joy that accompany an awakening. I could feel the spirit of revolution grow around me and soon, because of this song, I felt it grow inside of me.

Stevie Wonder: If It’s Magic

What a wonder Stevie is! I have always been a fan of his uplifting and inspiring music. He is the magic that is everlasting. “If It’s Magic” is a song I listen to to keep faith alive. I lay down on my comfy bed and gaze upon the paper butterflies hanging from my ceiling, and I remember how infinite I am. I remember the cosmic perspective. I can feel my cells smiling. My heartbeat starts to drop and I am calm. I am peace. I am Magic drifting with the universe. A never-ending memory traveling through the cosmic web of our existence. It brings be beyond words.

Yves Montand: Bella Ciao

Adolfo Bella was a legendary heroic partigiano (Partisan).  He was born, one of five children, in 1916 in Positano, Italy.  He loved to sing, as did his Sicilian father who died young.

In late 30’s, to survive, he joined Mussolini’s military and was stationed in Crete.  The Germans took Crete in 1943. Adolfo escaped the German’s camp in the melee and was hidden by a man named Manoli and his family until he could escape in a small aircraft to Albania. There, he joined the Resistance Movement.

With his partigiani comrades, he walked across Europe to Borgo Val di Taro, a town in Emilia, Italy. Here he was hidden by another family of three sisters. He called them the “Tre Donzella.” “JIM” was the name given to him by fellow partisans to spare his family from being killed by Germans.

In 1944, Adolfo and three other comrades from Borgo Taro, on foot, blew up with dynamite, the major transport bridge carrying munitions and supplies from Germany to France, thus saving the town from occupation. Two of his comrades died. One of the four, Salvatore lost his leg. Adolfo survived and returned to Positano.

In 1989, I met Adolfo in Positano at his beach club and restaurant. We fell in love and he invited me to share his life. While we were together, we traveled to Crete and BorgoTaro, following his path as a Partisan. I met Manoli, the man who hid him in Crete.

Upon our arrival in BorgoTaro, the whole town, chanting “JIM,” came out in the streets to greet one of the men who saved their town. I met Salvatore, who lost his leg, and the families of the other two comrades who died heroically. The three sisters, the Tre Donzella, invited us to their home for a poignant memorable lunch.

Adolfo was a strong, humble, gentle, and wise man who loved the mountains. He hated shoes. We spent many years walking in the woods of Monte Faito, overlooking Naples and Vesuvio. Adolfo would often sing to me in the car. ‘Bella Ciao’ a partigiani anthem, was one of his favorites.  My years with him profoundly changed my life.  He was a hero. This is one of the most beautiful renditions of the song by Yves Montand.

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