“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.
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:
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.
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