Mark Knopfler at the Edison Awards, 2003
The freaks’ll stay together, They’re a tight old crew
You look at them, And they look at you….
Devil Baby, by Mark Knopfler
This is a song about a freak show. And why not?
Today I turned on the TV and found not one, but two “active shooter” situations going on in California. UPDATE: One hour after I wrote this, a news conference in San Bernardino, scene of the first of these shooting events, reported 14 people dead and 14 wounded, by “as many as three gunmen.”
Before that was Colorado and the viciousness and cruelty of targeting Planned Parenthood — and women. Before that was Paris. And the Russian plane. And always — Isis/Isil/DAESH/BokoHaram. And of course, Donald Trump. SO.
This is a song about a freak show. And that’s why.
ALSO we all know I love Mark Knopfler so there’s that.
Consider this post a public service announcement.
We’re ending this month with so much sadness and bad news and facing an election year sure to bring much more. SO instead of the long NABLOPOMO meditation I’d planned I offer you the last song from the best concert I have ever been to IN MY LIFE, not just because this amazing lineup* (it was almost too much to absorb,) but because it existed to serve the 2004 Democratic ticket as John Kerry challenged George Bush.
Yeah I know he lost, but the song – this song – written by Patti Smith, still helps to remind us today of the task that lies before us. “The People Have the Power.” We, the people, need to do all we can to protect our rights and fight to revive those stolen from us: the Voting Rights Act, the terrible assaults on women’s healthcare providers, especially Planned Parenthood, racial injustice and pain beyond describing, xenophobia and hate speech from those who would lead us. We can’t afford to lose.
So, enjoy the music and take it to heart, then remember for the next year that those people who have the power?
*Babyface, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews Band, Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp, Jurassic 5, Keb’ Mo’, Pearl Jam, R.E.M.
Donald Trump is important. Maybe he’s channeling Huey Long, maybe Lonesome Rhodes, maybe just “the Donald,” but despite his xenophobia and thinly veiled racist take on immigrants, he has spun a new American dream and captured those who have been without one for a long time.
Despite those excluded, whom Ta-Nehesi Coates describes so well, the belief that the dream exists is a gigantic part of the American story even though, for many, it’s faded from view. Today, in the shadow of the attacks in Paris, I wonder whether his message will thrive or wither in the face of such horror and fear.
With all that in mind, what does Trump have to do with John Valjean? What did the story mean to Jack Kemp (there’s a new biography ) and Teddy Kennedy (there’s a new book about him, too) both of whom, from opposite parties and ideologies, saw Les Miz multiple times? Can what spoke to them teach or maybe comfort us as we recoil from another bloody revolution in the streets of Paris? Tell me that this* is not what they – and we – are feeling today.
This little boy is now a father, but when he was six, we took him, along with his brother, to see Les Miz. At the end, he dissolved in my lap in tears, a wise child who understood, as so many do, especiallu today, what we may have lost and must struggle to recover? Listen and then, you decide.
*When Les Miz opened in New York, both Teddy Kennedy and Jack Kemp saw it multiple times. It might have been about a revolution, but it was everyone’s revolution:
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight that will give you
The right to be free!