Personal ruminations on being lyrically speechless in today’s political climate
My drug of choice for the evening is a bag of hotel-grade chamomile tea steeped in a microwaved mug. It’s as dreadful as it sounds, but at least it’s drinkable compared to the cold tap water taken from the corroded pipes of my temporary “home.” I sit and drink and stare at the off-white wallpaper of my room.
I’ve been writing songs for quite a while now. Ideas for songs come in fits of inspiration. They spring forth at random times for me to hold onto desperately until I can get myself to a quiet place to hum the melody into my phone. It might not be good work, but it comes relatively easy.
The lyrics are a more painful process—they need to fit the melody well; they need to sound good; and they need to either be devoid of cheese or ironically overstuffed with it. I sit and drink and stare at the off-white wallpaper because I have nothing to say. The wallpaper itself could tell more stories than I could.
I open my laptop and hope that a small break will take care of the writer’s block I’ve been afflicted with. I run through the usual ringer of websites, hoping the endless amount of information and entertainment will put my mind more at ease. Eventually, I stumble onto a news site. The headlines of the day flash before me.
I cannot help but react. The pen hits the page.
“The fascists run amok
Don’t mind the hate.”
I’m back in my hometown, eating a familiar dinner surrounded by people I’ve known my entire life. Mom’s home-cooked meat and potatoes as always, with a heavy helping of vegetables.
A racial argument is turning ugly. “There are two types of black people,” a voice says. The infamous Chris Rock line, once a searing criticism on how poor attitudes can hurt a community, has now been reduced to a cultural affirmation of racial fear.
I say nothing to retort and instead stare into my potatoes.
Kendrick Lamar writes of oppression within the black community. Buffy Sainte-Marie spoke of the terror inflicted on Native Americans.
Who do I speak for?
I was born and raised by conservative parents who made smart decisions with their money and lifestyle. I lived and went to school in the “rich” area on the north side of my otherwise dilapidated hometown. My blues are the upper middle class blues. Who wants to hear those?
I stand at the bus stop, waiting for a bus that seems like it will never arrive. Skin unlike my own stands on either side.
“There are two types of black people.” The thought creeps in for just a moment before I’m able to shoo it away.
I loathe the fact that it had even popped into my head to begin with.
I’ve lived my life in the status quo.
I cannot speak the wisdom of Dylan. Try as I might, I cannot relate to the charged experiences of M.I.A. or Kendrick Lamar or Gil Scott-Heron. I can only speak for my own self, for what I believe in.
So, the question becomes whether my experiences are strong enough to write a song about it. Do I know who the fascists really are? Do I look at the people I’ve known all my life and suddenly decide that I can point out and expose the flaws of their views?
“I lived and went to school in the “rich” area on the north side of my otherwise dilapidated hometown. My blues are the upper-middle-class blues. Who wants to hear those?”
Or am I just someone that copies what I’ve heard? Do I recycle old tropes and ideas, casting them as talking points as if I’m trying to win some low-brow argument? Is there anything I have to say that hasn’t already been said?
That isn’t to say that something of old can’t be born anew. In fact, it’s now quite fashionable to revive old trends and old ideas under a “modern” light, but nuance is also necessary. It’s easy to write something out of scorn, something that attempts to put a message across–but it’s difficult to write something that bites. It’s difficult to write something that doesn’t read like a “gotcha” moment. It’s difficult to write something that, really, doesn’t sound stupid.
Who do I speak for? Who do I speak to?
“The fascists run amok,
Don’t mind the hate.”
I erase the line.