Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Resolutions: Dream Good and Stay Glad

It’s Day 2 of 2014!!

How’s everyone feeling? Are you back at work? Have you set and broken any New Year’s resolutions, yet? Have you made any at all? None?

Well, the folks over at Boing Boing have shared Woody Guthrie’s resolutions (or as he describes them, “Rulin’s”) from 1942/43 and boy did he set the bar extra high.

Not only did the legendary folk musician set 33 resolutions– but his resolutions included things like:

#15 Learn People Better

and

#20 Dream Good

and

#31 Love Everybody

It’s not a competition but the most popular resolutions as compiled by usa.gov include losing weight, tackling debt, quitting smoking, and volunteering to help others.

All admirable and formidable resolutions.

But what if we all resolved to just love everybody all the time.

What if we all agreed to just dream good and stay glad.

Life.

It’s all easier said than done but there’s something comforting in knowing that win, lose or draw we all collectively entertain this notion of owning our vices in an attempt to overcome them, even if it only happens once a year.

Got any resolutions this year?

Share them in the comments.

Photo by Al Aumuller courtesy the Library of Congress

Is It Too Late for More Christmas Music: An Orange Is The New Black Exception

You guys have heard of the Netflix hit show Orange is the New Black (OITNB), right?

If not, I highly recommend Shannon’s piece here at FDL on the latest brain child of Jenji Kohan, the creator of the TV show Weeds. OITNB takes place in a women’s correctional facility in Connecticut and provides a really dynamic portrayal of the day-to-day lives of its prisoners.  There are an abundance of tears and laughs and “WTF DID THAT JUST HAPPEN” moments throughout the series’ first season, currently streaming on Netflix, and if you haven’t binge-watched it yet I join Shannon in recommending it.  In addition to being smart and funny and spunky to boot, the series makes a sincere attempt to portray “flawed” characters in a way that doesn’t put their flaws front and center.  The show is incredibly well written and I’m a huge fan.

So much so that when I came across this Holiday/Christmas music mash-up magic video featuring the actors who play the show’s characters Crazy Eyes and Taystee, Uzo Aduba and Danielle Brooks respectively, I couldn’t help but indulge in even more Holiday cheer.

All I want for post-Christmas is to spend next Christmas holiday cheering it up with Crazy Eyes and Taystee, preferably around a Christmas tree with instruments and eggnog.

The mash up– dubbed “Jolly Christmas Medley”–was put together by Danielle Brooks herself and created with the help of a Brooklyn-based band called Oh Honey. (more…)

Like a Beverly: The Weight

Click HERE for Part One or Click HERE for Part TWO

The plane touched down shortly before midnight.  Or maybe it was a little after 11pm? I’m not sure– I was exhausted and everything felt blurry after my 20 minute cat nap on my 60 minute flight.

All that aside, I was in Atlanta!

Peace up A town down!

Beverly had insisted that I give her a ring upon arriving at the airport despite my repeated protestation that it would be SUPER late by the time my plane touched down.   I called her and her excitement was not only audible but it gave me the little boost I needed to make my way over to baggage claim (lack of overheard storage space resulted in my carry on– which lacked adequate black girl hair products– to be stowed away beneath the plane presumably next to other bags that carried way more than 3.4 FL ounces of leave in conditioner.)

Bag in hand, I started walking in the direction of the rental car hub located at the other side of the airport.  After about 20 minutes of walking — and the sinking realization that I had quite a ways to go — I promptly boarded the nearest shuttle to help expedite the process.  I’d find out later that the airport was 3 miles across and that the shuttle wasn’t just decoration.

20 hours later- on the shuttle!

Once I had the keys to the rental car it occurred to me that I didn’t have directions to the hotel. (Did I mention the part where I’m not exactly good at traveling and that my “smart” phone is so smart that I don’t know how to use its GPS system?)   Mike helped me navigate my way to Decatur, Georgia where our hotel was located, via the magic of the telephone and the ability to drive while on speaker phone.

Estimated Time: Super, duper late.

I was up early the next day to meet Beverly at church.  She gave me the address for the church she regularly frequents– a small establishment that she sometimes performs at– with a service that started at 11:30am.

I gave myself ample time to pull together a church appropriate outfit and to– given my poor sense of navigational direction– get lost a few times with some time to spare.

Church appropriate?

I got into the car, cell phone GPS in hand, and punched in the address of the church only to find that the location didn’t register on the GPS.

No big deal! The street did! Plus, I had the church name!

I googled the church name only to find that the church didn’t exist on the internet.  Beverly had mentioned that it was a small church but I guess my 21st Century brain didn’t consider the possibility that, small church or not, it wouldn’t have a website and a corresponding twitter and instagram account.

On top of that Beverly didn’t have a cell phone and since I’d checked in with her right before she left for church I knew she wasn’t home to receive calls on her home phone either.

I punched the street name into the GPS and proceeded to spend the next three hours following a whim hoping to strike gold.

No dice.

So much for my magic cellphone…

I thought back on some of our initial conversations from a few months earlier. Church had always been a cornerstone of Beverly’s upbringing in Commerce, Georgia.  When I asked her who introduced her to the blues she answered definitively:

Jesus.

She told me about going to church with her own family “back in them days”– and getting there via a horse pulled wagon just like Little House on the Prairie.

Maud was the name of her family’s Sunday horse.

Beverly recalled Her Grandmother’s dinners on the first Sundays of August and how her Granddaddy would take some straw out to the horses to keep them occupied during service. Church, family and music were all central to her childhood.  In fact music was introduced to her by her Aunts who played together and called themselves The Hayes Sisters. Her aunt Mary Margette gifted her her first guitar when she was 8 years old. It was a toy guitar– a far stretch from the Fender Mustang “Red Mama” that she’d come to write a song about decades later.

You’ve gotta start somewhere and Beverly started young.  It’d be years still before her Aunt Bishie would buy her a trumpet so she could play in the school band at Archer High School.  Beverly would tell me

I’ll never forget she paid 90 dollars for it.

Beverly went on to play third trumpet and learn the fundamentals of music from her teacher, Clark Taylor.  She’d acknowledge that this foundation proved helpful once the time came to hit the road with Piano Red:

I knew how to play all different types of chords; sharps, majors minors and just on and on.

Beverly knows her guitar inside and out– and beyond that she loves her guitars.  Not only does she name them all– but on the road, if she so happens to find herself in a motel room with two beds, without hesitation one of those beds goes to her guitars.

On the road myself– driving aimlessly throughout Atlanta, rounding my third hour of trying to find Beverly’s church– I started feeling disheartened.

Church was definitely over and given my propensity to perpetually think that people are mad at me (this is a thing that I do) I felt terrible knowing that I’d come all this way to hang out with Beverly and I’d inadvertently left her hanging at the altar.

I hesitated to give up.

There are churches every other block in Atlanta– and despite knowing it was a long shot, I pulled over to a man selling pumpkin pies on the street and asked him for help.

He effusively ticked off about a half a dozen other churches I should check out with more joy than seemed necessary.  It occurred to me that this perfect stranger was not only willing but eager to help me for no other reason than I was someone to be helped. I bought a HUGE and delicious slice of pie from him for $2 and finally came to appreciate that church wasn’t in the cards that day.

Solid way to spend 2 dollars

At that point I felt tired and a little defeated. I stopped by a coffee shop called Kavarna and figured I’d spend some time writing and getting caffeinated.

It was only after about an hour that I realized that this venue specialized in musical acts and that this whole time I had in fact been sitting on a stage.

Later that afternoon I made my way to a pizza shop for a super awesome slice of pineapple and bacon and red pepper pizza and a beer.

Pizza!

I finally reached Beverly after periodically contacting her throughout the afternoon well after 6pm.

She was bummed I missed a good service but she wasn’t mad at me (phew) and we made new plans to meet at the hospital the next morning.

While sitting in the pizza shop, my favorite song from The BandThe Weight– came on blaring through the stereo system:

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

I’ll never forget watching Levon Helm, The Band’s drummer, sing this song during my first viewing of The Last Waltz (I’ve since watched it a zillion times) and thinking “Man, I want to be able to do that.”

He sang lead vocals behind his kit and his performance was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

I took up drums shortly thereafter.

Beyond being an epic song that changed my life– and beyond Mavis Staples’ chill inducing rendition of the second verse– I loved the words.

I love the sense of being bombarded with really smart words that simultaneously mean something and manage to say all of the things.

Take a load off, Fanny.

It sure made sense to me.

Teamwork makes the dream work and yet for some reason while we philosophize about the American dream — and insist that we’re only as strong as the weakest among us — we rarely offer to carry Fanny’s load.  Shared struggle means actually sharing in the struggle, showing up and being there.

I’d only known Beverly for about 6 months when she told me she was having a procedure to remove her brain aneurysm.  Upon hearing this I immediately knew I wanted to be there if only to help carry the load.

There’s little I could do beside show up and hope that it was enough to help. I hear, back in them days, it used to be more like this.  In fact, Beverly told me so:

What would happen is they would get together and they would help each other.  See, in the country it’s still like that.  If one person got sick in the house or something they would go and help that person. It’s not like that, this generation, these times it’s not like that.  I still go back.  I think back in my times.

Take a load off, Fanny.

I was up thinking pretty late that night feeling all the emotions.  Nervous and scared, sure, but mostly optimistic and grateful.

We’ve all been Fanny at some point in our lives– and for today, Beverly was someone to be helped and I was in a position be there to say: Put the load right on me.

 

Previous Entries: 

Like a Beverly: Starting Somewhere

Like a Beverly: Zone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Let’s Go to Charlotte! 

“No Fracking Way” Aussie Rock Anthem

No fracking way! Pop star Leo Sayer scored a huge hit many decades ago with “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” and maintained a steady presence touring and recording. He became an Australian citizen in 2009. Outraged over the way fracking for gas is destroying the nation’s land, water, farming and wildlife, Sayer joined with Aussie pop stars and recorded the anthemic “No Fracking Way” to support the environmental group Lock the Gate. The Newcastle Herald reports Sayer saying:

This is a song I wrote and recorded this year to support the organisation Lock The Gate, who work in opposition to the practice of coal seam gas mining, or fracking as it has come to be known. I don’t know if you have heard about this, but the damage it’s causing to the landscape, environment, wildlife, livestock, flora, and fauna, and indeed humans, is highly evident here in Australia and all around the world. So I’ve joined with a bunch of like-minded fellow Aussies here who are determined to stop this.


While the faces of Australian’s biggest music stars may not be familiar to us in the U.S., the sentiment of the song (and catchy melody) are ones the anti-fracking forces around the globe can relate to.

 

 

 

Here’s Sayer’s big hit, later used in the movie Charlie’s Angels:

 

Like a Beverly: Zone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Let’s Go to Charlotte!

Songwriting in Narnia

Click HERE for Part One.

My boyfriend drove me to the airport.

We met on Craigslist this past July, but not in the way that you’d think.

I was diagnosed with a bad case of tendonitis the day before my 26th Birthday when dependent coverage stopped being a thing I could use, so I was pretty much on my own for treatment.  I placed some calls to physical therapists but everyone was looking for a few hundred bucks for an initial consultation AKA to confirm what the Doctor already told me: I had tendonitis and it would take quite a bit of stretching and waiting and not playing guitar to clear it up.   After a few days ignoring Doctor’s orders to try to ‘play’ it through, I came to terms with the fact that it would be anywhere between 3 weeks to 6 months before I could play again.

Sigh.

Two days went by before I realized that this was bullshit and there was no way I was going to just not do music for 3 weeks to 6 months.

I browsed through the musicians community page on Craigslist in DC.  I found an ad from a guitar player looking for a vocalist and I replied.  We went back and forth trading mp3s before scheduling a time to jam.  At one point,  he offered to meet me at a park to prove that he wasn’t a creeper.  I figured that the gesture alone was all the evidence that I needed so I went over to his place and we hung out for maybe an hour before something came up and I had to head out. I guess I was sort of flakey up front.

Lucky for me, Mike doesn’t scare easy.

The next time we met up I had three songs worth of words and melodies that I thought we could work through.  Neither of us really knew what we were doing so we sort of just sat there for a minute.

“I guess I could just start singing?”

Shyly, I did.

I was nervous but I kept going, repeating verses and choruses as Mike worked through things on his guitar.

By some magic — two hours later, we had our first three songs.

That’s basically how it’s worked since.

Some variation of one of us having something that the other one builds on.  Other times Mike will play some chords and I’ll think “I know what song this is!” and from there, and without changing them, I’ll take words and melodies that I’ve saved up and put them to his chords.

We both knew that we’d stumbled into something special.

When I got a call from my friends at Back Yard Fence asking if I wanted to play The Riverstone Rockfest– within days of meeting him, I asked Mike if he wanted to play it with me.

He was down!

First show!

So we set off to prepare for our first show. We had an hour of time to fill and about a month to fill it. We wrote a handful of songs and then worked on a handful of covers.  My tendonitis hadn’t cleared up quite yet so I only got to play on two songs.  I’m actually still building up strength nearly 6 months later and while I’m antsy to play more guitar, I also have to appreciate that not being able to play made me focus exclusively on becoming a better vocalist.

I’m not sure I would have otherwise done that because the truth is that never really wanted to be a singer.

I sang in choruses when I was a little girl but the thought of trying to get good at singing didn’t occur to me until I picked up a guitar. If I wanted my songs to be good I had to be good at singing them.  I was a downright bad singer when I started but luckily practice is a thing that makes a difference.

So after a ton of practice– with Mike at my side, we were ready to take the stage for the first time.

We were one of the first bands to play that day and while there weren’t a ton of people there for our set, we were pumped to go out and have a good time.  As our set ended and we started working our way off stage the event organizer Casey called us back for an encore.

Oh man, we had no songs left really!

We went back and played a work-in-progress for the first time since writing it a week earlier and miraculously managed not to make a total mess of it.

Just like that we’d done it, we’d played our first show.

We didn’t really have a plan beyond that initial show — and in fact were introduced that day as “Uh, Mike and Sara?!” –  but we both knew that this was a thing that we wanted to keep doing.

A few months later, with more practice and a stronger set, we played another Riverstone Rockfest.

This time as our band Music Bones.

I’ll have more to say on that, soon.

But for now; back to Mike.

So in addition to being a super gifted guitar player, Mike’s a pretty awesome human being.

Within weeks of us writing together a friend foreshadowed: “You’re going to fall in love with him.”

No way, he was my band mate!

Plus, this wasn’t an episode of Nashville, this was real life!

We kept writing together and started practicing with increasing frequency.

We had a lot in common so we obviously became friends and started hanging out when there wasn’t band stuff to do.

Still, a relationship was literally the last thing in the world that I was interested in and I made sure that he knew it.  Penis jokes, embarrassing horror stories from being single in New York, repeatedly talking up all the groupies we were sure to get when we hit the road, I held nothing back.

For weeks I was in top form. I felt all sorts of things, but I had no interest in entertaining thoughts about what those feelings actually meant. I sort of picked up on him doing extra friendly things but I brushed those off, too.

Then there was the time that we were driving in his car and he started super effusively, at the top of his lungs, singing along to one of my favorite Fall Out Boy songs from high school.

Talk about a move.

There was also this other time we got attacked by a dog while walking his dog Dixie and he pushed me out of the way and covering Dixie with his body to protect her.

Man.

They don’t make em like that anymore…

(Side note: Have I mentioned that we’re literally building our band out of Jane Hamsher’s basement?)

Brian Sonenstein being a producer, NBD.

Long story short– we landed in New York and on our first night, after more than a handful of drinks,  I kissed him and yelled at him for it.

I told him why No Doubt almost broke up.

He ignored me.

What about the groupies!

He ignored that, too.

I rambled about concrete hearts (did I mention that I can be SUPER dramatic after more than a handful of drinks?) and horror stories of why this was the absolute worst idea ever!

Lucky for me, Mike doesn’t scare easily.

Anyways what I’m basically saying is I’m one million percent in love with the other half of my band and he drove me to the airport to embark on this Beverly adventure with his own ticket booked to meet me in Atlanta on Tuesday night.

I don’t actually intend on saying much more about this in particular beyond what comes out in song lyrics (yeah I know, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO I AM ANYMORE) but sitting in the terminal of BWI with a connection in Charlotte being the only thing between myself and Atlanta, I couldn’t help but think about how he’s a super important part of this story.

Beverly would actually say as much within hours of meeting him.

We’ll get there later– but for now, as the US Airways employee said into the intercom as I boarded the plane;

“Zone 1,2,3,4,5 Let’s Go to Charlotte!”

Mandatory airport french fries

 

Previous Entries; 

Like a Beverly: Starting Somewhere

Like a Beverly: Starting Somewhere

 

I first discovered Beverly on a list of female songwriters I stumbled across this Summer.

Beverly “Guitar” Watkins.

Up until that point I’d never heard of her.

The corresponding picture featured on that list was of a woman crouched down with her guitar.  A bona fide bad ass if I’d ever seen one.  “Don’t Mess with Miss Watkins”, it warned.

Boy, was I in for a surprise when I investigated further (see video above).

I took to google and came across video after video of a Miss Watkins absolutely crushing it on stage.  She’d sing. Then she’d solo. Then she’d flip her guitar above her head and sing and solo while playing behind her back.

Did I mention the part where she’s doing this at well over 70 years of age?

Currently rounding the corner towards her 75th Birthday, Beverly’s still trying to make it. Despite some turbulence along the way– she’s survived both a heart attack and lung cancer — she’s not letting anything slow her down.  She’s told me on more occasions than I can count:

“I’m only 74, I’m young” she insists “mine is a gift from God”.

Upon finding her on the Internet I reached out to The Music Makers Foundation — an organization that deserves all the recognition and praise in the world.  Their mission is to “support Roots musicians” and Beverly is one of the artists that they’ve taken under their wing.

I figured I could chat with her for an FDL piece– just a little something that could help contribute to getting her name out there.

I followed up and followed up and followed up and finally got a response!

Beverly was willing to talk to me!

The first time I called her it took quite a bit of explaining before she caught on to who I was.  They’d told her about me but she had a lot going on, a show in New Orleans on deck– gigs throughout Atlanta– awards to receive.

We dove right in and started just talking.  Well, Beverly did most of the talking; story after story of her life to date.   She told me about starting to play guitar when she was 8.  She told me about meeting Piano Red and going on the road. She told me about opening up for Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin and James Brown. She told me about being a single mother and when the band broke up.  She told me about working at a car wash to help pay the bills while she kept on making music. She told me about recording her debut album in her 60s.  She told me that music is what’s keeping her alive.

So for months we went back and forth–I’d interview and transcribe and take a stab at writing something. She’d call to check in on me and say hello.

Drafts became more drafts become overworked drafts.

The pressure was high.  Beverly was trusting me with her story and I didn’t want to mess this up.

Getting this “right” was super important to me because- beyond the fact that she’s more than paid her dues– my heart and guts and stuff need you know that she exists.

I grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut feeling all the pressure in the world to strike a balance between being myself and being dubbed the black girl who acts white. I grew up feeling pressure to act, and talk, and dress a certain way because of what I looked like.  I took a lot of those insecurities with me into adulthood and I spent years wandering and stumbling and trying to fight back.  I worked in fashion and politics and technology.  For the longest time I had the instinct to create but without the skill set.

Then I found music.

I was 24 the first time I picked up a guitar and I only found the drums in the last year.

Now, music isn’t a choice for me.

There’s life before it and there’s life after and there’s a split second in between when something snapped and I knew my life would never be the same.

I will always do this thing because I have to.

Beverly knows a thing or two about that.

She called me a few weeks ago to tell me that she had a performance in London that she was flying to in mid-November. Then she mentioned super casually that she also had a brain aneurysm that the doctors were going to operate on in December.

I met her for the first time this past Monday in the waiting room of an Atlanta hospital just hours before her stent procedure.

She danced her way into surgery.

Don’t mess with Miss Watkins.

I thought of that picture standing with her in ICU a few hours later.

She was already antsy to get back on stage.  “Just get yourself better,” I told her, “I’ll keep practicing while you do.”

Without skipping a beat her eyes tightened and she responded super seriously:

“You better.”

Beverly’s given me a lot in the last few months that I’ve known her.  She’s pushed me and coached me on and reminded me time and time again of the power that comes with just being yourself. She’s showed me what it looks like to love and trust and place faith in an absolute stranger. As soon as her health clears up, we’ve got all sorts of adventures dreamed up.

I’m nervous about this.  I might as well say it out loud and upfront.  But I’m also emboldened by the magic that’s brought me this far.  Finding Beverly wasn’t an easy journey but as I was reminded by some graffiti on the bathroom wall of Northside Tavern last night:

Smooth sails do not a strong sailor make.

It’s been a long road getting this far and as nervous as I am– I know that you’ve got to start somewhere.

So here we go.

I’ll be posting her story and recapping this trip to Atlanta here on Firedoglake.com over the next week or two.

I couldn’t have made it this far without the support of FDL and Jane Hamsher specifically– so I also want to start out with a heartfelt thank you to her and to all of you for reading this far.

Let’s get messy.

#likeabeverly

 

Photo Credit; Flickr user johnmcnicholas

 

Joan Jett To SeaWorld: Cease and Desist on “I Love Rock N Roll”

Vegetarian bad girl rocker Joan Jett has served SeaWorld with a cease and desist order over what she claims is the unauthorized use of her signature hit, “I Love Rock N Roll”, the song which kickstarted her solo career after the Runaways broke up. Gothamist reports that PETA member Jett, in an open letter to SeaWorld president Jim Atchison, wrote:

I was surprised and upset to see on YouTube that SeaWorld used ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’ as the opening music for its cruel and abusive ‘Shamu Rocks’ show. I’m among the millions who saw Blackfish and am sickened that my music was blasted without my permission at sound-sensitive marine mammals. These intelligent and feeling creatures communicate by sonar and are driven crazy in the tiny tanks in which they are confined. If I don’t receive written confirmation that SeaWorld will cease and desist from using any Joan Jett & the Blackhearts music, I will be forced to take further action, and you’ll find me among the PETA protesters outside your parks. SeaWorld’s reliance on cruelty and captivity for commerce has been widely exposed. I hope you’ll take the respectable path and release the captive orcas to coastal sanctuaries so that they can live out their lives with other orcas in nature. This move would show that your company is truly family-friendly. This message is not a complete statement of my rights and remedies, all of which are expressly reserved.

It’s Blackfish backlash. The film, which documents what former trainers call abusive treatment of orcas, has raised awareness of SeaWorld and other marine parks’ practices. Gothamist reports that since the film’s release, Heart, Willie Nelson, and Barenaked Ladies all canceled their upcoming shows at Sea World’s Orlando park. Last year Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee already prohibited SeaWorld from using the band’s songs in the “Shamu Rocks” show.

Here’s Jett playing two more of her hits live this year at the San Diego County Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Don’t expect to see her ever at San Diego’s SeaWorld–unless it’s outside protesting.

(more…)

Pussy Riot To Be Freed: Amnesty for Russian Punk Band, Greenpeace Protestors and Others

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are being freed under the amnesty bill being submitted by Vladimir Putin to the Duma, the Russian parliament, on Monday December 9, to mark the Russian constitution’s 20th anniversary on Thursday. Nadya’s husband Pyotr Verzilov confirmed the rumors to The Voice Project:

It’s from the Kremlin and official already, they will be freed. We do not know yet when this will happen, because it is unclear when the bill will be voted by the Duma and how fast it will be applied to prisons – could be from 2 weeks to 2 months until they are freed.

The Voice Project also reports that Nadya’s father Andrei has also been able to confirm this from “reliable sources.” Nadya was moved to Siberia in November after protesting conditions and going on a hunger strike at her previous penal colony in Morodovia. She is now hospitalized in a Siberian prison facility, Regional Tuberculosis Hospital No. 1.

The BBC reports that Putin may also free the Greenpeace Arctic 30 campaigners currently on bail and facing trial on (reduced) charges of hooliganism, as well as some of the opposition activists involved in unrest in May 2012.

This all feels like a Putin move to make Russia seem less yucky-looking in the buildup to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Simone Baumann’s film Putin’s Game, documenting charges of threats, corruption, and environmental damage is screening throughout Europe. Pussy Riot jailed, Greenpeace activists facing trial, “gay propaganda” banned and LGBTQ beaten, Elton John (finally) speaking out about anti-gay discrimination in Russia. From the stage. While performing a concert in Moscow. Add in a boycott of Smirnoff vodka and Putin had to do something.

In a surprising move, NBC has named the New Yorker’s editor and a former Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, David Remnick as a guest correspondent:

Remnick said NBC had guaranteed him editorial independence with his commentary, including such politically charged issues as gay rights and the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. “There is nothing in the world — and I know they don’t intend to hinder me in this way — where I would not be honest in my analysis,” Remnick said. “It would be a waste of everyone’s integrity and time if otherwise.”

Meanwhile, it could be a very happy new year for Pussy Riot, Greenpeace, and other jailed Russian activists. (more…)

Listen to What the Drums Say: Jasiri X Memorializes Mandela

The video tribute above comes from Jasiri X who’s taken to music to reflect on the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

In the chorus he raps:

Then I looked over the horizon and saw Mandela in a sun that was rising
He said listen to what the drum say, we are all gonna be free one day

When I looked over the horizon and I saw Mandela with wings he was flying
He said listen to what the drum say, we are all gonna be free one day

There is a history of music inspired by Nelson Mandela.  He has left a profound legacy, the outpouring of love and admiration in light of his passing is a reminder of just how much of an impression he’s made.

And this profound impression spans across generations and countries and peoples.  Nelson Mandela is truly a person of the ages whose impact cannot be understated.  Jasiri’s song beautifully captures that fact and yet goes future.  In honoring Mandela’s legacy– Jasiri also poses a challenge to all those left to carry his torch that’s worth reflecting on as we mourn the loss of a great leader and celebrate the life of an extraordinary individual.

I emailed Jasiri to ask about the inspiration behind the song and he replied:

I believe Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest revolutionaries that has ever lived. When he started to get sick, myself and the song’s producer Agent of Change, wanted to pay tribute to his incredible leadership. I always have wondered why we give so much admiration and love to Nelson Mandela, but so few of us are willing to make the sacrifices he did, to effect a world that still needs revolutionary change. I imagined what a conversation with him would be like and what he would say. I believe Nelson Mandela would have great faith in our generation to carry his ideas and make them a reality. We are all gonna be free one day.

Until then– Rest in Peace, Madiba.

 

“My America Don’t Stand For This”: Esperanza Spalding’s New Song, Video, Takes on Gitmo

Esperanza Spalding is a total bad ass.

If you’re not familiar with the Grammy award winning multi-instrumentalist then allow me to help make your Wednesday.

Spalding is an accomplished jazz musician who plays with a lot of heart.  She started playing violin at age 5 but she truly found her groove, and subsequently her sound, upon discovering the bass at age 15.  A ton of hard work, a Grammy and a few records later, she was doing no big deal things like jamming with Prince and playing with Stevie Wonder at the White House.

Now she’s channeled her musical prowess into an empowering anthem that strives to be for something.

That something being the American values, principles and laws that make the concept of indefinite detention without trial – and thereby the very existence of Guantanamo Bay – completely indefensible on our watch.

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., encouraged by her band members, and supported by various human rights organizations Spalding captured her feelings not only through a song but a fact-laced video that spells out what’s going on, why it’s important, and how you can help. The video encourages viewers to contact their representatives and the song is a rousing cry as to why they should.

As Spalding sings

I am America

And my America

It don’t stand for this.

We are America

In our America

We take a stand for this.

Speaking to MSNBC, Spalding clarified that she hadn’t written a protest song– rather she’d created an invitation to participation:

It’s such a gift and a joy to be engaged in the process- in our democratic process, and I think maybe we forget that we each really can do something. You know, it seems like an overwhelming issue and any overwhelming issue gets solved by slow continual person-by-person action so that’s the invitation.

She went on to specifically address personal power and it’s role in this project and others like it:

We’re powerful individuals.  Each of us have a lot of power in us to contribute to positive transformation of the world we live in and it’s a celebration of that-  a celebration of we don’t have to sit her and let unpleasant things happen under our nose. We can celebrate this freedom and power that we have to make a difference.

Writing in the LA Times Spalding went even further to explain her inspiration as well as her hope for the project getting into the nitty gritty legislative details of how and why that power matters”

If the Senate and the House of Representatives agree to the Guantanamo provisions in the defense act, the few prisoners in the detention center who face charges could be prosecuted where it makes the most sense, in federal courts.

Radio Music Society (and friends) made “We Are America” because we believe that, while not all of us are called to the front lines like Martin Luther King Jr., we can all support our elected officials in doing the right thing.

The entire project is amazing and it accomplishes its job, as described by Spalding, in that it helps to raise consciousness around what’s happening and why it matters.  In a little over a decade 779 men have been illegally detained and 164 remain imprisoned despite the fact that well over half of them are cleared to leave. What’s happening is wrong but what happens next has yet to be determined.

The video’s call to action spells out what you can do:

Call the US Capitol Switchboard 1-202-224-3121 to connect you to your two Senators & your Congressional Representative

Tell Them:

I am your constituent and I want you to support closing Guantanamo

Indefinite detention and unfair trails are illegal, un-American and unnecessary.

The video, done in collaboration with ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, includes cameos from  Harry Belafonte, Janelle Monáe and Stevie Wonder, while also highlighting statements from President Obama, Senator John McCain, Colin Powell and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen to spell out why closing Guantanamo is the right thing to do.

All that’s lacking is the courage and political will to do it.

That’s where we come in.

Watch and share the video and join the conversation online by tweeting @EspeSpalding or with the hashtags #closegitmo and  #weareamerica.

 

I’ve been told and I believe.  Aint no justice aint no peace

 

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