This Is Not America

You can’t say they’re coming. They’re already here. They’ve been arriving in growing numbers for a while now. Songs of objection. Songs of disapproval. Songs that challenge. Fight songs. Demonstration songs. Protest songs. They came with fire and fury when black men and women were gunned down. They came as a reflection of the tragedies of Newtown, Orlando and Paris. They’re screaming at racism and bigotry and pleading for humanity and peace. But up until now, they haven’t had a shared target. As Bob Dylan once sang, things have changed.

By no means is it an artist’s job to mirror the world in their songs. That would be unfair to imply, and wrong. What they do with the art is entirely up to them, be it specifically personal and inward looking, or universal. Contrary to proclamations I’ve made in the past, the world does occasionally indeed need silly love songs. But given the opportunity and opposition, there are few things as powerful as a well-written protest song. An artist possesses something that most politicians will never carry, and that’s poetry. Be it the poetry of a rising anthem, an intense bass line, or the string of words that can assemble a movement. Or maybe it’s a movie, book, self-pressed magazine, or painting that redefines your direction and becomes a building block to who you are. When it comes to the progress of humanity, art is the kindling, the wood and the fire. And there is a lot of it being written, painted and filmed right now.

Through the years, there have been plenty of attempts to accomplish the same thing from the other side, but doesn’t it usually come off looking like lame propaganda? Or maybe I’ve just made up my mind. But I can tell you one thing for certain, and that’s the majority of art-makers throughout all of history have been on the side of inclusion, peace, love and equality. It comes from the underground, from the ones who have been mistreated for looking different, loving different or simply not wanting to be a part of something hateful. And the more you piss them off, the better movie they’ll make, and the better song they’ll write. It’s a megaphone that can’t be copied, and can’t be co-opted, because it’s real and it comes from a real place of prayer. They’re the songs that inspire a generation and that change the world. And what’s going on right now, in the past two weeks, is the equivalent of throwing the rock at the hornet’s nest. They’re angry, and they’re organized.

Am I being hyperbolic? Can a song really change the world? Maybe not in one fell swoop, but a building wave does break. Look at Bob Dylan (again). When you add up his sum, would it not be easy to see the probable impact? When you montage the collection of Banksy, does it not leave an impression? When you finish a movie like “Milk” or “The Imitation Game,” does it not give you a sense of loss? And when you tear through the great documentaries, does it not give you a hint of the right side of history? I’ve spent my life admiring artists for their stance, outspoken nature and bravery. I’ve seen someone stand up time and time again in the face of ridicule, only to be eventually proven right. When they said the war in the Middle East was wrong and were pelted, when they said Vietnam was senseless and were accused of treason, when they said that giving someone with less than you wasn’t a political act, and they were blacklisted, or when they said that we’re all the same on the inside, and were killed. They were our creators, and eventually, they were all right. Or they had always been, but others were too blind with rage to see.

They are not perfect. They are not gods. But they are the ones with the power to inspire. And though I wish they didn’t have to, I’m counting on them. Do I think peace and love can be accomplished without them? Hell yes. Because we are a smart people, we are many, and we are focused. We desire a world where everyone eats at the same table, and everyone gets to eat. But on the days when it all seems too much, when the opposition seems too conniving, our artists will have the words, songs, and pictures to put us back on our feet and moving forward.

Play it loud.