Page Two: The Good Songs We Need to Sing Together and Loud
Celebrating love and resistance at Terry and Jo Harvey Allen's 55th wedding anniversary
Thirty years of confusions and change
Thirty years of the stress and the strains
Thirty years to be accused and to blame
Ahhh thirty years that don't mean a thing
When you put them beside
Them good songs we sang
– Terry Allen, "The Thirty Years Waltz"
There was a time, many a time, when the first rays of light of the approaching dawn on the horizon, signaling a new day, were the saddest sign, bringing closure to an all-night writing run. Sure, you could keep working, but there is something splendid about being deep into the all dark of the night with hours still spread ahead, a light burning, music on and specially being all alone with nothing else to do. The coming dawn, always abrupt, the light of day if nothing else returning one to daily life, leaving behind the blessed and desired alone.
Those days, for me at least, are long gone. This is being written at 10 in the morning in a house on Cape Cod overlooking the bay. The sun shines on the water as the waves roll in, quietly crashing on the beach. It is a different world with different ways, but still there is the drive, the quest – to communicate, to light fires, to share the warmth of the already burning fires of others.
We live in a time of disparagement. Those who want to "make America great again" care much less about celebrating the country than they do about attacking those ideas and people they believe are destroying it. I wish I had a more objective view, but I, along with many, feel those supporting the current administration – especially the ones just thrilled with it – love an imagined country, a Hollywood-esque Technicolor fantasy based on desire and bias, not reality. Certainly, they have no affection and some hostility toward the country as detailed in the Constitution and conceived by the Founding Fathers. The whole Christian-centric argument ignores not just their intentions and beliefs (yes, Christians, but so many were deists), but often leave the "Judeo-" out while actively ignoring the influence and importance of the pantheist Greeks.
Still, tackling this atmosphere by discussion, dissent, and argument just simply mirrors it; the movement against partisan extremism is not doing exactly the same only with different politics. We are living with a government that is actively criminalizing a segment of the population while also razing the idea that we are all in this together, that we are a community, a village that doesn't just raise but enable and empower all of us. Instead, the worst of our tendencies are driving it – greed, partisanship, myopic nationalism, and perverse fictional individualism. Instead of equality, there is a ranking based on wealth and connections. Instead of trying to work together and take care of each other, there is not just the scorning of neighbors, but a deliberate punishing because of race, politics, religions, and beliefs.
More than ever there is the need for resistance. Which is not ski mask-wearing apolitical hoodlums pretending to believe the most radical politics as they play at revolution. It is not class hatred, punitive politics, and fanciful economics. Violence to counter racism and treating those with different beliefs as demonic, regardless of their policies, is simply more assembly-line oppression.
Don't mourn – organize; don't riot – dance; don't bemoan and despair – sing and make a joyful noise. Pray as you have always prayed and as you never have before. Without fear but with the deepest passion, without simple restriction but deep devotion, scream to the heavens out of the Earth.
Last week in Marfa the thickening fog was ripped apart, the sprawling dark shredded by light. The pirates came up from the sea, the outlaws down from mountain hideouts, Gypsies arrived by wagon, artists left their studios – so many veterans not of foreign wars but the way-too-long-running cultural wars, joining together. They brought the weapons of old which are always new – bagpipes, guitars, fiddles and drums, books, poems, paintings, jewelry, and clothing. The activities were of celebration not despair – hugging, dancing, playing, singing, and talking – always and endlessly talking. The rising of those who have never settled and certainly never settled down – all coming together to celebrate the 55th wedding anniversary of Terry and Jo Harvey Allen.
Music was made, poems recited, stories told, guitars passed, as folks listened and danced with talk always, all and everywhere. Though part of the wonder of Marfa is that silence is never too far.
The invitation offered, "It's amazing how long two people can misunderstand one another." Accepting the invitation, we wrote Terry and Jo Harvey that we would certainly be there, this an event like the Mayan calendar ending, inexplicable, perhaps profound. Perhaps not.
But even that gentle cynicism was lazy. This was about lives lived well and hard, some long and some not. This was about the real revolution – not words and banners, chants and drums, but family, friendship, community, passion, joy, and love. It sounds corny, doesn't it? But for days in Marfa, it was anything but ... joyful noises made as a loose-knit tribe of folks spread across the country gathered in celebration.
There was a concert with Terry, Bale and Bukka Allen, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Amy LaVere, Will Sexton, Ian Moore, Richard Bowden, David Byrne, Fran Christina, songwriter and longtime Guy Clark accompanist Verlon Thompson, Dave Alvin, Savannah Welch, and friends and family singing background. The next evening around a fire, as guitars were passed and turns taken, our last night with Terry and Jo Harvey again hosting, there was more of the same, though this time joined by Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Davis McLarty, Inara George, and Dave Grissom.
It evoked the past but more was a demanding subversive evocation! It reminded us what we've always known: The real way out of spreading darkness is us – our families, friends, and work together, the fires so set are the light of our resistance, a drive for decency, equality, art, and justice, coming from our minds, spirits, and souls but most of all from love.
Thirty years of the storms and the rains
Thirty years of the fears and the pains
Thirty years of the wars and the games
Ahhh, thirty years that don't mean a thing
When you put them beside
Them good songs we sang