Since I already bamboozled you last month with Songwriter Sanctuary’s holiday shenanigans, I thought I’d close out the year with something a little different.
It’s no secret to anyone within a 24,901-mile radius of me that I am feeling the weight of the world right now. Perhaps here and now is not the place to talk about exactly what ails me (I suppose I’ll leave that to therapy and the voicemail of my representatives), but let’s just say I don’t seem to be as terrifyingly skilled at compartmentalizing as most people in the dead-eyed West. So many people around me seem to be in this perplexing perpetual state of: shrug off state-sponsored mass murder of children and be a good capitalist. Meanwhile I’m gnawing on Zoloft, losing clumps of hair, struggling to complete tasks (this column included), and convincing myself to stay buckled up on this fuckled-up rollercoaster of life for the sake of my incredible two-year-old daughter.
Shocking no one reading this column, songwriting is one of the only things that helps me process in grim times. I grew up on songs bent toward justice; some of the first I ever played on repeat were Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Times They Are A-Changin,’” “Masters of War,” and “Hurricane.” Those tunes transformed the far-away subject matter of my history books into emotionally raw context that helped me understand the timeless relevance of inviting audiences to understand the world in a different way.
In college, I studied music as it relates to American social justice and civil rights movements. Everything from “Strange Fruit” and “We Shall Overcome” to “Fuck the Police” and “Fight the Power” showed me how music can meet a moment with a message that challenges listeners to rise to it. As I tried my hand at original music, I was inspired and emboldened by songwriters like Tracy Chapman, Ani DiFranco, and Delores O’Riordan, who effortlessly oscillated from soft personal reflections to scathing social critiques. For the last two decades, I’ve been trying to do the same—calling out racism, classism, white nationalism, greedy politicians, gun violence, queerphobia, the patriarchy, sexual discrimination, sexual terrorism, exploitation of mothers, Western ambivalence, genocide—you get the idea.
One could argue that social justice music is a futile defense against the relentless waves of violence that continue to pummel people made vulnerable to systems of harm generation after generation. For example, I bet the 5,500-and-counting freshly murdered dead children in Gaza would agree that “War-huh-what-is-it-good-for-absolutely-nothing” did absolutely nothing to prevent American bombs from being dropped on their heads (you know, if they weren’t so occupied with being dead (choose your own propaganda adventure here) tiny terrorists // human shields // collateral damage.
Even so, as I claw my way out of the fourth major depression of my life, I’ll ask you to humor me because what’s the point in having the ability to creatively observe and report the world around us if we don’t use that ability to at least try to (paraphrasing Fannie Lou Hamer) fall toward freedom?
All that said, I invite you to participate in a community songwriting exercise. I challenge all the local artists reading this to craft a song (or whatever medium you choose) that speaks truth to power, critiques harmful systems, interrogates apathy, invites compassion, demands justice, etc. Everyone loves a deadline, so let’s say December 31. Go meet the moment, and be sure to tag me on Facebook or Instagram if you share your work online. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some tunes from San Diego artists that might inspire and embolden you as you create:
“Bad Wolves,” Rebecca Jade featuring Jason Mraz , Miki Vale, and Veronica May
“El Picket Sign” Clip, Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez
“Look Away,” Lee Coulter and Gill Sotu
“Y’all Mad,” Keymon
“(S)he,” Julianna Zachariou