Where has all the righteous fury gone?
It is, perhaps, unbecoming — a sign of arrested development — but even at 51 I remain an angry young man at heart. (Or else I was born a curmudgeon; or both.) Even with all the good things in my life, I remain proud of the banked fury within. This is my edge, it is my nature, it is the treasure from which I pay for each day’s labors.
These times seem, now more than ever (yes, an echo of Richard Milhaus Nixon’s re-election slogan), to call for carefully modulated rage.
We have 10 percent unemployment, give or take however many million have given up or never been counted, or settled into jobs which no longer sustain a modest, middle-class lifestyle. Health care, insurance, retirement, all that. My pessimist’s barometer says that by January 2011, safely after the midterm elections and with a disappointing Christmas in the rearview, that number will rise to 12 percent. Maybe higher.
We are at war on two fronts, and it’s not going well. We may manage enough of a fig leaf to leave Iraq, where never should we have been, in some kind of temporary order. Maybe. Afghanistan, where the logic said we had to go even as the historical record insisted we could not succeed, seems intractable. The one soldier I know casually (our children share teachers and hobbies, so really I know his wife) faces his third deployment to a combat zone this fall.
(Incidentally, I would commend to your attention Sebastian Junger’s new book War, a mostly apolitical portrait of the soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan. There is also a documentary; it is the first book I am aware of in which the reporter was able to fact check himself based on contemporaneous video he and his colleague shot.)
Let’s see…there’s still climate change, the gulf oil spill, the gulf between America’s left and right wings and the apparent lack of consensus to move our society in any forward direction (the Middle Ages, apparently, retaining a perverse hold on the imaginations of extremists on both sides), and the complex factors being manipulated? to erode the stability of the middle class.
Plenty of fodder for angry songs, wouldn’t you think?
I drive back and forth to the farm two or three times most days, and routinely pluck a handful of CDs from the stacks so as to make the trips productive. To have something to write about here. To have quiet moments of private joy at the discovery of the magic I’ve spent my lifetime seeking, for reasons which remain obscure and oblique (name that song…), and not presently worth exploring.
What I have heard, days on end, now, is a succession of anonymous midtempo albums, flawlessly produced, filled with abundant competence. Pretty, decorative, introspective bits of work. I will not name names because most of the CDs I’ve been playing come from unknown artists, and it serves little purpose to disparage them here; and because they are too unmemorable to bother recording. The computer has made it possible for mediocrity to sound professional in ways it could not have pretended to even a decade back. It has not made it certain that the performers have anything worth saying, however. Not my point. As usual, I digress beyond my own bounds.
No matter your politics, there’s plenty to be pissed off about right now.
So where are the songs to fit that mood? And why is the music I’m hearing so placid? Is it all an echo of Kenny Roby’s great lyric, “it’s bad/but I’m glad/it’s not me”? Are we faced with a curious case of survivor’s blindness (not guilt, for their voices would betray that)? Have we been taught so much compromise that we now comfortably settle — even in our art — for voicing only the most placid, most presentable, most likely to be placed on a network TV show credits soundbed lyrics?
Surely I am not the only angry man out there, much less the only furious liberal. (Ah, where’s Phil Ochs when I need him? On a shelf at my back, happily.) Surely our songwriters, our troubadours, our griots have something to say about the lives we are leading, about the quiet desperation with which we trudge through each day. Surely they do.
Because, trust me, you don’t want me to start singing.