Pops Staples wrote “Freedom Highway” in the spring of 1965 in the wake of the March from Selma to Montgomery; and the Staple Singers sang it at New Nazareth Church on Chicago’s South Side just a few weeks later.
If, as seems likely, President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t know what to expect from the citizens of the country he will soon govern, it will be in large part because he thinks Rep. John Lewis (yes, this John Lewis) is “all talk, talk, talk—no action or results“, and because he doesn’t have the first idea of where a song like “Freedom Highway” comes from.
March the freedom highway;
March each and every day.
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around;
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around….
When Curitis Mayfield released “Keep On Keeping On” (1971), the seeds of what would be called the “Me Generation” were already sprouting, as a growing number of young Americans retreated from the storms of political change and controversy.
Mayfield did the opposite, digging in and making ever more soulful music based on his mother’s wisdom that pointed towards a mature (and maturing), engaged citizenship, sung with the most beautiful voice this side of Marvin Gaye.
Never worry too long,
About what goes on;
Today it’s sorrow,
Look like joy tomorrow.
Keep on keeping on.
It’s the last week of the Obama Era. What keeps you keeping on?
Singer-songwriter Mike Millius wrote “The Ballad Of Martin Luther King” immediately after Dr. King’s assassination; and you’re going to want to listen to this version of it right up to the final three words.
That’s “Brother Kirk” singing (and Pete Seeger plucking on his trusty five-string banjo) on Sesame Street, and fulfilling all the worst fears of reactionaries across the nation about the insidious influence of public television on the minds of impressionable young children. Kirk could sing a song so that—depending on your point of view—you’d be ready to face down a battalion of armed soldiers, or you’d be reduced to a quivering mass of jelly at this man who was so obviously not afraid of you and your kind (looking at you, Mr. President-elect).
The Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick was an imposing man, standing 6′ 4″, weighing about 240 pounds, and carrying himself with all the dignity and power of the man for whom he was named. He was a fearsome defensive end at Grambling and might have had a pro football career if he hadn’t wracked up his knee.
Along with Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas, Kirkpatrick founded the Deacons For Defense & Justice in Jonesboro, LA in the fall of 1964. The Deacons were an armed self-defense force that spread across the rural Deep South, where there were no TV cameras recording the depredations of the Klan against civil rights workers, their communities and their families.
After serving as director of folk culture for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Brother Kirk made his way to New York City where, among other things, he carved out a career as an educator/rabble-rouser, using music to teach Black history in general, and the history of the Civil Rights Movement in particular.
“I’ve been to the mountaintop; today I have a dream;
Don’t you ever forget the words of Martin Luther King.”
Happy King Day.
“Some people are bird watchers, others are celebrity watchers; still others are flora and fauna watchers. I belong to the tribe of sentence watchers. Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. I appreciate fine sentences. I am always on the lookout for sentences that take your breath away, for sentences that make you say, ‘Isn’t that something?’ or ‘What a sentence!’”
See Now Then is filled with exquisite sentences, sentences in which words and phrases and clauses pile up on each other like dizzying drizzle towers on a colossal sand castle constructed throughout a long summer’s day by a cadre of 4 foot tall budding engineers.
Like much of Kincaid’s work, See Now Then has autobiographical roots. It’s the story of a marriage (Mr. and Mrs. Sweet) and a family (with their children, Persephone and Heracles) coming apart, and was written in the aftermath of Kincaid’s own divorce.
If there’s magical realism in See Now Then, it’s a hard, exposed, flinty magical realism, wrestled from the stony soil and unforgiving climate of Kincaid’s adopted New England home. There’s nothing lush, dense or overgrown about her language, even when sentences stretch on for over 100 words, and a single paragraph goes on for pages.
As Mrs. Sweet (and the rest of her family…but mostly Mrs. Sweet) lives through the disorienting trauma of her disintegrating marriage, time becomes distorted, winding and wrapping around itself so that past moments are “now” and the present can end up “then” with a future Mrs. Sweet looking back on what is now “now”.
And all this happens with language that Kincaid uses the way hard bop musicians like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane used notes—running changes and improvising scales so that dissonance becomes its own kind of harmony, filled with anger, beauty, mystery and an unyielding integrity and artistic purity.
See Now Then is the kind of book that can linger in your head weeks after you finish reading it, as the phrases and sentences reverberate within your soul, vibrating at your nerve synapses, keeping you alive…not only to the story it tells, but to the stories you’re living.
Scrapple is what it sounds like: a mush of pork scraps and trimmings mixed with flour and cornmeal. Form it into a loaf, then fry up the slices for breakfast along with your eggs. It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch dish made by and for people who couldn’t afford bacon.
“Scrapple From The Apple” is a mush of leftovers too. Charlie Parker took the opening chords from Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” and mashed it together with the bridge from George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. As you might expect, the result is delicious.