America, the Beautiful

One of the first things I thought of when I saw the spontaneous outpouring of emotion that followed the news that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump was the importance of music to the celebration. The power of music – to express joy, to comfort sorrow, to inspire the best in us – is overwhelming and inescapable.

Music has been a part of America’s identity from Yankee Doodle to hip hop. Musical forms as diverse as blues, jazz, rock’n’roll, and country music all grew and blossomed in the fertile soil and soul of American culture.

The lyrics to “America, the Beautiful” were written by Katherine Bates, an English professor at Wellesley college, in 1893. She was 33 years old when she took a train ride from Massachusetts to Colorado, inspiring the poem that she called “Pike’s Peak” because it was written at that mountain’s summit. Over the next 17 years, more than 75 melodies were written as a frame for Bates’ words but the tune that worked best was written a year before her lyrics, by Samuel Ward, the organist and choir director for Grace Church in Newark, New Jersey. His melody came to him during a ferry boat ride home from Coney Island. Bates and Ward never met but their art did.

On September 18, 1972, less than two months before Richard Nixon was reelected, Ray Charles appeared on The Dick Cavett show and performed this transcendent interpretation of their work.

Oh, beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife
Who, more than self, their country loved
and mercy more than life
America, America, may God thy gold refine
'Til all success be nobleness
and every gain divine

when I was in school, you know, we used to sing it something like this:
Oh, beautiful for spacious skies
for amber waves of grain
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain
Look here, I'm talking about
America, sweet America, you know, God done shed his grace on thee
He crowned thy good, said with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea
America, ooh I love you America, because my God done shed his grace on thee
and you ought to love him for it 'cause he
crowned thy good, he told me he would, said with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea
Oh lord, oh lord
Thank you Jesus
Shining sea

Vote For Me

Graphic Designer: John “Teflon” Sims

Two-Tone was a short-lived musical movement that came from the West Midlands of England, combining ska and punk in songs that are equal parts socially conscious and danceable. The two tones are black and white and the musical movement was virulently anti-racist, in sharp contrast to the skinhead punks, whose ranks included many white nationalists.

The movement peaked in the late 70s and early 80s with bands like Madness, Bad Manners, The Selecter, and The Beat (who were known in the US as The English Beat). But nobody did it better than The Specials. This song, from their 2019 album Encore, is my nominee for unofficial theme song of Election Day 2020.

If we vote for you, do you promise
To be upright, decent and honest
To have our best interest at heart
You understand why we don't believe you
You're way too easy to see through
Not the best places to start

There are no rocks at Rockaway beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

You're all so drunk on money and power
Inside your Ivory tower
Teaching us not to be smart
Making laws that serve to protect you
But we will never forget that
You tore our families apart

There are no rocks at Rockaway beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

So if we vote for you, do you promise
To be upright, decent and honest
And take away all of the fear
You sit and wait for us to elect you
But all we'll do is reject you
Your politics bore us to tears

There are no rocks at Rockaway beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

Our President

The president, more than any other elected official, is America’s image of itself: the one who represents us on the world stage. It is the president’s job to embody our national character. The heart of that national character, borrowed from civilizations going back to ancient Greece, by way of the Enlightenment philosophers of France (although recently disparaged by one of our own Senators as “not the objective”), is democracy.

In the beginning, one of the things that set the United States of America apart, in a world ruled by monarchies, theocracies, and warlords, was the belief that the people, given a decent education and accurate information from a free press, have all the tools they need to rule themselves. Technology has changed how we learn, and what we learn, but nothing has changed the virtue behind the belief that we can know the truth and rule ourselves.

We were never a perfect union. That is understood. But I believe that most people, even those on the “opposite” side, want to make this union more perfect. More just. More honest. More free. And as close as we can get, in our time, to a perfection that will be forever out of reach. One way to do that is to vote for people who share our values. I hope everyone votes, and votes their conscience. It is a duty – not just as citizens of a nation, but as sentient beings on this heartless but beautiful planet – to make all of our unions as perfect as we can. Because no matter who “wins” on election day, nothing is going to change unless we make it. We are going to rise, or fall, together. E pluribus unum.

Love in the Time of Cholera

One thought kept returning to me while reading Love in the Time of Cholera: Gabriel García Márquez must have been a wonderful lover. I’m not talking about sex. I am talking about the spiritual side of love. Anyone who writes about love with the depth he does must have the capacity for an abundance of love.

He could be speaking of either side of love in this passage about those who have it and those who do not:

“He distrusted those who did not: when they strayed from the straight and narrow, it was something so unusual for them that they bragged about love as if they had just invented it. Those who did it often, on the other hand, lived for that alone. They felt so good that their lips were sealed as if they were tombs, because they knew that their lives depended on their discretion. They never spoke of their exploits, they confided in no one, they feigned indifference to the point where they earned the reputation of being impotent, or frigid, or above all timid fairies, as in the case of Florentino Ariza. But they took pleasure in the error because the error protected them. They formed a secret society, whose members recognized each other all over the world without need of a common language, which is why Florentino Ariza was not surprised by the girl’s reply: she was one of them, and therefore she knew that he knew that she knew.”

Love in the Time of Cholera is the most accurate depiction I have read of the secret heart of a lover, and of what a man does with his love when the person he wants to give it to no longer wants it.

It has been my experience that people’s capacity for love is as individual as our fingerprints. Many people find love a difficult concept, one that cuts to the core of their identity in uncomfortable ways. For some, a large capacity for love manifests itself as an unrestrained love for many romantic partners, for others it is found in the ability to love one person with incredible depth. The capacity to love can expand and contract as age and circumstance inspire, or discourage, the opening of the heart.

In this passage, Márquez explores the difference in capacity between the young lovers Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza:

“Florentino Ariza wrote every night. Letter by letter, he had no mercy as he poisoned himself with the smoke from the palm oil lamps in the back room of the notions shop, and his letters became more discursive and more lunatic the more he tried to imitate his favorite poets from the Popular Library, which even at that time was approaching eighty volumes. His mother, who had urged him with so much fervor to enjoy his torment, became concerned for his health. “You are going to wear out your brains,” she shouted at him from the bedroom when she heard the first roosters crow. “No woman is worth all that.” She could not remember ever having known anyone in such a state of unbridled passion. But he paid no attention to her. Sometimes he went to the office without having slept, his hair in an uproar of love after leaving the letter in the prearranged hiding place so that Fermina Daza would find it on her way to school. She, on the other hand, under the watchful eye of her father and the vicious spying of the nuns, could barely manage to fill half a page from her notebook when she locked herself in the bathroom or pretended to take notes in class. But this was not only due to her limited time and the danger of being taken by surprise, it was also her nature that caused her letters to avoid emotional pitfalls and confine themselves to relating the events of her daily life in the utilitarian style of a ship’s log. In reality they were distracted letters, intended to keep the coals alive without putting her hand in the fire, while Florentino Ariza burned himself alive in every line.”

This passage, written in the 1980s but set decades earlier, reveals the joys of anonymity that come from leisurely observation of a person, as we do everyday with film, or social media posts, in an age before such things were possible:

“One night he went to Don Sancho’s Inn, an elegant colonial restaurant, and sat in the most remote corner, as was his custom when he ate his frugal meals alone. All at once, in the large mirror on the back wall, he caught a glimpse of Fermina Daza sitting at a table with her husband and two other couples, at an angle that allowed him to see her reflected in all her splendor. She was unguarded, she engaged in conversation with grace and laughter that exploded like fireworks, and her beauty was more radiant under the enormous teardrop chandeliers: once again, Alice had gone through the looking glass.

Holding his breath, Florentino Ariza observed her at his pleasure: he saw her eat, he saw her hardly touch her wine, he saw her joke with the fourth in the line of Don Sanchos; from his solitary table he shared a moment of her life, and for more than an hour he lingered, unseen, in the forbidden precincts of her intimacy.”

The forbidden precincts of her intimacy? Who writes like that? The phrase lingers, and rattles, and leaves a hint of perfume in its wake. It is intimacy, more than anything else, that defines love and differentiates between loves. How much intimacy – physical, emotional, spiritual – do we allow ourselves to divulge? How much do we ask, or demand, from those that we love?

I expected this book to be a good one to read during a pandemic, and it is, but it is also a timely reminder that there is always a plague of some kind going on, and there is also always love.

“They were together in silence like an old married couple wary of life, beyond the pitfalls of passion, beyond the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of disillusion: beyond love. For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death.”

The Reviews

Artists tend to look at critics with a jaundiced eye, defending our excesses with a good review and licking our wounds over a bad one, but the fact is that musicians need reviews now more than ever since live music is locked down for the duration of the pandemic. Without that direct connection to an audience we crave the feedback that only objective opinion can provide.

My new album came out a couple of weeks ago and the reviews are starting to trickle in. I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to listen so far and here are some of their reactions:

“I love the hints to old school punks Ramones, Clash and to the whole CBGB scene without sounding nostalgic and keeping interesting. I’ll share the whole album Spotify link on the ‘Our Digs’ section of our website at beatbuzznews.com/ourdigs

Beat Buzz News
MrLndr on Spotify
https://open.spotify.com/user/jlander99?si=PYqwqP9NTFm8BE7LRlHOdg

Felt some Neil Young vibe on some tracks, for example in “Ghost Town.” Really good production in all the tracks, and interesting extra instruments (Violins, Banjo, etc). If I have to highlight a track, I think Magdalena is the one that caught my attention. Lovely banjo!

MrLndr on Spotify
https://weallwantsomeone.org/

[Ain’t No Good To Me is] a chugging rocker with a lot of classic rock influence to it, with some groovy elements and really solid production. Well crafted and hard hitting.

We All Want Someone to Shout For

I’ll be adding more reviews and links here as they come in. If these reviews whet your appetite for some of my music, please give a listen on your favorite music provider by following these links:

https://pdora.co/3drzwD7