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Last week’s necessary listening was Bob Dylan’s “Hard Rain” but this week I needed to hear the Clash. This song is perhaps not their best but is my personal favorite, a warning against complacency, a challenge to the listener to want more from themselves, their work, their country.

Some friends had an inauguration de-celebration last week and we each were asked to bring something hopeful to read. The best was a poem about organizing by Marge Piercey. I was tempted to read these lyrics, which are more cautionary than hopeful but very, very timely. You’d need the Clash’s musical maelstrom to do them justice though (check out some of the live vidoes on Youtube, amazing). Instead I shared a few readings about American exceptionalism, a topic I expect we’ll be hearing a lot about over the next four years.

I sort of believe in it but see it more as a responsibility than entitlement. I chose a paragraph from Greil Marcus’s “Mystery Train” that spoke about how we are all of us in a kind of partnership to make America live up to its ideals and then a stanza from a John Ashberry poem my college professor Lee Schlesinger introduced us to that compares those American ideals to a letter we wait and wait to arrive and then when it does we accidentally tear in half. In the poem the letter’s still legible, though. Maybe it says something like this:

Let fury have the hour, anger can be power
Don’t you know that you can use it

Back in the day I found the Clash too on the nose, too direct. I still privilege the subtle but have gained respect for sometimes saying exactly what you mean in as clear terms as possible.

The inauguraton unparty was the rare room where I was one of the more optimistic people. We’ve had demagogues before, I said. They do damage but the system survives. Eventually he’ll lose control of the American people, and then of Congress. As the Clash say here, evil presidentes do sometimes fully get their due. There are people in power who care about more than power. Even some Republicans!

I could be wrong.

Vivid memory of dancing to “Clampdown” with a room full of friends at my wedding reception. The personal and political, they are intertwined, just the way Joe and Mick and Paul and Topper intended.

clash

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