I’m New Here: How Music Helps Imagine The Past Year

Reflecting on the terrain of the last 12 months,  I’m bringing a lot of baggage and experience with me, but the terrain is really new.  I am new here.  For 20 years or so I’ve been saying something about the economic revolution taking place independently of anyone’s will.  About the new kind of automation that electronics, globalization and robotics has wrought.  About the irreconcilable conflict created between the growing number of people who cannot meet their survival needs within the system of profiteering called capitalism.  About how Wall Street bankers and politics have become intertwined into a system that requires force to maintain itself.  And then came last year, and all of these are on the agenda.  Each of the last twenty years has seemed to last 20 years;  and then, in one year, we seem to have experienced at least 20 years, things have moved so swiftly.  This mix on CD is an ode to that motion. After each selection where I could find a comparable you tube video, that selection is linked.

I’m New Here – Gil Scott-Heron (I’m New Here) – opens this mix because, as the year opened, anyone who had eyes and ears knew that, though we may have been around for over 60 years, we were on a different terrain.  And no matter how far wrong you may have gone, you can always turn around . . . (Gil Scott-Heron’s memoir, The Last Holiday, is scheduled to be released mid-January 2012).  He died May 27, 2011 and I can’t help imagining the serene smile in his voice (on his face in the video) comes from foreknowledge of this year’s events.

“I’m New Here”  — the official video is here:

Africa Must Wake Up – Nas & Damian Marley (Distant Relatives) – the “sleeping sons of Jacob,”  exhorted in this record, have in fact begun to awake.  The allusion could relate to the Jacob’s ladder theme, we are climbing Jacob’s ladder to freedom.

“Africa Must Wake Up” 

A Night in Tunisia – Charlie Parker (composed in 1942 by Dizzy Gillespie)  and it started in Tunisia.  To say that what started resulted from the self immolation of a disgruntled worker is the least insightful sense of what causality means.  In some sense, both Africa Must Wake Up (with its reference to “Yesterday we were Kings”) and this 70 year old jazz standard help us understand that the events of the last year were many years in the brewing.
“A Night In Tunisia” – Charley Parker Septet (live at Town Hall, 1945)

  • The next three tunes come from the streets of the cities of northern Africa, in the midst of what we have called the “Arab Spring”:

El Général ft. Mr. Shooma – Ta7ya Tounes  (Tunisia)   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7npf7vO9Hs

Wa2t El Thawrageya  – Revolution Records  (Egypt) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52Xr9OS7o48
and an Egyptian Protester singing the same song on Wall Street:

7oukouma By Lotfi double Kanon DK (Algeria)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdQksrlLOlU

(I wanted to put Concierto de Aranjuez – Miles Davis/Gil Evans (Sketches of Spain) in here, in this spot, as a reference to Spain and the Indignados movement.  There was no space on the disc, and I had to cut other tunes for the same reason)

“Concierto de Aranjuez,”  Miles Davis Sextet (Sketches of Spain)


  • American enters the fray: What is wrong in America?

Who Will Survive in America –  Kanye West/Gil Scott-Heron (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy).  This was first recorded in 1970 as Commentary #1 By Gil Scott-Heron.  It was a biting poem that challenged the “rainbow left coalition” of the SDS, Black Panthers and Young Lords.  In the original piece, Gil suggests that SDS might consider digging a tunnel to China, probably at that time a reference to the growing connections between the New Left and the Chinese revolution, rather than conditions in America.  For this recording Kanye West sampled only part of the original, eliminating the section dealing with SDS.    A first description of what is wrong with America – “America is now Blood and Tears instead of Milk and Honey” — what the rest of the world is challenging us to deal with.  Kanye/Gil says “All I want is a home, a wife and a children and some food to feed them every night.”  When he concludes with the suggestion to “build a new route to China if they’ll have you,” he could be challenging the what became known as the 1% (and the 99%): Who Will survive?

“Comment #1” — original version (1970)

“Who Will Survive in America (Gil Scott-Heron sampled by Kanye West)

Love Me, I’m a Liberal – Phil Ochs (Phil Ochs in Concert) – This is a classic in the voice of what we now label as “Democrats.”  We’ve seen so many of them approaching the Occupiers attempting to either co-opt or to shame us.  They tell us they are really on our side; or they tell us that our real enemy is “the right.”  And yet year after year we have gotten sucker-punched by the same liberals who promise us the good life and then figure out out to take the goods.

“Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” Phil Ochs.

Rich Man’s World – Immortal Technique (The Martyr)– When the liberal is unable to convince us, then comes the voice of the 1% directly.  ‘I am the 1% . . .politicians in my pocket for a few hundred thousand G’s. . .”  If the language is explicit, the actions of the 1% are at least as explicit: there is nothing here that isn’t being done to us and around the world many times over.

“Rich Man’s World” — Immortal Technique — This video made especially for Occupy is extraordinary, one cut I actually prefer to the audio only CD.

No Pay Day – Vasti Jackson (Stimulus Man) –What is wrong with America is there is no pay day this Friday, and the bills mount up regardless.  Somebody tell me, “if there is a bailout for AT&T, why isn’t there a bailout for you and me.”  This is what has brought the many thousands into the street world wide, this feature of a system gone awry, that cannot make the pay days.

(No you tube version)

Housewife’s Prayer – Pistol Annies  (Hell on Wheels) — What brings many to the street is the end of the job, the end of money, the end of hopes and aspirations and food to feed the children, even, in this case, “my man can’t get no overtime.”  There is no other way . . . Thinking of setting my house on fire.  This could be suicide (as in “going off the deep end”), but it could also be destroying the edifice in order to build something new.

“Housewife’s Prayer” – Pistol Annies

Union Town –Tom Morello (Union Town) Morello, as “The Nightwatchman,” celebrates the battles in Wisconsin, which he locates directly in the strength of the union movement (historically as well as in Madison).  “This is a union town. . . if they come to strip our rights  away we’ll give ‘em hell every time.”  There is a history here that is important:  not that the union is the model for the future, or even the organized expression of the resistance.  The union was the organization established to fight the employer, and as such has always had to fight defensive battles.  How can we divide  “fairly” the spoils between me and “my capitalist”?  The unions of public workers are in a direct contest with the state, and consequently find themselves in a precarious position – one where the right to strike is even more grudgingly accepted by the governmental employer;  where the right to strike may even appear a political question.  And what happens when so much of the public sector is turned over to the private (here in Chicago the battleground is now education)?  How can we go beyond giving them hell every time?  This was composed for and performed in Madison and taken around the country, with Morello on the “Justice Tour.”

“Union Town” — Tom Morello   Use this one to check out some of the many other versions on youtube:

  • Occupy Tunes there are so many of them, many downloadable for free and/or visible on youtube.  This is  a small sample.  Plus there are so many artists who have responded to the movement (nationally and locally) that there is no way to encompass them.  Within the last few days I’ve actually gotten Rise Like Lions, a documentary of Occupy footage from around the country that is over an hour long, and introduced by this, the last lines from  “The Mask of Anarchy,” a poem by Shelley written  after a  massacre carried out by the British government at St. Peter’s Field,   Manchester, 1819 but not published until after Shelley’s death. Some 60,000 people, protesting poor economic conditions in the wake of the end of the Napoleonic wars as well as the lack of the right to vote were attacked by the British cavalry.  15 people were killed, 4-700 were injured in what was ironically referred to as the Battle of Peterloo, a sarcastic comparison to Waterloo:

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you –

Ye are many – they are few.

#OccupyWallStreet – (celestino Anthony?)

(No youtube)

Occupy Wall Street Anthem – DJ Mackboogaloo: this is a Chicago “House Music” version with a repeating background lyric:   “Public Enemy #1:  Wall Street.”

There are so many versions of an anthem, you have a lot to choose from, none of which comes even close to the kind of “house music” of the anthem on the CD.  Here are three: (1) Doodlebug of Digable Planet – (2) DJ Mackboogaloo’s house music accompaniment to Alex Jones “911 was an inside job” “End the Fed” video (includes a little occupy wall street snippet in the title) otherwise a conspiracy fantasy promo; (3) Called a HipHop Anthem, seems to plod too much to be in that genre:

Occupy (We the 99) – Jasiri X  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oxv9kIFJh5Y

We are the 99% – La Guardia  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIV9vTiZsCU

  • Where do we go from here?

Color – Mary J Blige (Soundtrack for the film Precious) – until she was about 30, Mary J Blige said, in introducing the song, it seemed to her that she saw in black and white;  and then, with a new vision of where she had been and what was possible, she could now see in color. That experience is what she brought to the process of writing this song for the film. Hence the exclamatory “I can see in color. I never knew I could.”  The old order cannot persist when the rulers cannot rule in the same way and when the ruled begin to envision other possibilities.  Many people are beginning to see in color.  Perhaps they are pastels and not quite vivid yet.  Perhaps they are emerging from what Saramago called blindness and seeing, or even blind while seeing.  The metaphors are many, the truth is deep.

“Color” Mary J Blige: this is a live version in which she explains why the name of the song; and this, in which the sound is much better, but the visuals are nowhere nearly as compelling:

Burn It Down — Los Lobos (Tin Can Trust) “I couldn’t say a word, it’s only dignity I heard, and once I go there is no coming back . . . I’ll burn it down.”   There is only one thing you can do with a system that strips your dignity.  In the metaphoric sense, burn it all down and start anew.  There is no going back. This is finally a move to a society where people care for each other rather than a system that thrives on commodities and profits.

“Burn It Down” — Los Lobos  performed at the Santa Monica studios of KCRW for “Morning Becomes Eclectic.”

I CAN see color.  I always knew I could.

Lew Rosenbaum, December 27, 2011


What I wanted to put on the disc, but what I couldn’t for space reasons”

Money Craving Blues Blind Alfred Reed        (no you tube)

We Are the Workers   Fisticuffs    (You’ll Not Take Us Alive)  (no you tube)

Our Generation (The Hope Of The World)     John Legend & The Roots  (Wake Up!)

Against All Odds    The Generators  (The Last of the Pariahs)  (no you tube, but this is You Against You from the same album http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3ijmZbx1zA


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