Last post, I began writing about “Christian” bands who address political and social issues in their music. They go against, in many ways, the Contemporary Christian Music which wants squeaky clean songs that don’t challenge the status-quo. Squad Five-O’s “Our State Flag” and Five Iron Frenzy’s “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia” challenge the church’s positions. Today, I want to continue this discussion by looking at two songs from Stavesacre’s How to Live With A Curse (2006), songs that over the course of the past few years, have really resonated with me during our current political moment.
Stavesacre “We Say” and “Future History of the Broken Hearted” (2006)
I’ve always been a fan of Stavesacre, ever since I first heard Friction (1996), for various reasons. Songs like “At the Moment,” “Burning Clean,” “Wither/Ascend” stood out to me as worship songs, similar in ways to Five Iron Frenzy’s “A Flowery Song.” For me, Stavesacre’s music focused on the spiritual and existential, not really delving into social commentary or politics. However, over the past few years, I have returned, again and again, to two songs from their fourth album, How To Live With A Curse. “Future History of the Broken Hearted” and “We Say” both stand out because they address, not as directly as Five Iron Frenzy’s or Squad Five-O’s songs that I discussed in the last post, politics and social issues.
“We Say” focuses on politics, specifically issues that would come to the forefront over the past few years, misinformation and the manipulation of the media and facts. Mark Salomon sings, in the first verse, about the need to expand from a two-party system, and the need for something new to arise. The second verse stands out the most in relation to the past few years because here Salomon sings,
Somewhere in a dark, damp corner of America
They’re manufacturing a steady stream
Of cheap shots, misinformation
And an army of long, tall, pale-faced men of means
All this talk of choosing, what choices do we get?
The lesser of two evils?
Does such a creature exist?
Thinking about 2006, two years before the election of Barack Obama and fourteen years before the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President, Salomon points out one of the key issues with politics and our political system, the role of wealth and money within it. I’m reminded of Georgia’s Senate Bill 221 which Brian Kemp just signed into law. That bill allows for legislatures “to set up committees that could raise money during General Assembly sessions while lobbyists are trying to get legislation passed.” This would essentially open the flood gates for donations and skirt around current stipulations of how much individuals and special-interests can donate. The “men of means” run for office, then they get richer while in office.
Along with this, Salomon highlights the use of media and the manipulation of facts to sway the electorate. This is nothing new, of course. Richard Nixon did it. George H.W. Bush did it. And on and on. I think of Lee Atwater who in 1981 essentially laid out the Southern Strategy during an interview, pointing out the “steady stream” of misinformation and abstraction by trading in racist language for more abstract language such as “cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse then whites.” This is what occurred with the rhetoric of the War on Drugs, and it’s what occurred with the backlash to Obamacare.
When I listen to “Future History of the Brokenhearted,” I constantly think about the omissions of history and facts that we receive within our educational system and I think about the current backlash against bringing those omissions into the classroom. Again, even though it appeared in 2006, the song resonates today, especially the end of Salomon’s first verse where he sings, “You are the angry mob, I hear you calling, Your straw-man gallows swing with hunger unrestrained.” The ways that politicians, preachers, and more use of straw men such as Critical Race Theory (CRT), socialism, Marxism, the 1619 Project, and more obfuscates their true intentions and what they really want to accomplish, which is to hold on to the power they feel slipping away. When confronted with anything that threatens their position, they double down on straw men, hoping to ferment hatred by manufacturing false fears.
We see this with CRT as politicians rail against it in the state houses and preachers in the pulpit. As Christopher Rufo put it on Twitter, “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately thing ‘critical race theory.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” By removing the term from its original usage, a tool used to examine the law and legal proceedings through the lens of race, it has become nothing more that a word used by scaremongers to perpetuate their positions. It has become a “straw man” hanging from the gallows. \
In the second verse, Salomon quickly goes through historical moments where the United States has not lived up to its ideals: slavery, Vietnam and actions in Central America, and the massacre of Indigenous individuals under the guise of Manifest Destiny. He concludes this verse by noting that as long as the individuals who committed these atrocities “can sleep clear of [their] conscience” they can leave the “future history to those who write so well.” Here, Salomon comments on the construction of history, the ways that it becomes obscured and refracted through those who commit the atrocities.
However, once we realize the omitted history or facts and call them out, we get labeled as “unAmerican.” As Salomon sings in the chorus,
You’ve raped my eyes wide open
Now it’s easy to see
How you’d say I’m guilty of treason
Just don’t call me blind
With the chorus, Salomon highlights the ways that having the scales removed opens ones eyes, yet that opening also leads to claims of “treason” and being unpatriotic. In essence, it counters the myths of the United States that history has written “so well.” This becomes clear in the bridge where Salomon sings, “I swear my allegiance to the memory” the shadows of both the “nation that could have been” and the “nation that never was.” One of the straw men being paraded out to suppress the teaching of actual history is that it’ll lead kids to hate the United States. The ideals of the nation do not change with the factual history. The ideals remain, this nation just has not lived fully up to those ideals, and part of the reason has to do with “the long, tall, pale-faced men of means” that seek to maintain control. As Salomon screams at the end, you can call me “un-American” or charge me with treason, but “just don’t call me blind.”
Next post, I’ll look at a few more songs. Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.