Primary Thoughts

posted January 16, 2008

Writing songs is a little like raising kids. The idea seems to impregnate itself inside you and pretty soon has a life of its own, letting you know, by poking at you, that it exists and wants to be born. Some songs are born quickly; some incubate a lot longer. But eventually, they come out, and there’s no way to know whether you’ve got a sleeper or a screamer until that point.

What’s been amazing about our career is getting to watch “the kids” grow up. I just had a writing retreat at my house, and as is the custom, after two days of writing, I make everyone dinner and then we sit around and sing folk songs. My husband, Tom, for a Christmas present, organized all the sing-a-long books, which is to say, made me new sing-a-long books, with the help of Katryna. So armed with hundreds of songs and guitar chords, we proceeded to hootenanny. At some point, someone asked if it would be OK to request a Nields song. “Sure,” I said. “I actually know those.” But then the request turned out to be “The King Is Falling”, which I mostly remembered. That song was our “big hit” on the first CD we ever made, 66 Hoxsey Street, an album I am glad we made, but one I never ever need to listen to again. (For me, it’s like looking at those photographs of adolescence–awkward and geeky and pimply. I fondly remember myself then, but that doesn’t mean I’d hang up a picture from that era.)

“The King Is Falling” was about the first George Bush and how the tide began to turn on him a few months after we “won” the first Gulf war. At the time, I had this idea that performing musicians were like school teachers and needed to keep their political positions to themselves, so we rarely introduced the song to make its subject clear. I don’t know why I thought I needed to keep my mouth shut about politics; after all, my heros were Pete Seeger, John Lennon, Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan–hardly demure.

And yet, I feel a little tongue tied right now about the national election. Never have I felt so positively towards a candidate or believed a unique individual had the power-or maybe opportunity is a better word- to take the presidency and bring this country to a safer,better,sweeter place . (Well, actually, I think this is true of any of the Democrats and maybe even John McCain-we can’t do much worse than George Bush II.)

I will be thrilled to vote for Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee–she’s smart, experienced and how cool would it be to have a woman president? I will be ecstatic to vote for John Edwards if he is the Democrat running in the national election–he’s really tough on corporations and very brave and honest about how money and corporate greed is poisoning this country. But the candidate I will be voting for in the primary, the one I think could actually bring this country together, and effect (sorry to use the overused) CHANGE–by shaking us out of our party ruts, by making peace, both domestically and abroad, is Barack Obama.

I think he’s the real deal. I have never in my entire life been so excited and hopeful about a candidate. My sister, Abigail, gave me his book, Dreams from my Father, and first of all, the guy can write. He is literate, sensitive, and the book was written way before his political career started. It’s not one of those “Here’s the story of my life and aren’t I great” Born To Lead kinds of books. Instead, it’s a journey of identity, a deep and personal odyssey, brave and honest. He is full of real values, like honesty, kindness, self-respect, respect, perseverance. Also, he is about unification and not division. I, as a lefty Democrat, like what John Edwards has to say. I hate corporations as much as the next progressive. But I fear John Edwards will perpetuate the “us vs them” mentality that’s gotten us to the election of 2000 which to my mind, was the descent into Hell. Barack Obama, while being plenty progressive , is about building bridges and making peace (he alone, besides Kucinich, was against the useless and damaging Iraq war from the start, and he alone, besides Kucinich, is against the death penalty). The man IS peace—just watch him. He carries himself with serene majesty. I also maintain that even if he hadn’t won my heart, my brain would say he is the best—and perhaps only-choice when it comes to rebuilding our integrity and trustworthiness in the eyes of the international community. He actually understands the rest of the world, because he lived in it. His father was Kenyan, his stepfather raised him in Indonesia, and he has a deep sense of the US in the context of the rest of the world. This book, which I highly recommend as a good read no matter what your politics, explores his past, his upbringing, his mistakes along the way with remarkable candor and courage, writing about race clearly and unapologetically. As a writer, I was deeply impressed with his ability and insight. “He’s one of us,” I thought. A seeker, an artist, a deep thinker.”

I like the guy. I’d have him over for dinner. I want to talk to him about the problems in this country and hear his ideas. I want him to be our figurehead–to give the yearly state of the union in that smooth, smart voice of his, reassuring in its calm and authority. I want him to represent us in the Middle East, the European Union, Russia, China, Africa and Australia. I am proud of him, and he makes me proud to be an American.

I can’t wait to see what kind of cabinet he puts together.

I think he’s our best chance for healing what the Bush administration has done, to repair our reputation in the eyes of the international community.

I think he’s our best chance for healing four hundred years of racial division and pain, which, arguably, is the most shameful aspect of our collective history (along with the genocide of Native Americans).

I’ve never felt this way about a politician before.

Sorry to get all gushy, but this is what’s on my mind. Oh, by the way, I just found out Dennis Kucinich was pro-life up until his presidential run.

Happy January and happy voting!

The Comments

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  1. Nerissa:

    I’m not sure I understand. Are you suggesting Mr. Kucinich hypocritically changed his position on that issue? Or that this undercuts his stand on Iraq, which is the only one that has been truly ingenuous and based in morality (that is, that the invasion was immoral and criminal, and we have done the Iraqi people great harm)? Have some of his supporters been at you? I know you sometimes speak facetiously or obliquely in your songs, which is wonderful. But here I am a little puzzled by what seems a swipe at a man who is hardly a threat to your candidate (or ever was, considering the 0-3% at the polls he consistently garnered).

    Mr. Obama may speak eloquently on “our mistake” in Iraq, etc. But why can’t he commit to a full withdrawal of U.S. forces? This, I fear, makes him seem like much more of the same than he appears.

    Oh, well. I would not dampen your enthusiasm in this year. I only am remembering back to ’02-’03, when Mr. Kucinich was one of the few political voices crying out against the outrage our country was about to commit. You remember that too, I will bet.

    Peace and good tidings to you.

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