Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Three Songs and a Speech

I'm watching the Inaugural Parade right now. The Obama family is entering the presidential reviewing stand to watch the parade. When I worked at the U of C lab school, I worked in some of the same classrooms Sasha and Malia attended during the day. How excited are their friends right now? Seriously, how cool would that be?

Anyway, I got lucky today and was able to watch the important stuff live on CNN despite (a) being in a foreign country and (b) having Spanish class. We have a ten-minute break every day at 11am, which turned out to be just in time to catch the end of a Yo-Yo Ma performance, then the swearing-in, and then I stayed twenty minutes past the end of my break to watch the Inaugural Address, which I decided was more important than being introduced to the Present Participle verb tense.

Now I'm home and watching the parade where - no way! - the Jesse White Tumblers are performing! Ok, the commentators say this is the Tumblers' 3rd performance at an inaugural parade. But the Jesse White Tumblers are such a Chicago institution that I can hardly believe I'm watching them on a station that's not WGN.

Anyway (this is going to be a post with a lot of those, I think), I've been itching to comment on the new U2 single, as it seems that everybody else in the blogosphere has already weighed in with their thoughts and analysis. Chris Scharen, author of the excellent One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God, offers his thoughts here along with a helpful roundup of mainstream press reactions, but my favorite fun analysis comes from this random guy whose blog I just discovered last week.

Scharen and LA Times critic Ann Powers seem most excited about how well the song fits the moment, and to some extent I can't help but agree. But if it's moment-fitting we're talking about, then people, please - why are we not discussing Springsteen's latest work? Here's a guy looking at the moment we're in and writing about it with the simple, muscular prose of John Steinbeck and with an eye, like Steinbeck, toward showing us who we are and where we are and offering his art, for whatever it's worth, to help us get to where we're going, whether it's through a Lonesome Day or to a Land of Hopes and Dreams. The new single - and album - is called Working on a Dream, and while it's full of classic (some might say cheesy) Springsteen-isms to make the Springsteen-follower smile, I love it because it's like a hymn for this moment in history.


Anyway, while Bruce has dominated my playlists for the last month, the last two days have indeed seen a rejuvenation of the play count record for my U2 catalog. I've been walking the streets of Guadalajara, to and from class, listening to the new song on my iPod over and over and all I can say is that's it's like someone strapped a rocket to The Fly, whipped him around Pop and All That You Can't Leave Behind and then shot him right into the future. It's chopped-up, disjointed, disconnected, disorienting, deconstructed, and, whether it's timely or not, I feel a strange urge to pull some boots out of my closet and lace 'em up.

But I have to save a longer analysis - which I can't resist writing even if you can resist reading it - for a day when I don't have a million other things on my mind and a million other things to do. I just watched the Inaugural Address, for goodness' sakes. As much as Ann Powers says that now is not yet the time for anthems, I've had an anthem ringing in my ears for the last month, and it's this one.

I bought it because it was a charity single and I thought hey, why not, it's a charity single, and for Amnesty International, no less. And it's true, they didn't do the best job with the video, which seems to have 1980s production values and makes the song hard to take seriously. But somehow I am not sick of this song coming up again and again on my iPod. Every time Emmanuel Jal starts speaking halfway through the song I feel a Spirit welling up in my chest and I want to get on my boots and move. It makes me feel glad to be alive today, in 2009, no matter how bad things might look. It has me ready.

Which, come to think of it, was the effect of President Obama's speech, too, when I watched it today in the lobby of a language school in central Mexico. It calls our generation, wherever we are, scattered around the country and the world, to "the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny," and to do it "with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us." And so we will.


From Michigan with Love said...

I would pay good money to see Matthew Keadle as you put it "put on your boots and MOVE" !!! Let me know when you are breakin' it down!!! Glad you caught the moment...I was with my supervisor drinking martinies to celebrate!!!

Veronica said...

Just wanted to say that yesterday I thought of you a lot and prayed that you were able to watch all the Obama action yesterday. I cannot tell you how proud I felt to be American yesterday as I watched President Obama say the oath. Wow. Wow. Wow. I hope you are doing well. God's Blessings from Veronica... all the way in frigid Maryland.

christian scharen said...

Hey, Matt, I'm going to get the new Springsteen now. I just read Neil McCormick's article "Bono and Bruce Springsteen: you can't ignore the big guns" which goes in similar directions. http://www.atu2.com/news/article.src?ID=5199
Peace, Chris