I curated six songs and was playing them on bar jukeboxes around New York. Socially conscious songs. Songs against war. Songs against power and greed. Songs to wake people up for this endless slumber.
The first song was “Get Up, Stand Up” by The Wailers. Second song “Fortunate Son” by Creedence. The third song was “For the Love of Money” by the O’Jays. I tested it out a week prior at BillyMark’s West, a bar I would call friendly territory to this kind of music. But today I was in a real Irish Bar in South Brooklyn. There were three tourists from the UK there and a handful of dusty regulars. Nothing about them said revolution. Tom Jones would’ve gone over swimmingly. I didn’t care. I just went up to the juke and played my songs.
The first three songs might as well have been wallpaper to the bar patrons. I lifted my head a few times to see if anyone caught the theme or felt the groove. Nothing. The fourth song was “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by the immortal Gil Scott-Heron. If the theme was obtuse before, this would bludgeon them over the head.
The bass groove came in. Then the first two lines, “You will not be able to stay home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.” A little jarring. The tourists were too timid to say anything. The bartender wasn’t. She was a middle aged, red-haired woman from England. She did not like her music funky and was definitely not in favor of any type of revolution.
“This music is garbage!”
“Who played this music?”
This went on for what seemed like an eternity. I sat at the bar, staring at a Daily News, trying not to laugh. Then the next song came on. This is the one song in my playlist that drives the point home the hardest. The zenith. The call to arms. The song America needs in 2018. The song composed of three perfect words.
FIGHT THE POWER
“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. It’s as funky as it is angry. As cogent as it is creative. A song that could wake up the numbest American from their decade long social media scrolling binge. And it’s a gloriously long seven minutes.
I knew this was going to be a challenge for the bartender. The beat was abrasive. The lyrics--black and angry, two things not customary in this bar. The chorus repeated over and over, “what we got to say, FIGHT THE POWER.” She was about to have a nervous breakdown.
Then the line about Elvis.
“Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me. You see straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain. Motherfuck him and John Wayne.”
At that point she screamed, “Can’t we just play some nice Christmas songs?” I kept my nose in the Daily News.
The song kept repeating over and over “what we got to say, FIGHT THE POWER.” There were a few false endings, then the chorus cranks up again. “FIGHT THE POWER.” The air was so thick in the bar. Every time Chuck D said “Fight the Power” it was like she was being waterboarded by Public Enemy. I just looked down at that Daily News and let it all wash over me. When Fight the Power ended, the bartender yelled at the top of her voice “Thank God!”
The next song and final song was “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane, a song whose message can get buried under the noisy guitar riff. To the bar patrons, it probably sounded like Pat Boone compared to what came before. The playlist ended, and so did the bartender’s shift.
No one attempted to follow my playlist. The bar was dead quiet, like the aftermath of a Civil War battle, casualties everywhere, I was the only survivor. The bartender sat next to me and ordered herself a drink, struck up a conversation to break through the thick silence. We got to talking about soap operas. She told me she watches the English soaps so she has something to talk to her mother about back home. I made a few hackneyed soap opera jokes about how the characters die and come back to life. I laid on extra charm. She laughed a few times. When she left she told me “that was actually fun.”
We both got what we wanted.