A reader recommends the stirring hymn, “Partly because I’m from Africa, but mostly because it is just a beautiful song.” The version above is sung by a massive crowd led by Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Paul Simon. Here’s some background for “Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika”:
[It’s] a hymn originally composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Xhosa clergyman at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg [South Africa]. The song became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of five countries in Africa including Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence. Zimbabwe and Namibia have since adopted new national anthems. The song is currently the national anthem of Tanzania and, since 1994, a portion of the national anthem of South Africa.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
“Galveston” is another in a line of lush, cinematic songs by songwriter Jimmy Webb. The original, iconic version by Glen Campbell was released during the Vietnam War, but the last few years make lines like “I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” as topical as you can get. Here’s the original version [above], as well as a cover by David Nail and Lee Ann Womack (the female harmony adds depth to the longing and fear of a young man at war).
Yesterday we had Georgia on our mind, and in today’s track, from Otis Redding, he “left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay.” Here’s a reader in San Francisco, Doug:
For me, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” captures so much of the San Francisco experience (or at least the SF experience I’ve idealized): carefree, sitting overlooking the water, relaxing and listening to some amazing music. But as you can see from this playlist I made when I was moving back to California a few years ago, songs about California are kind of a dime a dozen (and I barely scratched the surface) …
If you have any reflections on a song about a specific place in California (real places—no Hotel Californias), drop us a note. Update from a reader in Oregon, Brian:
As a former San Franciscan, I’d like to point out that “Dock of the Bay” is not a San Francisco song but a Sausalito song—another city on the “Frisco” Bay. Although neither city name is mentioned, just the Bay. (And the City and County of San Francisco is named after the Bay, not the other way around.)
(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
To get our new series going—songs about a particular place—here’s a classic pick and a wonderful memory from Jackie in Leonard, Maryland:
Georgia is my home state, and nobody, but nobody, could sing “Georgia on My Mind” as Ray Charles could. Charles was born in Macon, and I heard him sing the song live in Columbus, Georgia, in June 1962, right after I graduated from Baker High School. My date and I were the only white people there; Georgia was a segregated state then. But everyone there was cool with it, especially when they saw that we knew the words to all the songs and could dance well. The whole joint was rocking. It was a memorable night; I still have the program.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Both songs are unabashed, upbeat, and unironic love songs to these iconic American cities. In a time when we are constantly bombarded by messaging that signals that somehow this country is something less than it once was, it is nice to be reminded that we are, in fact, the sum of all of our parts—and that the parts are actually (as Fallows points out) pretty great.
P.S. I only recently noticed the timing of the daily song release ;)
Great picks, though “I Love L.A.” was already featured in TotD (in our series of songs about complicated patriotism) and “City of Immigrants” doesn’t seem to be about a particular city. So I asked the discussion group of Atlantic readers known as TAD for further picks. But first, one of them begs to differ with Adam:
As a proud Angelino, Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” is a sort of theme song and also the soundtrack of all of our many sporting achievements, but I’d hardly call it an “unabashed, upbeat, and unironic love song.” It’s very much a satirical take on the city. It includes lines like, “Look at that bum over there, man, he’s down on his knees.” Newman has said in interviews that he does in fact love L.A., but that song has deeper layers than it what it first appears to be.
Let’s go with “Twin Falls” for the first song in the new series, recommended by a reader in TAD:
I didn’t grow up in Twin Falls, Idaho, but I know it, and I grew up in a town just like it. Built To Spill’s nostalgic song about nostalgia gets it good.
Listen and reminisce for yourself:
If you have a favorite song about a specific place, please send it along with a short description of why you love it so much—and perhaps the place as well: firstname.lastname@example.org. Update from Adam:
I re-listened to “City of Immigrants” and it is true that Steve Earle never actually mentions a specific place, but it is about NYC; it was on Earle’s album Washington Square Serenade, which is (mostly) an extended love letter to the Big Apple.
Regarding “I Love L.A.,” I always took the line about the bum to be a warts-and-all kind of reference. As a teenager stuck in the heartland, that song represented the Los Angeles that I knew from the movies and pop culture. Maybe to the locals it was a theme song, but for this Iowa boy, it was aspirational.
(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
As the nation convulsed, the White House went dark.
Last night, as protests convulsed Washington, D.C., the White House went dark. All the lights were off. The windows of the president’s official residence were darkened, and the floodlights outside extinguished.
The country is sick, angry, and divided, but it also finds itself leaderless. Trump has never shown any inclination or ability to soothe or console in moments of crisis. He wants the trappings of power, like showing up for a rocket launch, but he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty with the work of governing. And he continues to view himself as the president only of the minority who voted for him, not all Americans. These tendencies have converged in this moment.
Yesterday, when America needed real leadership, the office of the president stood dark—and vacant.
The nationwide protests against police killings have been called un-American by critics, but rebellion has always been used to defend liberty.
Since the beginning of this country, riots and violent rhetoric have been markers of patriotism. When our Founding Fathers fought for independence, violence was the clarion call. Phrases such as “Live free or die,” “Give me liberty or give me death,” and “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” echoed throughout the nation, and continue today. Force and violence have always been used as weapons to defend liberty, because—as John Adams once said in reference to the colonists’ treatment by the British—“We won’t be their Negroes.”
Black rebellion and protest, though, have historically never been coupled with allegiance to American democracy. Today, peaceful demonstrations and violent riots alike have erupted across the country in response to police brutality and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Yet the language used to refer to protesters has included looters, thugs, and even claims that they are un-American. The philosophy of force and violence to obtain freedom has long been employed by white people and explicitly denied to black Americans.
To be black and conscious of anti-black racism is to stare into the mirror of your own extinction.
It happened three months before the lynching of Isadora Moreley in Selma, Alabama, and two months before the lynching of Sidney Randolph near Rockville, Maryland.
On May 19, 1896, TheNew York Times allocated a single sentence on page three to reporting the U.S. Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Constitutionalizing Jim Crow hardly made news in 1896. There was no there there. Americans already knew that equal rights had been lynched; Plessy was just the silently staged funeral.
Another racial text—published by the nation’s premier social-science organization, the American Economic Association, and classified by the historian Evelynn Hammonds as “one of the most influential documents in social science at the turn of the 20th century”—elicited more shock in 1896.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
Clyde Ross was born in 1923, the seventh of 13 children, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of the blues. Ross’s parents owned and farmed a 40-acre tract of land, flush with cows, hogs, and mules. Ross’s mother would drive to Clarksdale to do her shopping in a horse and buggy, in which she invested all the pride one might place in a Cadillac. The family owned another horse, with a red coat, which they gave to Clyde. The Ross family wanted for little, save that which all black families in the Deep South then desperately desired—the protection of the law.
In the 1920s, Jim Crow Mississippi was, in all facets of society, a kleptocracy. The majority of the people in the state were perpetually robbed of the vote—a hijacking engineered through the trickery of the poll tax and the muscle of the lynch mob. Between 1882 and 1968, more black people were lynched in Mississippi than in any other state.
Patriotism isn’t just the blind love of our flag. It is the work we do to improve our country for every American.
I immigrated to America in 1968. I had dreamed about coming here from the moment I saw images of the United States in elementary school. To me, the photos and film of towering skyscrapers, huge bridges, wide freeways, and Hollywood represented a land of limitless opportunity. I decided that this was where I belonged.
America was in the middle of a race to the moon, and at the end of 1968, we watched brave astronauts launch into the skies above in the first manned Apollo flight. Their mission seemed to prove that this was truly a country without limits.
But in 1968, as a new immigrant, I was shocked to learn that the country I had dreamed about since childhood wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t even close.
Comparing 2020 to 1968 offers some disquieting lessons for the present.
The most traumatic year in modern American history was 1968. But what is now the second-most traumatic year, 2020, still has seven months to run. The comparison provides little comfort, and several reasons for concern.
How could any year be worse than the current one, in which more Americans are out of work than in the Great Depression, and more people are needlessly dying than in several of America’s wars combined?
How could the domestic order seem more frayed and failing than it has in the past week—when the filmed record of a white Minneapolis police officer calmly killing a black man, George Floyd, as other officers just as calmly looked on, led naturally to protests? Protests in some cities decayed into looting or destruction. Then in many cities, police and troopers kitted out as if for Baghdad circa 2003 widened the violence and hastened the decay with strong-arm tactics sure to generate new protests.
The pandemic has exposed the bitter terms of our racial contract, which deems certain lives of greater value than others.
Six weeks ago, Ahmaud Arbery went out and never came home. Gregory and Travis McMichael, who saw Arbery running through their neighborhood just outside of Brunswick, Georgia, and who told authorities they thought he was a burglary suspect, armed themselves, pursued Arbery, and then shot him dead.
The prospect, while still remote, is not purely hypothetical in the current crisis, and the risk is great.
The last time martial law—military control of the government—was declared in the United States was December 1941, just hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The territorial governor, acting under a turn-of-the-century statute, handed the government of the Hawaiian islands over to the commander of U.S. forces there. The military governor, as he styled himself, immediately ordered the closure of courts, shut down schools, froze wages, suspended labor contracts, and imposed censorship of newspapers, radio, and civilian mail. He also decreed a curfew and blackout, as well as a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages—a wildly unpopular measure that was quickly reversed. Despite the fact that there was no threat of a Japanese invasion after the Battle of Midway in 1942, martial law remained in place for another two years.
The country should expect a spike in less than two weeks, public-health experts say.
The wave of mass protests across the United States will almost certainly set off new chains of infection for the novel coronavirus, experts say.
The virus seems to spread the most when people yell (such as to chant a slogan), sneeze (to expel pepper spray), or cough (after inhaling tear gas). It is transmitted most efficiently in crowds and large gatherings, and research has found that just a few contagious people can infect hundreds of susceptible people around them. The virus can spread especially easily in small, cramped places, such as police vans and jails.
As such, for the past several days, the virus has found new environments in which to spread across the United States. At least 75 cities have seen widespread demonstrations and social unrest as Americans have gathered to protest systemic racism and the killing of George Floyd, the black man who died last week under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Dozens of cities imposed curfews over the weekend amid widespread looting. It has been among the most turbulent moments of societal upheaval in the U.S. since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
From seizing control of the internet to declaring martial law, President Trump may legally do all kinds of extraordinary things.
In the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, President Donald Trump reached deep into his arsenal to try to deliver votes to Republicans.
Most of his weapons were rhetorical, featuring a mix of lies and false inducements—claims that every congressional Democrat had signed on to an “open borders” bill (none had), that liberals were fomenting violent “mobs” (they weren’t), that a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class would somehow pass while Congress was out of session (it didn’t). But a few involved the aggressive use—and threatened misuse—of presidential authority: He sent thousands of active-duty soldiers to the southern border to terrorize a distant caravan of desperate Central American migrants, announced plans to end the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship by executive order, and tweeted that law enforcement had been “strongly notified” to be on the lookout for “ILLEGAL VOTING.”