Quick Takes: The Dictates of ‘We’ Are Also an Anchor

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

I’ve got a quicker-than-normal Quick Takes for you today. That’s because I’m hoping you’ll take the time to read and listen to a couple of greats.

The first one comes from Ta-Nehisi Coates. Of course, he’s written the definitive piece on the latest machinations from Kanye West. But this piece also demonstrates why Coates is such a truly gifted writer. He is not only able to recount facts and history to make powerful arguments, he is willing to go deep inside himself to be vulnerable and give us a glimpse into the human side of things we all struggle to understand. I hope this tempts you to go read the whole thing:

[T]his is why the gift of black music, of black art, is unlike any other in America, because it is not simply a matter of singular talent, or even of tradition, or lineage, but of something more grand and monstrous. When [Michael] Jackson sang and danced, when West samples or rhymes, they are tapping into a power formed under all the killing, all the beatings, all the rape and plunder that made America. The gift can never wholly belong to a singular artist, free of expectation and scrutiny, because the gift is no more solely theirs than the suffering that produced it…

What Kanye West seeks is what Michael Jackson sought—liberation from the dictates of that “we.” In his visit with West, the rapper T.I. was stunned to find that West, despite his endorsement of Trump, had never heard of the travel ban. “He don’t know the things that we know because he’s removed himself from society to a point where it don’t reach him,” T.I. said. West calls his struggle the right to be a “free thinker,” and he is, indeed, championing a kind of freedom—a white freedom, freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant; freedom to profit off a people in one moment and abandon them in the next; a Stand Your Ground freedom, freedom without responsibility, without hard memory; a Monticello without slavery, a Confederate freedom, the freedom of John C. Calhoun, not the freedom of Harriet Tubman, which calls you to risk your own; not the freedom of  Nat Turner, which calls you to give even more, but a conqueror’s freedom, freedom of the strong built on antipathy or indifference to the weak, the freedom of rape buttons, pussy grabbers, and fuck you anyway, bitch; freedom of oil and invisible wars, the freedom of suburbs drawn with red lines, the white freedom of Calabasas…

It is the young people among the despised classes of America who will pay a price for this—the children parted from their parents at the border, the women warring to control the reproductive organs of their own bodies, the transgender soldier fighting for his job, the students who dare not return home for fear of a “travel ban,” which West is free to have never heard of. West, in his own way, will likely pay also for his thin definition of freedom, as opposed to one that experiences history, traditions, and struggle, not as a burden, but as an anchor in a chaotic world.

I am reminded of how Barack Obama ended his speech at the 50th Anniversary in Selma.

For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed.  And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.  Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  “We The People.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Yes We Can.”  That word is owned by no one.  It belongs to everyone.

Now for some music. This one doesn’t necessarily relate to Coates’ piece, it’s just that I was introduced to it over the weekend and it blew me away. Here’s a short description of Boz Skaggs’ cover of “Loan Me a Dime.”

In 1969 Boz Scaggs went into the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studiostudio in Sheffield, Alabama to record what could be one of his best albums ever. Recording the record with some of the greatest studio musicians of all time, this blues studio record really packs a punch. With Duane “Skydog” Allman playing slide and the Dobro. Yes the same Duane Allman that played with his brother in the Allman Brothers Band and that Rolling Stone Recordsranks as the second greatest guitarist of all time. Most of the other musicians on the album where the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio owners and session musicians better known as the The Swampers . This is the group of musicians that are mentioned in the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic Sweet Home Alabama:

The Swampers consisted of Barry Beckett keyboards, Roger Hawkinsdrums, David Hood on bass, Jimmy Johnson and Eddie Hinton playing guitar. “Loan Me a Dime” was written by blues player Fenton Robinson in 1967.

Put on some headphones, sit back and listen to this:

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.