Friday, July 08, 2016

Jukebox Requiems






Last night was a bad night.

I spent much of it at a fraternal lodge where I'm a member.  It's less than a mile from my home, so on any given day it's easy to walk up there and just hang out.  Sometimes I go there to actively socialize.  But sometimes I go there just to be around friends, and will sit at the bar nursing a beer and reading the New York Times on my iPhone.

Everybody has their little pastimes.  At the lodge you can buy little tickets, called bingo lottery tickets, that you can open and, if you're lucky, win fifty or a hundred bucks. (The bartenders spend as much time counting out and handing these tickets to members as they do serving drinks.)

Lots of my friends like to blow a few bucks playing those tickets.  I blow mine playing tunes on the jukebox.

I fathom myself to be the lodge's unofficial disc jockey.  There are two types of people who put money in jukeboxes:  people who play for the crowd and people who don't.  People who don't are really missing out.  There's much pleasure in correctly estimating the age of an older couple at the end of the bar, selecting a song that was popular in their youth, and watch their pleased surprise when the tune begins to play.  Or listen to someone talk about how much they love Ireland and then play something by The Chieftains.  Or play "Girl Crush" for a bartender whose face lights up every time she hears it.  ("Blurred Lines" and "Can't Feel My Face" also work well.)  Or play Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," which might as well be the lodge's official anthem.

In the creaky dim past of ten years ago, you'd have to insert actual money into a jukebox.  Nowadays most bars come equipped with jukeboxes owned by TouchTunes.  TouchTunes has an app that allows you to queue up songs using your smart phone, which is both convenient and adds a nice touch of incognito.

Last evening I had barely ordered my first beer than I heard a conversation at the end of the bar about the recent deaths of 37-year old Alton Sterling and 32-year old Philando Castile.  Sterling was shot to death by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 5.  Castile was shot to death just one day later by a police officer in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.  Both Sterling and Castile happened to be African American men.  Consequently they are posthumously getting their fifteen minutes of fame.  That means, among other things, that they are the latest grist for barroom discussions about whether Black Lives Matter or whether that's just political correctness because really All Lives Matter.  And even though there's video of both shootings you can't really know for sure what happened, can you?  And anyway more blacks die at the hands of other blacks than at the hands of police officers.

There's seldom any point in participating in these discussions because they go nowhere.  The pattern is for one side to take the view that police shootings of black men (and boys) is a problem and the other side to take the view that this characterization is unfair to the police.

If you haven't heard this discussion in a bar, just tune into any radio or cable television talk show.

Well, I wasn't about to involve myself with that.  On the other hand, I did have that TouchTunes app, so...




It would be nice to report that the hubbub in the bar quieted and the members paused to listen to the passion, despair, and contained anger in Bruce Springsteen's voice. And that the conversation at the end of the bar took a new turn and the discussants--all of them good men with good hearts--quit rehearsing the same tired talking points. But of course nothing of the sort occurred. It was a sizeable crowd that night, with clots of people everywhere sharing laughter and friendship and Bud Lights and those stupid tickets. And the song isn't catchy. And I doubt anyone had heard it before anyway.

A little while later, on the big screen TVs above the bar, images began to appear of a demonstration in Dallas, Texas--one of several to occur across the country in  the wake of the killings of Sterling and Castile, with hundreds of protesters marching under the protection of dozens of police officers.  Something had happened.  Some sort of ambush.  This time the victims were cops. . . .



 (I think this post works best if you take time to view the videos, but if not, the song lyrics are below the jump.)


American Skin (41 Shots) from Live in New York City (2001) The song is about the African American experience of dealing with the sense of heightened danger of death at the hands of the police.  The "41 shots" reference is to the death of an unarmed immigrant from Guinea named Amadou Diallo, who was killed by New York police officers in February 1999.  The officers fired a total of 41 shots into Diallo.

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, and we'll take that ride
'Cross the bloody river to the other side
41 shots, cut through the night
You're kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, "On these streets, Charles
You've got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you'll always be polite
And that you'll never ever run away
Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight"

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it in your heart (is it in your heart), is it in your eyes (is it in your eyes)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)

41 shots, and we'll take that ride
'Cross this bloody river to the other side
41 shots, I got my boots caked with this mud
We're baptized in these waters (baptized in these waters)
And in each other's blood (and in each other's blood)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)

---

"Into the Fire." from The Rising (2002)  The song is a tribute to the first responders who perished in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave
You lay your hand on me
Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your love give us love

1 comment:

Scott Grimsley said...

Not being a Springsteen fan, I had never heard "41 Shots". It is a very powerful and moving song.