Her guitar isn’t emblazoned with the slogan “This machine kills fascists”, but it might as well be. Chapman writes with a direct, unaffected, challenging honesty that reminds the listener how a song can do so much more than merely entertain. She’s angry, and sad, and wants to know what the hell and why, and in just a couple of minutes you’ll feel the same.
Attached are two versions of Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution, one recorded live, and the studio track from her first album, each powerful in its own way. When I first heard this in the mid 1980s, blasting out of the boombox while I rolled paint on to the walls of a Rosedale mansion, it seemed out of time and place, written for a less happy era – what did I know? I thought the people I worked for deserved what they had. I thought things were getting better. Thirty years on, the song sounds almost painfully on point, doesn’t it? Who really thinks any more that anything around us in this new Gilded Age smacks of fairness? Who really supposes there’s been progress in race relations, wealth concentration, or criminal justice? Who even believes in progress? Who thinks this isn’t a plutocracy run mainly for the benefit of about two thousand rich white men? Look, there are 26 billionaires who together hold as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population, 26 guys on one side of the ledger, almost four billion on the other, and here we sit, complacent, practically brainwashed, nodding along whenever they meet any proposal to do even the smallest thing to mitigate human misery with the old refrain: “Where’s the money going to come from”?
Thirty years ago, it was just a catchy protest song. Now when I hear Tracy sing of the poor crying at the Salvation Army doorsteps, I feel anxious. It puts me in mind of Harlem, that great poem by Langston Hughes – what happens to a dream deferred? You wonder how much more of this people are going to take, and whether we’re just one more Wall Street meltdown, one more police video of a fleeing, unarmed black kid being shot to death, from the whole thing exploding. Yet what am I prepared to do? That’s what she’s asking: what is it going to take? Which unbearable truths am I going to acknowledge, and what will happen if I do? The question is pretty much rhetorical, because Tracy already knows that I’m not going to do a damned thing, and I guess it’s a little odd to admire her for saying so, being as she’s calling me out.
Yeah, but I always was a little odd that way. Something I get from my dad, I think.