Last night (6.12.2016), my little 20-year-old radio show on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine – STUCK IN THE 80s – brought to the airwaves THE HEAVY 80s (it wasn’t all bubblegum, you know…), highlighting some of the 80s songs that addressed serious issues in their songs. I was joined by my dear friend Michelle Fire Eater (one of my oldest, closest and coolest friends, and one of the first people I met when I moved to Portland in 1994). I think I’ll have to do a Part 2 later this Summer, because there so many amazing songs with so many stories and messages in them, we couldn’t possibly get to them all in a couple of hours.
THE HEAVY 80s was a show initially thought of by Michelle a couple of years ago (I really love the tagline), and it was amazing to have her on the show, and share her thoughts on these songs that have meant a lot to both of us, respectively, for many years. In an odd way, it seemed a bit fitting we were co-hosting a show about songs with heavy subject matter, one night after the devastating terror attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people out at the club, having a great time and just being themselves on a Saturday night, were killed, and more than 50 others wounded.
Over the years, through events like Columbine and 9.11.01 and the terror attacks last year in Paris, STUCK IN THE 80s paid tribute to those affected with music that had nothing to do with these events, but songs that were played to comfort, played for support, and played to simply keep the music playing.
When I saw Duran Duran in NYC a couple of months ago, lead singer Simon Le Bon said of “Save A Prayer”: “[the song should] stand as a beacon to show that music is a way of bringing people together, that people are good and that we will not live in fear.” And, he’s right. I’m not going to to live in fear. And, I’m going to express myself the best way I know how – playing music on STUCK IN THE 80s, and writing this blog. And I’m not going to let some fucking murderous cowards instill any fear in me because of how I want to express myself. For now, though, I grieve.
Michelle Fire Eater and I were grieving for the folks in Orlando during last night’s show, and we dedicated a couple of songs to everyone affected – Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and, to close out the show, David Bowie’s LIVE AID version of “Heroes.”
Last week on the blog, in advance of THE HEAVY 80s, I posted Prince’s “Sign ‘O’ The Times” as a “song of the day.” In the blog post, I mentioned how Prince was not a fan of President Ronald Reagan, and though Reagan knew about AIDS as early as the first year of his Presidency (1981), he was reluctant to talk about it for years. I mentioned how “Sign ‘O’ The Times” was one of the first songs ever to mention AIDS, I think, in part, because Reagan wouldn’t.
I also included the above photo of some protesters holding up signs with Reagan’s face and the words “silence = death.” Not long after my post, my dear and über-talented friend, Hope, shared this amazing story about her experience with the ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and SILENCE = DEATH protest in Washington, D.C., October, 1987.
One of the highlights of the show last night was reading Hope’s recollection of the action in D.C., and I’m grateful to her to allow me to share that recollection again in this forum:
“In 1987 [my excellent friend and former partner] Sarah & I (and 500,000 of our closest friends) converged on DC for three days of action, including a group “wedding” (not legal), a huge & beautiful march (speakers included Cesar Chavez & Jesse Jackson) and an action at the US Supreme Court. The action was to protest a Supreme Court ruling that gay people do not have a constitutional right to privacy.
“It was a bloodbath. Sarah & I were set to go under the barricades in the second wave, but there was no second wave. We couldn’t go because there were too many people lying on the ground, beaten and some barely conscious.
“A terminally ill man in a wheelchair got help to get under the barricade. Two DC riot cops pulled him out of his wheelchair, dropped him on the ground, and clubbed him. He survived. It was literally his dying wish to attend the action, and he died a couple weeks later.
“That’s what ACT UP and SILENCE = DEATH were about. No one would listen, so we got their attention.”
Thank you, Hope. I highly encourage you check out Hope’s incredible WordPress blog, HEXBREAKER at https://hexbreaker9.wordpress.com/. She’ll also be sharing her thoughts on Orlando and the 1987 action in D.C. and then some… Be sure to keep an eye out for it.
The one song – the only song – I thought of to play following my reading of this recollection by Hope was the brilliant “People Have The Power” by the legendary “punk poet laureate,” Patti Smith.
“People Have The Power” is a protest song from her fifth studio album, DREAM OF LIFE, released in June 1988. It was was co-written by Patti with her then-husband and former MC5 guitarist, the late, great Fred “Sonic” Smith (who passed away in 1994 at age 45 from heart failure), and a song which has been covered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen (her writing partner on 1978’s “Because The Night”) and more recently, U2.
Of this song, Patti Smith once said, “We had both protested the Vietnam War when we were young. We had been part of the ’60s, where our cultural voice was really strong, and we were trying to write a song that would reintroduce that kind of energy. It’s sad for me but quite beautiful. It was really Fred’s song – even though I wrote the words, he wrote the music; the concept was his, and he wanted it to be a song that people sang all over the world to inspire them for different causes. And he didn’t live to see that happen, but I have. I’ve seen people. I’ve walked in marches all over the world where people spontaneously started singing it, you know, whether it’s been in Paris or with the Palestinians or, you know, in Spain or New York City, Washington D.C. – and it’s so moving for me to see his dream realized.
“We wanted to remind the listener of their individual power but also of the collective power of the people, how we can do anything. That’s why at the end it goes, ‘I believe everything we dream can come to pass, through our union we can turn the world around, we can turn the earth’s revolution.’ We wrote it consciously together to inspire people, to inspire people to come together.”
Regarding what happened two nights ago in Orlando, it’s alright to be sad. Be sad for the victims, their families, what the LGBTQ community is going through, what everyone is going through. Be angry. Be angry about the peace and innocence lost through these attacks, and the fucking cowards disrupting the world with their endless supply of hate. But don’t let the anger you feel over events like Orlando turn into hate (though easier said than done). Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”
What organizations like ISIS and other dark forces around the globe haven’t thought of is that they are not the only ones who have power. I’m not saying we should go to war over this. I hope we don’t. But, we won’t stand for it either. Patti and Fred sure got it right in 1988, and their 5-minute message is still here in each and every one of us today. Just let it out.
Don’t let these cowards bully you into fear. Keep going to nightclubs, keep going to movie theaters, keep traveling, keep listening to community radio, keep breathing, and keep breathing some more.
We’re in this together, LGBTQ and allies alike. People have the power. We all do.