Love’s bright & fragile glow

July 30, 2013


L to R: Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne at San Jose Civic Auditorium July 27, 2013 benefit

L to R: Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne at San Jose Civic Auditorium July 27, 2013 benefit

If you’ve ever walked any distance with a pebble in your shoe you know what it’s like to be a political progressive born into a family of arch-conservatives.  I have no idea how this happened, maybe it was part of my assignment for this life.

They weren’t quietly conservative, either. They were Fox-News-Hot-Talk right wing zealots. My father held court at the dinner table ranting and railing over “lunatic liberals.”  I was one of them and so the house I grew up in felt like hostile territory.

Oh, I know how he got that way. He hauled himself up from poverty hand over hand (no wonder he had a rotator-cuff injury late in life).As illiterate Sicilian immigrants, his parents had a hard road.  It took tremendous focus and strength of character for my father to go to college and medical school when his siblings never got past the eighth grade.  He believed those boot-strapping options were open to everyone. He did it, why couldn’t others? This isn’t an uncommon feeling among those who were raised in that era.  And to some extent, it’s true.

But of course, it isn’t quite that easy.

My brother used to subscribe to Rush Limbaugh’s newsletter (he probably still does) and liked to toss the pejorative Femi-nazi around when I visited.  Being uppity, independent and outspoken, I am, of course, the worse nightmare of Limbaugh followers. I remember visiting my brother’s home one summer and hearing him tell an anti-feminist joke at the picnic table where I sat. I knew its intended target.  Sitting at the table was an African American man and it struck me then that my sibling would never tell an “N…” joke at the table, but he felt perfectly comfortable baiting me.  No, not everyone has the perfect family. In fact, very few do.

I felt sorry for him.  Dogmatic conservatism is about fear, really, and especially fear of losing power or financial security.  That’s the attraction of Fox News hot-talk—the network knows how to capitalize on fear and especially the fears of powerful white men.

What else is there to do but feel sorry for people who are driven by fear and who attempt to marginalize those who think differently by calling names?

Now that I am past the midpoint of my life, I know what I believe and have no interest in being around people who are driven by fear, in real life or social media. I have no tolerance today for the kind of political name-calling I heard at the dinner table or at my brother’s picnic table.  Nor do I feel obligated to allow those kind of comments on my blog comments or Facebook wall. Disagree, but don’t call names.

So when I was lucky enough to attend a benefit for an organization serving the homeless that featured Joan Baez, Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris, I was thrilled.  My husband bought great seats as a birthday gift and it was the best gift ever. And, one that he could enjoy, too! The air was thick with empowerment and progressive politics, redolent with caring about other people.  And with fun.  For those two hours I lived in a world where people believed they could make a difference and wanted to make a better world, not just benefit themselves. It was an evening all about love and all the more beautiful for the fragility of that kind of love. Big smile on my face, I drank it in, every blessed moment.

“You know,” my husband said, “I never thought of it as ‘progressive’ politics. I mean, who really wants to be homeless? People who think the majority of homeless and welfare recipients want to be in that situation are regressive, that’s what I think. Actually, I think they’re stupid.”

Jackson Browne, whom I love

Jackson Browne, whom I love

Jackson Browne’s beautifully written Before the Deluge is one of my favorites and the three performers did a beautiful version of it, with Joan doing the major harmony part.  The song’s meaning speaks for itself and the second verse always brings tears to my eyes…so I got it when Joan Baez said that performers weren’t supposed to weep as they perform, but in the case of this song, she couldn’t help it. That verse has some of Jackson’s best writing, which is saying a lot, because he’s a prolific songwriter with the most meaningful, poetic lyrics of anyone except, maybe Leonard Cohen.

Joan Baez, lifelong activist & musician, also an idol of mine

Joan Baez, lifelong activist & musician, also an idol of mine

Of course, Joan Baez defines musical activism. So when I found her 1963 version of We Shall Overcome, I couldn’t believe my luck.  Performed and released at the height of the civil rights movement, I can hear the times in every note.  She’s 72 now:  beautiful, confident and still in great voice. And of course, she’s one of our own in the San Francisco Bay area, living in Woodside. In fact, I used to run into her once in a while when I lived and worked on the peninsula in the mid-1980s.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris is one of a kind, that’s all I can say. Love her. Still sings sweetly. Still beautiful and has aged naturally, letting her gorgeous mane of hair go grey and clearly doing nothing about gnarled hands, wrinkles and other signs of age.  When a woman lets herself age naturally, she always seems so beautiful to me. All the botoxed, peeled, lifted and augmented older women look so fake.  Just saying. Her My Name is Emmett Till is still relevant, I’m sorry to say.

Click HERE for a moving version of Before the Deluge on video,  lyrics follow. Below that, Baez and We Shall Overcome from 1963, and Emmett Till from Emmylou.

Before the Deluge/Jackson Browne

Some of them were dreamers
And some of them were fools
Who were making plans and thinking of the future
With the energy of the innocent
They were gathering the tools
They would need to make their journey back to nature
While the sand slipped through the opening
And their hands reached for the golden ring
With their hearts they turned to each others heart for refuge
In the troubled years that came before the deluge

Some of them knew pleasure
And some of them knew pain
And for some of them it was only the moment that mattered
And on the brave and crazy wings of youth
They went flying around in the rain
And their feathers, once so fine, grew torn and tattered
And in the end they traded their tired wings
For the resignation that living brings
And exchanged love’s bright and fragile glow
For the glitter and the rouge
And in the moment they were swept before the deluge

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by
By and by–
When the light that’s lost within us reaches the sky

Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour
And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by
By and by–
When the light that’s lost within us reaches the sky

And click here for Joan Baez: We Shall Overcome (1963)

Emmylou’s Emmett Till is HERE.


I was born a black boy
My name is Emmett Till
I walked this earth for 14 years
And one night I was killed
For speaking to a woman
Whose skin was white as dough
That’s a sin in Mississippi
But how was I to know?I’d come down from Chicago
To visit with my kin
Up there I was a cheeky kid
I guess I’d always been
But the harm they put upon me
Was too hard for what I’d done
For I was just a black boy
And never hurt no one

Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh

They took me from my uncle’s house
Mose Wright was his name.
He’d later stand and, without hesitation,
Point the blame
At the ones who beat and cut me
And shot me with a gun
And threw me in the river
Like I was trash when they were done

I was sent back to my mother,
At least what was left of me,
She kept my casket open
For the whole wide world to see
The awful desecration
And the evidence of hate
You could not recognize me
The mutilation was so great

There came a cry for justice
To be finally fulfilled
All because of me, a black boy
My name is Emmett Till

Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh

Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh

Oh, but I’d have rather lived
‘Till I was too old to die young
Not miss all I left behind
And all that might have come
Summer clouds above my head
The grass beneath my feet
The warmth of a good woman
Her kisses soft and sweet

Perhaps to be a father
With a black boy of my own
Watch him grow into a kinder world
Than I had known
Where no child would be murdered
For the colour of his skin
And love would be the only thing
Inside the hearts of men

They say the horror of that night
Is haunting Heaven still
Where I am one more black boy
My name is Emmett Till

The three of them.

The three of them.

2 comments on “Love’s bright & fragile glow
  1. Susan Cooper says:

    Must have been a magical night. I am so glad you got to experience the concert. I have not seen Emmy Lou Harris live before. 🙂

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