When I think about the election of Donald Trump, I’m reminded of something an older friend of mine said about 9/11, which I was too young to remember clearly. She was shocked, horrified, and grief-stricken, as any reasonable person would be, but what she remembers most clearly was the creeping sense of unreality, the feeling that, in her words, “something big was coming unraveled.”
“When I heard about the first plane hitting the tower, I thought it was an accident,” she said. “I didn’t think it was terrorists. Terrorists used bombs, like they did in Oklahoma City. Taking over a plane and flying it into a building…” She trailed off. “Who the hell could even think of something like that? It felt like a glitch in the Matrix.”
That was remarkably similar to how I felt on November 8, 2016. This hateful man, this ghoulish bloated corpse fished out of the East River in cement shoes, this bigoted lump of curdled cheese that slid off a slice of Sbarro’s, won. He was behind in every poll, lost every debate, revealed himself as a xenophobic sexual predator without a single redeeming quality, and through some grotesque fluke he won. I spent the months between that day and the inauguration feeling numb and half-expecting the ground beneath my feet to swallow me. It would make as much sense as anything else that was happening.
“Ghost of America”, the new song by the bi-coastal musical duo Sincere Gifts, reminds me of that feeling. As you could probably gather from the song’s title (and the cover art of Lady Liberty wearing a face mask), this is a politically-minded sort of song, taking stock of the mess we’re in and wondering how we got here in the first place. But it’s thankfully free of the self-serious, now-more-than-ever sermonizing that hampers other socially conscious music. With its antic energy, lightly melancholic tone, and nasal vocals, it reminds me of R.E.M’s “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, although it’s considerably more direct, lyrically speaking.
The opening lyrics, delivered in an endearingly nasal whine, set the tone. “Oh, me oh my, oh/A shooting in Ohio/I wonder where America will happen today?” It’s a risky choice to open the song; if Sincere Gifts weren’t careful, they could have come across as glib or uncaring about the death and suffering gun violence brings. But it doesn’t feel like they’re making light of tragedy; instead, it feels like they know that there’s nothing one can really say or do about it, outside of banalities like “oh me, oh my”. And the idea of America as an event, or even a disaster, is a potent one: these days, it sometimes feels like the country is a freak thunderstorm, blown out to IMAX proportions and sustained for 250 years.
“Ghost of America” keeps that tone balanced, not letting things get too miserable but also not letting us forget what it is we’re going through. As I said earlier, it captures that post-election feeling of losing control, of seeing what you know fall apart; it’s a song that goes about its business because, hell, what else is it gonna do?
It only feels more relevant today. As the nation shuts itself in and the streets gradually empty, it really does feel like there’s a ghost haunting us; if not the ghost of America, then perhaps the ghosts of the poor and marginalized who had America suddenly, tragically happen to them.
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