This past weekend we ‘celebrated’ arguably the most bizarre and surreal July 4th of our lifetime.
The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the country, largely because of our inability to do what’s truly needed to control it. As of Sunday night, July 5, nearly 2.9 million of us had been confirmed to be infected and just shy of 130,000 of us had been killed by it.¹ All-time highs are being seen throughout the country. We’re being warned by health experts that the rate of illness is approaching the point of being ‘uncontrollable.’² One sign of our health risk to others: we have been officially barred from entering the European Union.
As a result of the surge, many states, especially those concerned with the health of their citizens, have pulled back on their plans to reopen. Some have mandated facial coverings when in public; some have instituted curfews. Shelter-in-place orders are bound to follow. All because many in authority at all levels, beginning with the federal administration, have demonstrated a cavalier attitude toward — if not an outright denial and/or rejection of — science and the strong and repeated advice and pleas of public health experts. This has had a significant impact on unemployment, which remains in the tens of millions. (One quick aside: for a mask to work properly, it must cover both the mouth and nose. This isn’t rocket science. But it can save lives.)
Meanwhile, the collective, noble and long overdue effort continues to deal with the nation’s history of oppression of people of color. Tangible gains most of us never thought possible are occurring before our eyes in real time. Statues honoring Confederate generals are being dismantled. Mississippi — Mississippi — will remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag. Municipalities are discussing how to restructure police departments to improve the safety and care of people. Even the Washington, D.C. professional football franchise, under pressure from sponsors Nike, Pepsi and FedEx, is undertaking a ‘thorough review’ of its name.³ (The ‘thorough review’ should take less than 10 seconds and should go something like this: ‘Let’s review our team name. [Two second pause.] Okay, the use of ‘Redskins’ is racist. We need something new.’) The Cleveland major league baseball franchise is also reviewing its use of ‘Indians.’ The bet here is that Cleveland will act first.
Yet, all is not rosy. In a dark, foreboding and, frankly, scary speech beneath Mount Rushmore last Friday, the president positioned Black Lives Matter protesters and those who support them as a left-wing mob with intentions to ‘end America.’ Their aim, he said, is ‘to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.’ He continued, ‘If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished.’ To drive this point home, he added, ‘Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol and memory of our national heritage.’⁴ The next day, the president elaborated on these themes in a speech at the White House’s Fourth of July ‘Salute to America’ event on the South Lawn, comparing our country’s World War II fight against Nazis and terrorists to his efforts to defeat ‘the radical left’ in the United States and accusing social justice protesters of trying to ‘destroy America.’⁵
This, a Fourth of July speech to honor America. Claiming that social justice protesters are intent on ending America, comparing them to Nazisand promising their defeat from the South Lawn of the White House. Might a call for a second civil war be far behind?
An out-of-control pandemic. An economy in shambles, with tens of millions out of work. A concerted, widespread attempt to confront our long and sordid history of oppression that might finally put us on a path toward true equality. And a president fomenting, on the Fourth of July no less, the need for a defense of ‘our national heritage’ from social justice protesters he equates with Nazis and who he claims are intent on ‘ending America.’ Very troubling, frightening times, indeed. Sufficient to boil one’s blood.
Given the challenges we face, and the anger, fear, anxiety and dread they produce in many of us, there are only a handful of things we can do. Maintain physical distance, wash our hands obsessively, and wear a mask in public are the first, critical actions we all must take.
Incongruous as it may sound, we can also sing and dance.
When it comes to raising spirits, filling one’s heart and replenishing the soul, there’s nothing quite like belting out a good song at the top of our lungs. And given all that’s going on around us, raising spirits, filling one’s heart and replenishing the soul are absolute necessities.
To help you, to help me, to help all of us, I offer the following performances. Each has been created in the virtual style and spirit of our times; each is capable of bringing a smile to your face and, just maybe, movement to your body. Each might help you relax and bring tears to your eyes. Cry and sing along, loudly.
Begin with ‘Helpless’ from Hamilton:
Okay, tell me you don’t feel better.
Enjoy the finale from Hairspray:
Found yourself moving, dancing, even a little? No need to deny or apologize. That was the intent.
Join 70 artists from Southeast Asia as they perform ‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent. Skip the commercial.
Accompany the London City Voices choir as they sing Carole King’s 1971 ‘You’ve Got a Friend.’ It’s a song for now.
If you don’t know the words, hum along to Ben E. King’s 1961 ‘Stand By Me,’ another song for our time. Skip the commercial.
And watch again one of the great dance numbers from film. No introduction needed. If this doesn’t raise your spirits, I’m not sure what will.
If you believe that the pandemic is serious, that the economy is teetering on the edge of an abyss, that the Black Lives Matter movement is critical to a healthy, equitable and just future, and that social protesters are not Nazis who are plotting to destroy the country, you are on the right side of history. Even so, you and your beliefs are under attack. Stand by your friends, find love, give love, sing and dance in the rain like your life depended on it, stay strong, and know that you’re not alone. Truth and justice will prevail.
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On The Cutting Room Floor
Although the following performances didn’t make this week’s edition, they are definitely worth enjoying. Each brings its own magic.
A beautiful and joyous ‘Pick Yourself Up’:
Seventy artists from London’s West End singing Les Misérables’ ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’:
An amazing, heartfelt, moving ‘Waltzing Matilda,’ with artists from around the world supported by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra:
And, a lovely and touching ‘We Are the World.’ You may not recognize the performers (your kids will), but you’ll appreciate the emotion.
Enjoy. Be refreshed.
¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, July 5; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/