• 300 Drones Light Up the Sky to Salute Front-Line Workers and Promote PPE

    Granted, the most meaningful way to support front-line workers during the pandemic is to reduce its scope and improve the underlying conditions and disparities that heighten workers’ risks in the first place. But creative gestures of gratitude have their place, including the latest: drone formations. Hundreds of drones filled Seoul’s sky in a creatively choreographed showcase to recognize health care and other essential workers. The drones boosted messages of hand-washing, physical distancing, and mask-wearing, and encouraged everyone to keep diligent as the pandemic stretches on. Browse the photos of the display above the Han River, and share your ideas for how to continue supporting front-line workers at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • A Growing #MeToo Wave in Egypt Is Driving Results and Signs of Change

    As movements for justice and human rights continue to expand across the United States, coalitions for change are mobilizing worldwide on the strength of protests that are getting results, including in Cairo. Egypt’s capital was named the most dangerous city in the world for women in a recent Reuters poll, and pernicious street harassment is a familiar feature of daily life for Egyptian women, 99 percent of whom have been sexually harassed, according to a United Nations study within the past decade. But the #MeToo movement is growing as more women find paths for action and accountability. Three days after an Instagram page went up with dozens of women’s accusations of assault and harassment by an elite university student, police arrested him—a rare result. Before that, a historic conviction was issued by a judge who sentenced a harasser to two years in prison, and Egyptian celebrities are speaking out against harassment in a video campaign by the Egyptian National Council for Women.

    Egypt’s #MeToo movement isn’t new or unfamiliar to many people in the United States who see patterns of resistance and strength across countries, but the movement is reaching new milestones, with support worldwide. If you have family, friends, or personal insight into Egypt’s reckoning with street harassment, and stories of community-driven change, let us know at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Energizing Words of Insight and Hope From Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter

    After this marathon week of fireworks, and last week’s, and those of every week and minute, the inspiring words of Alicia Garza are both timely and timeless. Garza co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement when she wrote “Black lives matter” in a Facebook post almost seven years ago, and she’s featured in an insightful, wide-ranging interview this week by NatGeo’s Rachel Hartigan. Since launching the Black Lives Matter Global Network with Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, Garza has rallied and amplified the voices and lives of countless people who drive change—bearing witness to what has changed, and what still needs to. The interview touches on the construction of the phrase “Black Lives Matters,” the basis for maintaining hope, the ways a movement for change can stay its course, and the unifying threads of collective action, particularly with women leading it. Catch it here, and have a safe, healthy, strengthening weekend. (Let us know how you plan to, and stories you’d like boosted, at recharge@motherjones.com.)

  • From “Ole Miss” to “New Miss,” and Cornel West on Educational Justice

    In case you missed the insightful investigation and analysis by Becca Andrews on the historical harm of the name “Ole Miss” and the growing movement toward “New Miss” at the University of Mississippi, catch it here. Becca’s high-impact reporting has energized an effort by artists and designers to create “New Miss” gear, with proceeds going to Black Lives Matter Mississippi. In response to her piece, “The Racism of ‘Ole Miss’ Is Hiding in Plain Sight,” a boost of recognition from the Mississippi-born author and creative writing professor Kiese Laymon, amplifying the article’s “beyond incredible” historical framing and research.

    More good news on the education front: A class-swapping spreadsheet is making the rounds among hundreds of students who are voluntarily giving up spots in in-person classes to protect international peers from ICE during the pandemic. The initiative began at UCLA. Many other colleges are joining in solidarity. H/T Rachel Sumekh.

    And if Cornel West is right (he is) that “justice is what love looks like in public,” give his latest livestream a spin. He speaks with Tanzila Ume Habiba and Chandrashekhar Azad on Sheedi, Dalit, and Black solidarity, in a powerful Equality Labs conversation.

    Reach us at recharge@motherjones.com if you have story tips about community strength, resilience, and justice. Joy too. And the sights and sounds of change.

    This post has been updated to reflected the Equality Labs livestream’s host name.

  • Is Small-Town White Montana Ready for My Big, Loud, Brown Family? It Doesn’t Matter, Because We’re Here Anyway.

    Bunsen Peak, Yellowstone National ParkVenu Gupta and family

    My parents came to the United States from India in 1973. I grew up believing that camping equaled two things: (1) being outside in the sun and therefore getting darker, a cardinal sin (colorism, anti-Blackness, all of it) and (2) living in a way they tried to leave behind when they came to America: many people in small spaces, dusty, dirty in areas, and few amenities, according to my parents. Needless to say, I did not grow up feeling at home outside of my house. People who were “outdoorsy” felt like a niche group of exceptionally fit white people, beyond my reach.

    Something changed, and now I can’t get enough of being outside. Walking my neighborhood in Chicago, spending time in the Northwoods of Minnesota, hiking (actually hiking!) in the Badlands, and even trying to find home in a canoe.

    Right now, my family and I are in Montana, spending a month in a very small town about an hour outside of Yellowstone National Park. People we greet here in this town, all of whom are white, are friendly but look at my big, loud brown family with confusion, like we must be lost. We’re not; we’re exactly where we belong.

    The more time I spend outdoors in my city, my state, my country, the more I realize that I’m entitled—personally and politically—to more than just my little plot; I’m entitled to more than just the physical spaces where some people feel comfortable with who I am; I’m entitled to all of it, as long as I respect nature and respect other people. And, so are you.

    More and more, BIPOC are reclaiming their connection to nature and the solace, comfort, joy, and peace of mind that it provides. Native people, of course, have stewarded and celebrated natural resources and public lands from the beginning. Natives Outdoors was founded by Len Necefer in 2017 to amplify images of Indigenous people on the trails and aboard boats, and it’s grown into efforts to restore tribal rights in the outdoors.

    Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro, calls nature the “great equalizer.” Outdoor Afro “celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.” GirlTrek is a national health movement supporting Black women as changemakers—through walking anywhere and everywhere.

    Ambreen Tariq founded @BrownPeopleCamping in August 2016 to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial. Ambreen is a South Asian American immigrant and a Muslim woman who uses storytelling to examine privilege and power in the outdoors.

    LatinoOutdoors promotes the outdoors as a welcoming and inclusive space—for sharing and celebrating knowledge and experience.

    For me and my family, we are taking small, brave steps to finding home in the outdoors, working to nourish ourselves and nature around us as we go.

    Venu Gupta and family
    Venu Gupta and family

    If you have stories about your experiences as BIPOC in the outdoors, share them at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Good News About That Factually Flawed Anti-Pinker Letter: Its Dishonesty Has Been Widely Exposed

    So much for factual accuracy, sound reasoning, moral clarity, and transparency, or any other value that academics aim to uphold. How quickly each principle was traded in by a handful of linguists who co-signed a factually flawed, short-sighted letter this week calling to rescind Steven Pinker’s fellowship at the Linguistics Society of America. The letter objected to six tweets he wrote over the years—tweets so politically radioactive that they should be piously disavowed by all liberal-minded linguists, the letter claims. Never mind that the tweets in question are fact-based, with links to sources and data. More salient is the fresh outrage by particular linguists with a talent for sniffing out the faintest illiberalism. The letter’s signatories said his tweets were insufficiently respectful of their politics. Imagine that. On Twitter. There’s a word for maneuvers like this: dishonesty. The letter is bad. Particularly from linguists who are loose with the very language they purport to think critically about. Those of us with any independence left in media and academics, and anywhere else, should see this dance from miles away.

    The details are well-aired: No sooner did the cancellation letter circulate than a group of truly renowned linguists and journalists dismantled it. The letter was refuted in detail by Barbara Partee, one of the founders of contemporary formal semantics and an emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Michael Shermer, the respected publisher of Skeptic magazine; the entirety of MIT’s Language Lab; Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago biologist who put the petition’s fallacies to rest (and did it best); John McWhorter, the Columbia linguist (one, two, and three); Joe Henrich, chair of Harvard’s Human Evolutionary Biology department; Noam Chomsky (say what you will about Chomsky today, but he’s correct here, upholding principle over bad-faith petitioners who are “pretending to be outraged as the wrong ox is gored”). Also dismantling the letter are Yale scientist Nicholas Christakis and countless others.

    The cancellation letter is misguided, with half-quotes, miscitation, self-contradiction, and apparently false signature. But it follows a pattern. Notice the move: We all want to hold villains to account, and should, but we’ll cast anyone for the role, facts aside. Why stick to facts when you can gesture in the right direction? Why think critically when you can throw your lot in with the nearest? This move doesn’t work. You could call it the “common cause” fallacy, or the “traveling companion” bias, the idea that if you appear adjacent to bad, you too are bad, you see. The virus is airborne. (Never mind that this bad-adjacent calculus applies to the very people who use it.)

    If this is what linguistic letter-writing amounts to today—dishonest on facts, closed to counterevidence, masochistically cannibalizing—all our work is still ahead. But this is Recharge, a space for good news. The good is clear: There are those of us, on the left of the petition writers, who see right through it.

  • Oakland Jazz Is Growing and Growing, With a Powerful New Livestream Series

    The family-run Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland just announced a weekly series of livestreams with some of the brightest and most innovative musicians in the Bay Area and beyond. Most recently, the Pit Orchestra playing Monk, with pianist Edward Simon, trumpeter Erik Jekabson, and bassist Peter Barshay. Down the calendar: Howard Wiley’s must-catch tribute to Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite. (Reading my interview with Rollins about the pandemic, protests, and creative change, if you missed it.) Also in the mix: Stella Heath, Rob Reich, and Daniel Fabricant. Berkeley-born Wiley is especially energizing and inspiring. At age 12, he headlined the old Koncepts Cultural Gallery—founded by Edsel Matthews—then Festival by the Bay in Richmond, a historic cultural center, and two years later was headlining Yoshi’s.

    Mark the calendar for Wiley’s spin on Thursday, July 16. More details here, and drop me a line at recharge@motherjones.com for deeper dives into the sounds of solidarity, stamina, and resilience—and send me your own tips for livestreams across the map.

  • The “Better Call Saul” Cast Is Raising COVID Relief, Making Music, Painting, and Growing Gardens

    There’s a little-known show you’ve never seen, in entertainment obscurity, called Better Call Saul, a spinoff of the littler-known Breaking Bad. If you’re one of the tens of people who’ve heard of these up-and-comers and seen an episode or two, you’ll be pleased to know that your favorite BCS actors livestreamed from their homes together a few days ago. Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Giancarlo Esposito, Tony Dalton, Michael Mando, and Patrick Fabian chatted in support of COVID-19 fundraising by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, the screen actors guild’s support wing, to help the wider community with medical bills, rent, and other essentials.

    Giancarlo is starting a podcast while growing radish and lettuce. He waters them every day. With razor-sharp precision. Rhea is brushing off her paint brushes after 20 years. Patrick adopted a dog. Michael recorded his first song (“My first love has always been music”). Actors who play criminal moonlighters and crime-adjacent “good people” are people too. Journalist Daniel Fienberg did a nice job moderating the chat. If you missed it, here you go, and more info on COVID-19 relief efforts is here. Jonathan Banks was missed. He was busy practicing his stink eye while debugging gas caps.

  • How Persuasive and Persuadable Are You? A New Website Aims to Find Out.

    What better occasion than the Fourth of July, nominally about freedom and independence, to welcome the good news of a truly ambitious publication’s launch in the name of open debate, rigorous critical thinking, and human rights? The arrival of Persuasion is an inspiring addition to public dialogue at a time of heightened false equivalencies, hidden biases, unhidden biases, and the bullying and bigotry particularly pungent on the far right (but not limited to it). The new site aims to persuade. Whatever you think of its full list of core contributors, there are brilliant treasures, namely Sarah Haider, John McWhorter, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Jonathan Haidt, and Garry Kasparov. And the outstanding Maajid Nawaz gives a ringing early endorsement.

    Haider is especially thoughtful at challenging ideas, institutions, fallacies, and pathologies that harm human rights. Read her. McWhorter is profoundly insightful as a linguist and cultural critic, with no aversion to hard debate. Persuasion hopes to avoid the trappings of mere point-scoring, and the decoys of the day, by engaging with bedrock questions about what can produce the most justice and equality.

    Speaking of justice, David Frum, another Persuasion contributor, is long overdue for history’s judgment. Or did I miss his mea culpa for the harm he helped cause as George W. Bush’s speechwriter? Frum is long on criticism of Trump but short on accountability for Bush. Doesn’t it matter? I’d like to persuade at recharge@motherjones.com, if Frum is open to discussing it, but on balance, Persuasion deserves support for trying to change minds, including those of some of its contributors. The project’s pledge is inspiring. All manifestations of illiberalism, injustice, illogic, and inequality need contesting.

    Here’s a challenge: Persuasion should offer to waive subscription fees for anyone who asks. Why not? If money shouldn’t be the sole obstacle for those who can’t afford it, how persuasive can the project be? Here’s rooting, but offer it? It’s worked before. Above all, let Kasparov know that his 1996 blunder against Vishy Anand is forgiven and forgotten. (How could you miss Qxg4? We all slip up, Garry. You are still king, capable of crushing even the great Hikaru and Fabiano.)

  • A 4-Year-Old, a 5-Year-Old, and a 7-Year-Old Are Now Very, Very Famous Artists

    Think back to when you were 4, 5, and 7. You were a renowned artist. Top talent. Your drawings won national contests and were prominently displayed on Times Square billboards. No? Don’t be shy: You were limitlessly artistic, so find it in your heart to applaud and retweet the news of 4-year-old Amarry London Alhassan, 5-year-old Xavier Garcia, and 7-year-old Kelli-Rose Simpson Forde. Their drawings were selected from more than 450 kids’ entries in a national campaign, “Honor Our Everyday Heroes,” to thank essential workers during the pandemic.

    Kelli-Rose’s grandfather, a New York City transit worker, inspired her art: “Thank you for keeping us safe!” she drew. “Thank You SUPERHEROES” was Xavier’s appreciation for doctors and nurses, with special recognition of his aunt, a nurse’s assistant. Amarry, the 4-year-old, fashioned “a heart and a helping hand” to thank his mom, who works in the medical field. Their winning drawings also appear at Grand Central station and Port Authority. You may now retweet with #Recharge and send your own (or your kids’) drawings to recharge@motherjones.com if you’d like them featured in Recharge, which today wishes a happy birthday to J “The Microphone” W and Brooke “The Producer” M, artistic inspirations across mediums and media.

  • In Celebration of National Postal Worker Day, Birthday Cards and Wishes for All

    Where to begin? Percussionists first. On National Postal Worker Day, a round of recognition for all the mail carriers who deliver our birthday wishes to Ndugu Chancler, Sameer Gupta, and Rashied Ali. Chancler’s energizing fireworks and climactic beats lit up Yoshi’s in Oakland, in 2002, in a historic rebirth of Miles Davis’ On the Corner, with four other Miles veterans. Chancler was also Michael Jackson’s drummer on “Billie Jean”—and played his final drums in 2018, after battling prostate cancer. Happy birthday, and rest in rhythm and power, to Chancler.

    Fellow birthday-haver Gupta is a tabla legend who co-founded Brooklyn Raga Massive and supercharges the Supplicants and VidyA, saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan’s project. Every band Gupta joins is stronger and steadier for it, with a syncopating pulse that grounds the music. Happy 44th. And happy 87th to Rashied Ali, who gave John Coltrane’s final years their signature sound, thanks to Ali’s kinetic, expressive style, famously on their Interstellar Space duet.

    You may also know July 1 as the day ice-vending machines were introduced in Los Angeles, and as Canada Day, but most importantly, it marks the greatest of them all: The happiest birthday in human history to the singularly creative, infinitely inspiring, always-celebrated Rita King, this Recharge writer’s mom and muse.

  • A Customer Attacked a Barista for Asking Her to Wear a Mask. Bad Move: $32,000 in Tips Rolled In.

    Like clockwork, a customer walked into a Starbucks without a mask and loudly refused the barista’s request that she wear one (on order of county officials). A more authoritarian overreach, the customer had never seen, so this principled, in-the-right customer—who was denied service—took a photo of the barista, posted it on Facebook, and wrote, with exquisite moral clarity: “Meet lenen from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask. Next time I will wait for cops…”

    Also like clockwork, Facebook users realized that the customer is not always right, masks can save lives, and this barista was unfairly maligned. The customer’s post backfired. Tens of thousands of people defended the worker, and a virtual tip jar was started on GoFundMe. More than $32,000 in tips rolled in.

    Clocks are these mechanisms with springs and toothed gearwheels, and sometimes a dial. A working one measures time. It can be a synchronizing device, producing pulses at regular intervals. It can also tell you precisely when a maskless customer will call a barista “lenen.”

    More tip stories please: recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Diane Guerrero, of “Jane the Virgin” and “Orange Is the New Black,” in Conversation on COVID-19 and Immigration

    Diane Guerrero and Mother Jones immigration reporter Fernanda EchavarriMother Jones

    In case you missed the insightful and timely conversation Thursday with actor, activist, and author Diane Guerrero and Mother Jones immigration reporter Fernanda Echavarri, catch it here, a highlight of our “In Conversation” series, which has adapted creatively to the pandemic’s preempting of in-person gatherings with a move to remote livestreams. The star of Jane the Virgin and Orange Is the New Black amplified the experiences and impact of COVID-19 and Trump administration assaults on asylum seekers and explored how the media portrays immigrants—along with ways to strengthen communities and support families and individuals facing crises. Catch the conversation and share your ideas under the video or at recharge@motherjones.com.

    You can also listen to MoJo’s Fernanda Echavarri interview Guerrero about her own childhood experience of forced family separation, and how it drove her to demand a better future, on this episode of the Mother Jones Podcast:

  • LeBron James Dunks Again on Trump, Scoring Multimillions for a New Media Empire

    LeBron James has been dunking on Donald Trump for years now, posterizing the president in a kingly pose of majesty and strength and style, with tweets and press statements like this one and this one. The NBA star isn’t about to let up on the windbag occupant of the highest office: James just scored $100 million in backing to build a media empire, a new company that “gives a voice to creators and consumers who’ve been pandered to, ignored, or underserved,” in the words of Jason Kelly, who interviewed James in a video chat for Bloomberg. The new company’s staff is 64 percent people of color and 40 percent women. Now let’s see if James has it in the tank to run one-on-three with Nat Johnson, Thumper DeShields, and J. Barron. Taking bets at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Warren and Booker Are Investigating Meatpacking Giants After Our Reporting Shed Light on Dangerous Conditions

    Thanks largely to the hard-hitting reporting by Mother Jones contributors Esther Honig and Ted Genoways in their exclusive investigation of how meatpacking plants let workers get sick and die, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker are opening an investigation of their own. Citing our piece “The Workers Are Being Sacrificed,” the senators announced a new study of meatpacking companies’ treatment of workers during the pandemic—at a time when these companies threatened a local meat shortage while sending massive amounts of pork abroad. Catch the investigation in our July-August issue or online, and join us in congratulating Esther and Ted, senior editor Maddie Oatman, and our partners at the Food and Environment Reporting Network for essential work with potentially life-saving results. And for those of you who can, consider pitching in to support more high-impact reporting like it. (Mother Jones’ Monika Bauerlein describes what the pandemic has meant for our reporting here.)

  • Midweek Boosts, With a Guest Appearance by Cornel West

    A drumroll of quick ones:

    • The Village Vanguard is up and running with a powerful livestream series that continues Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, featuring the exhilarating sounds of bassist Joe Martin, saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Kevin Hays, and drummer Nasheet Waits. Visit VillageVanguard.com for tickets and teasers.

    • Louis Armstrong, as Gary Giddins said, did “what only the greatest artists are prepared to do—show the world to itself in a new light.” And the photographer Chris Barham did likewise, showing Armstrong to the world in a set of iconic photos of the jazz legend on the front steps of his Queens home with kids in the neighborhood 50 years ago this week. Barham died Monday at the age of 87, but his inspiring images live on.

    • Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, whose music I can’t stop boasting about—for god’s sake listen to his tensely erupting, lucidly floating sound on “Aftermath” and “Threnody” with Vijay Iyer—is on a hot streak. Mahanthappa’s latest, Hero Trio, is bound to be album of the year. If I were still organizing the old Pazz & Jop poll at the Village Voice (you reading this, Bob and Chuck? Send a flare to recharge@motherjones.com), Hero Trio would be runaway first, and I’d ballot-stuff, electioneer, whatever it took. Sample and sample, with Charlie Parker darting in.

    • In case you missed Arturo O’Farrill’s good news, his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s Four Questions features Cornel West’s narration and poetic justice on the title track, with a “caravan of love—or what Coltrane called A Love Supreme.” Dr. West, you are supremely welcome at recharge@motherjones.com.

    • Additional stamina from the exceptional tenor saxophonist Jorge Continentino on “De Volta à Festa (Back to the Party),” from drummer Vanderlei Pereira’s new Vision for Rhythm. “Party” indeed, if you can, pandemic and all.

  • More Than 187,000 People Are Helping Out on a New Website for Volunteers

    “Pandemic of Love” might be the least-subtle name for a volunteer website of its kind, but you can’t argue with $25 million in contributions and 187,000-plus success stories since the site’s launch a few months ago. As the pandemic stretches on, a wave of generosity is growing, thanks to the site, which connects people who need help with those who can give help. The idea was born when Shelly Tygielski of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, decided “to create connection [and] community and strengthen the bonds of love between us.” She posted a launch video and signup links, and when she “woke up the next morning, there were already 400 requests to get help and 500 to give help,” Tygielski said.

    A hashtag spread the word—wouldn’t you notice #PandemicofLove?—and “within the first 24 hours I received an email offering to start a Pandemic of Love community for San Francisco, and within two to three days I got messages to create communities in Portugal and Barcelona,” she said. “Now I get at least 20 emails a day from folks who want to create micro-communities from all over the world.”

    People have signed up in more than a dozen countries, including Chile, Australia, Mexico, and Iceland, mainly in search of help with food and supplies for children.

    If you’ve volunteered or appreciated the help of people who have, send your stories to recharge@motherjones.com.

    This article has been updated to reflect the quickly growing number of volunteers and contributions.

  • Detroit Teens Are Teaming Up to Paint Murals of Justice

    Artists are doing their best in Detroit, and around the country, to celebrate the progress and inspire more like it as the protests against police violence and racial injustice continue. Dozens of teens are using paint rollers to create a massive mural on the city’s main avenue, reading “Power to the People,” with the “o” in “Power” filled in with a raised fist of solidarity. “And we’re looking to do more around the city,” said Rochelle Riley, director of Detroit’s art and culture department. “This is permanent. It’s not just for a holiday or an action this week.”

    A look at the mural and the creative teens behind it. If you see or are helping to paint murals in your city or town, send photos and a description to recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Creativity in Quarantine: Dissonant New Music for the Birthday Blues

    Adapting creatively in quarantine is a challenge for artists everywhere, but today brings cause for celebration: the release of new music and the birthday of its composer. Happy release day and birthday to the relentlessly imaginative New York musician Stern. His new track lays bare the “psychological effects of the pandemic” on his memory, mental health, and family, he tells me. The title’s inspiration came from his mother, whose care and support gave Stern the idea. “She’s my muse,” he says, crediting her with the impressive word “peregrinations,” meaning sojourn or journey, in “Peregrinations of a Rueful Mind.” (The rueful mind is Stern’s, not his mother’s.) The music is both disorienting and reorienting: an epic exploration, with a slow-motion collapse of space and time; a brilliantly layered implosion of guitar, synth, horns, percussion, and strings; real-life barn noises (don’t ask); aqua smudge (do ask); and harmonically open frontiers. Some is digital; some is acoustic. “The fake and the real. It’s hard to tell them apart,” he says.

    You’ll know right away, within the first three dreamlike seconds, if the sound suits you or sends you screaming for the hills. The vocal tracks multiply and merge beautifully halfway through, thanks to the post-production of K.M. Abrams. What else would you expect from the Sphyoibian synapses of Stern, who previously fronted Time of Orchids and released an album on John Zorn’s legendary Tzadik label? Stern has also been rewatching “Tales From the Crypt” with his mom for inspiration, mining the show’s score for ideas. “I’ve arrived at this kind of ooze, this distilled ooze,” he tells me. “A lot of people feel they’re forced to be creative but they’re not making music, and they resent themselves for it. Me too, even before the pandemic. The process takes a little while.”

    Exile, isolation, and feeling alone are the themes of Stern’s soundscape, but if his music is any indication, alone he definitely is not. Celebrated—on his birthday and always—he is.

  • Songs to Celebrate Juneteenth

    In Ralph Ellison’s famous unfinished novel Juneteenth, the Rev. Alonzo Hickman, a Southern Black church leader, has to explain to a dying white senator that the eponymous holiday is still celebrated: “We haven’t forgotten what it means,” he says. “Even if sometimes folks try to make us believe it never happened or that it was a mistake it ever did…”

    Ellison’s novel uses the holiday to ask questions about what freedom means. And it swirls around how the forgetting of history, of the past, gets us to that place. Juneteenth itself is a potent example of this. States, and businesses, are increasingly recognizing it is a holiday celebrating the end of slavery. But it honors the date—June 19, 1865—when Union Gen. Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, announcing the freedom of enslaved Americans in Texas, even though President Abraham Lincoln had signed the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The point is that the proclamation did too little to change the lives of many Black people enslaved in the United States. This has an unfortunate rhyme with the way the holiday has been untaught and unheralded by white institutions.

    Ellison was often interested in the history of forgetting. How does the United States hide itself from the past? And what does that mean for Black Americans whose past has been hidden? In one essay, he finds particular power in art that can combat American myths: music.

    “Perhaps in the swift change of American society in which meanings of one’s origin are so quickly lost, one of the chief values of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time,” he writes.

    Here’s a list in that spirit. If you’re looking for Juneteenth-specific music, others have collected music about the holiday and I highly recommend collections from the Library of Congress on the holiday, including interviews conducted by Zora Neale Hurston. This is a shortlist of music, instead, that orients us in time. Much of it is on Bandcamp, which is celebrating the holiday by donating shares of purchases to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

    Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages

    The last album from legendary jazz guitarist Sharrock before his death, in 1994, Ask the Ages is not background music or casual listening—it is foregrounded and loud. It asks you to engage. In fact, it demands it. As Marcus J. Moore notes in the New York Times, Sharrock was part of a broader movement of black liberation jazz. The experimental nature here is a probing of what is possible. Sharrock is a bit more obscure than the names from the genre you’ve likely heard: Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane. But as one reviewer noted: With his guitar, he could “hold lightning in his bare hands.” He sought to traverse out to where free jazz went with horns and saxophones, notes exploding and overflowing. Of course, it helps on this record to have support from Sanders on saxophone and Elvin Jones on drums. I particularly like the track “Once Upon a Time.” But the record is best enjoyed in totality. —JR

    Beauty Pill, Please Advise

    Music is just one dimension of Beauty Pill’s art. And Please Advise, the Washington, DC–based band’s latest offering, shows there’s as much measured intention behind every note and lyric as there is for how it’s consumed. Named after a throwaway sentence in Teo Macero’s infamous 1969 memo to Columbia Records about Miles Davis’ new record (“Miles just called and said he wants this album to be titled BITCHES BREW. Please advise.”), Please Advise is pure kaleidoscopic art-pop; layers of dense melodies expand into new rhythmic fractals with each listen. Beauty Pill is no stranger to turning music into art—literally—and this album is as much physical art as it is musical: each format (CD, LP, cassette) is thoughtfully packaged with its own unique art and music. It might be old-fashioned to obsess over packaging and design but, like Beauty Pill bandleader Chad Clark, I’m also a firm believer that “the whole of the record is art.”  (And if you somehow needed another reason to buy this album, Clark’s late father was the general counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Synergy, y’all.) —MC

    Brother Ah

    Brother Ah communicated with the world, and I don’t just mean that in the spiritual sense. I once interviewed the renowned jazz musician—who had played with all the greats, from Sun Ra to Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane—and he told me a story about how he once played flute for a blue crane, at the National Zoo, that was struggling to lay its eggs. He told me how he had studied the musical language of birds and was able to imitate their language to get the crane to lay eggs. You can hear how Brother Ah—whose given name was Robert Northern III—communicated with nature on his six solo albums, originally released in the ’70s and ’80s but given new life when reissued by the New York label Manufactured Recordings a few years back. Guided by Ah’s philosophy of “sound awareness” (the practice of understanding the world by listening for the music in nature) these albums are a deeply spiritual meditation. Brother Ah died on June 1 at the age of 86. But I believe that you can still hear his music in the sounds that surround you. You just have to listen. —MC