• They Walked 1,500 Miles for a Life of Freedom. Revisiting a Book That Chronicles Young American Immigrants.

    Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of a book’s publication that became a major milestone in the chronicling of immigrants’ rights in the United States, and it’s a gripping narrative read with enduring lessons for the Biden era. The Making of a Dream pairs hopeful stories of young undocumented immigrants with historical research that frames immigration as what it increasingly is: one of the paramount movements of civil rights in this country.

    The themes resonate across administrations, from deportation to family separation, DACA, the DREAM Act’s many iterations, and the resilience of those who mobilize to resist. It’s told through the experiences of five immigrants and written by Laura Wides-Muñoz, the former AP immigration reporter who is now an executive editor for news practices at ABC News. It became a PEN Award semifinalist and Library Journal Book of the Year, inspired in part by the commencement of a march to Washington from Miami that reinvigorated the movement. Find a copy here.

    Double celebration to start the weekend: Tomorrow is also the 75th birthday of Bettye LaVette, the Detroit singer whose life and lyrics are another portrait of American freedom. Happy birthday to LaVette. Brace, if you can, for her historic live performance of “Talking Old Soldiers.”

  • Dr. Lonnie Smith Will See You Now: A Crowdfunded Documentary on the Musician’s Sound of Celebration

    Ebet Roberts/Redferns via Getty

    Last month’s uproar over who’s a doctor and who isn’t, and who takes the honorific “Dr.” and who doesn’t—a news cycle cut with sexism by an overtly bad-faith instigator in a Wall Street Journal op-ed—called for a lot of things. It called for rethinking how op-eds get vetted and how naming conventions take shape; how the dynamics of gender, class, education, and public life manifest; and where on the continuum of credentials a degree can land you. It also got me thinking beyond the margins of the news and turning for a recharge to the musical healing of Dr. Lonnie Smith, one of the legendary practitioners of the Hammond B3 organ.

    At 78, Dr. Lonnie is the focus of the forthcoming documentary Dr. B3: The Soul of the Music. If you’re new to his joyful music—a pillar in the Blue Note canon of swing, funk, and East Coast jazz—start with “Seven Steps to Heaven” from 1970. There’s a particular moment of textural beauty when his palette of rhythms and colors goes from walking to trotting, then sprinting. Seconds later, the band switches from loose to tight, charging hard after a three-note horn riff that clears the way for an organ high note.

    But formalism isn’t what he’s about. Dr. Lonnie is up to something greater. “What I do with the Hammond B3 is truly a gift from the creator, and I am very grateful,” he told me. “He really seems to be up to something bigger than music…deeper,” wrote a New York Times reviewer, moved by a live performance. That moment is here; the liftoff is 20 seconds later. (And the crowdfunded trailer is here.)

  • “Coffee Break”: A New Video Call for People With Disabilities Throughout the Pandemic

    A growing number of headlines focus on Zoom fatigue as the pandemic continues, but video’s vast benefits are also expanding as a tool of greater equality and support for some of the 61 million Americans with disabilities. “Coffee Break” is the latest open call that’s a vital source of social, emotional, and professional connection.

    Hosted each Friday by Tia Nelis, policy and advocacy director of the disability rights group TASH, “Coffee Break” started “as a COVID-19 response,” she tells WXXI News reporter Noelle Evans. It arose for “people with disabilities [who] were feeling” isolated “and not having anybody to talk to in some cases. We thought it was important that people could get connected.”

    “People unfortunately are losing family members and friends…and they tend to support each other” on the call. “One week we talked about employment and what employment was, and one [person] was talking about the things he wanted to do. It just so happened that another person was on the phone and said, ‘Well, that’s interesting. Maybe we should talk about that after the call.’ And it ended up that he got a job.'”

    “There’s a variety of different people, different disabilities,” Nelis says. “Some people don’t speak English all the way, but they participate and feel welcome…Some people use iPads to speak, and we use the chat a lot if we can’t really understand, and they type their question in…[Participants] help each other.”

    “Coffee Break” meets every Friday at 3 p.m. ET. Register for the free link. An extra shoutout to WXXI NewsEvans and Jason Harris of Jason’s Connections for the story. Keep tips coming to recharge@motherjones.com.

  • From Our Archives, a Celebrity Goes, Uh, “Political”

    Each Friday, we bring you a piece from our archives to help propel you into the weekend.

    In 1989, Bono graced our cover in a cowboy hat—and without the sunglasses. After the critical (if not financial) bomb of U2’s Rattle and Hum, the bandleader came to Mother Jones to talk about “capitalists, communists, and critics.” For a few years, U2 had been told they were the biggest rock band in the world. Foolishly, they believed it and started to act like it. Bono talked about the band being “on a mission,” as we wrote.

    This got him dubbed a “thin-skinned egoist” (the Village Voice); it meant U2 was showing “self-importance” (the New York Times). “Bono and his songs take on some very big issues: violence and redemption, God and politics, love and death,” Adam Block wrote for this magazine. “That makes him prime game for skeptics, critics, and acolytes.”

    Bono here is that wayward figure: a political celebrity. This is nothing new—and, of course, even those blithely sliding by as “apolitical” figures are still doing their fair share of shoveling out a certain kind of propaganda in playing a neutral game. But it is interesting to think just how long this game has been going for him. Remember that other cover, from Time: “Can Bono Save the World?” (“Don’t laugh,” the subtitle begins.) That article has a lot of, um, questionable politics now. As does Newsweek’s, for its Bono profile from 2000—even the title is terrible: “Can Bono Save the Third World?

    In 1989, Bono is just beginning his transformation into how we know him. (I did a spot-check with some youths on staff, and they do know him, by the way—mostly for dropping an album onto their iPods without asking and being played by their parents/the radio.) You can read his many thoughts here

    I highly recommend the long diatribe on sex and Christianity, which is as cringey as it gets.

  • Sonia Raman Joins the Memphis Grizzlies! (And Donald Trump Is Bounced From Multiple Homes!)

    Donald Trump, a former president, a pardoner of war criminals, a tax avoider, and the most-impeached president in US history, has been purged from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (and booted from the White House). The day is here. His 1992 cameo opposite Macaulay Culkin’s 10-year-old protagonist has been scrubbed by a fan who posted the edited clip online. “Bravo,” tweeted Culkin, who now speaks in the Plaza Hotel scene to an invisible figure where Trump once stood. In brighter news:

    Count it. Sonia Raman has become the first woman of Indian descent to join the NBA as an assistant coach. The celebrated move marks a milestone that takes her from MIT’s basketball program to the Memphis Grizzlies.

    And one. A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Eugene Goodman, the Capitol Police officer who averted an even deadlier disaster by facing down the rioters and luring them away from the Senate floor. Today, Goodman escorted Vice President Kamala Harris to her swearing-in ceremony.

    With honor. Veterans were among those who attacked the Capitol, but even more veterans, enraged by them, volunteered to clean up their mess in the riot’s wake.

    With justice. Circle February 4 for a crucial Mother Jones conversation hosted by my colleague Nathalie Baptiste with the Reverend William J. Barber and his daughters, Sharrelle and Rebekah, on the demands of racial justice during a coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately affected communities of color—and the steps ahead in fighting for equality, health, and safety. RSVP here.

    Top volume. Pharoahe Monch’s new album, A Magnificent Day for an Exorcism, drops in two days. Catch his NPR Tiny Desk performance with an actual tiny desk.

    Diabetes advocacy. My colleague Steve Katz shares the inspiring news that his son, Noah, has an interview at Healthline opening up about Type 1 diabetes and the growing movement for more equal availability of insulin across the world.

    More good news. Keep your stories coming to recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Remembering Nina Simone’s 1968 Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

    Nina Simone with her daughter, Lisa, in 1968Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty

    There’s a moment in Nina Simone’s tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., performed three days after he was killed, in 1968, when you can hear her exhale an under-the-breath “hm.” (Listen at the 1:34 mark.) It’s a sound of many things. It’s a note of contemplation, commemoration, exhaustion, and anguish. It’s also a sound of resilience and strength, a single syllable that reflects some of the history of ’68. Much has changed in the intervening decades, but her echoes continue.

    As she began to sing, she told the audience, “This whole program is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. You know that anyway.” Her bassist had written it hours earlier. It’s not just “a performance,” she added. “Not microphones and all that…but really something else.” In one verse she asks, “Will my country stand or fall? Is it too late for us all? He was for equality for all people, you and me. Full of love and good will. Hate was not his way…Folks you’d better stop and think, and feel again, for we’re headed for the brink.”

    In commemoration of MLK Jr. Day this year, Healdsburg Jazz streamed a resounding celebration of his life by the bassist and artistic director Marcus Shelby, pianist Tammy Hall, and vocalist Kim Nalley, who performed Simone’s song with a topspin that lifted melodically what, for Simone, was a mournful ballad. “Now more than ever we are compelled to use music as a healing force,” Shelby said.

    Listen for Simone’s “hm” at 1:34 and “oh yeah” at 1:53. Here’s a second by Simone, with video, and, after, a jolting 2018 coda by the Surinamese Dutch singer Sabrina Starke.

  • From Our Archives, a Soldier Goes Birdwatching

    Each Friday, we pull articles from our archives to propel you into the weekend.

    After a week of death (literal and metaphorical), I received a small set of binoculars and a book about birding in the mail. As of now, I am not a birder. But perhaps this gift from family would be a start. Still, it has confused me how to bird in the midst of havoc. I looked through binoculars, caught too much of a neighbor’s apartment, and, for a day or two, put them down.

    A lesson could have been learned from Sergeant Jonathan Trouern-Trend, who wrote Birding Babylon, a journal of his birdwatching while in the military. We excerpted pieces of the book in our May+June 2006 issue. It is one of those rare things that surprised me. I would not call his book a balm so much as properly unhinged. Here’s a taste:

    5/14/04 On the way the helicopter hit a bird. It traveled through one of the windows near the pilot’s feet and into the helicopter…The bird was a male pin-tailed sandgrouse. I’d like to see one alive, maybe later this year.

    6/23/04 As I was watching some wood pigeons, a pair of F-16s came tearing down the runway…The birds were unfazed.

    So, there you go. That’s how you bird during hard times. I probably should realize—especially because I’m not in combat—it really isn’t that difficult. I’ll try again soon.

  • 13 Songs for Impeachment: A Recharge Playlist

    “Music is medicine,” the poetry professor, literary scholar, music historian, and author Andrea Benton Rushing used to tell me. Her words ring true and continue to educate. Volume up:

    “Impeach the President,” by the Honey Drippers, immortalized an uptempo funk beat so irresistible it’s been sampled hundreds of times since 1973: “Behind the walls of the White House there’s a lot of things we don’t know about. Behind the walls of the White House there’s a lot of things we should know about…Impeach the president. Impeach the president. Impeach the president.”

    Immortal Technique, the Afro-Peruvian hip-hop musician, adapted the Honey Drippers’ classic: “How many times I gotta state my position before y’all say, ‘This lip service, he’s wishin’?’ I been organizing. I got a thousand petitions, been up before sunrise, writing. I’m on a mission.”

    “Impeach Me Baby,” by Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, from 2010: “I’ve got to impeach you…The whole world is laughing because of how you done messed up on me. Yes you did.”

    “Dance for Impeachment,” by Taarka, is a 2004 ballad built on violin, mandolin, slapped drums, and bass that eases into a crescendo of conflict and resolution.

    “Impeach,” by Confab, is a rock riff recorded in Alabama for a 2017 album with another resonant song: “Reason Will Not Save Us.”

    “Impeachment With Honor,” by Joe Grease and the Dump Dubya Band, recorded (with honor!) in 2007: “What say our forefathers? If they were around, this White House would crash on down. A disgraceful Bush administration. Cheney seems to want world domination. The president’s fate and Halliburton is on the tape—folks are wonderin’ who’s running our nation…Many times I wonder about Bushie and the lies he’s tellin’ me. With no congressional expense he wants a long Texas fence.”

    “Impeach,” by Tom Chelston in 2007: “Well hello, George! The framers of our Constitution, fresh on the heels of revolution, must have seen the writing on the wall. They secured for us an open door in Article 2 Section 4 to commence a presidential overhaul. Now we’ve run this play a few times before. With thousands dying and Bush go lying—illegal torture, illegal spying…I-M-P-E-A-C-H.”

    “Impeachment,” by Dream Techno, is time-warp trance with effects-heavy loops glued loosely together by a pulsing beat from 2004.

    “Impeach” by Zemog El Gallo Bueno is a 27-second interlude of post-salsa dissonance, commensurate with the headlines. “Each composition is a battleground,” says Abraham Gomez-Delgado.

    “Impeach God” by Dethklok is metal apocalypse set to an animated short: “I’m having my Cabinet schedule a debate. The world will be our witness, judged in eyes of hate.”

    Bonus tracks:
    “Let’s Impeach the President,” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (live in 2008)

    “Impeach, Indict, Imprison,” by Pro-Pain (2007)

    “Impeach the Planet,” by Naughty by Nature (2011)

  • Abortion Law Expert Mary Ziegler Joins Mother Jones’ Becca Andrews in a Livestream

    Long before the Capitol attack brought into wider view the far right’s assault on fundamental freedom and democracy, another siege on statehouses had been gathering—an attack on reproductive rights. Legislatures across the country have eroded abortion access with chilling consequences, particularly in the South, where Mother Jones’ Becca Andrews has been reporting extensively on the immediate impact and broader historical implications.

    On Thursday, Andrews joins legal scholar Mary Ziegler in a livestream about Ziegler’s new book, Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present. The free conversation, in partnership with the Booksmith, starts at 6 p.m. PT / 9 p.m. ET. RSVP here. Andrews’ own book, No Choice, on dwindling access to abortion, is forthcoming from Hachette’s Public Affairs imprint. And catch Andrews’ on-the-ground coverage of the historic win by Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock, whose campaign in Georgia she closely followed and expertly framed in a series of interviews and dispatches. The Capitol attack dominated the headlines and eclipsed the senator-elect’s victory lap, but Andrews’ reporting is in the books, and Warnock’s movement continues.

  • 3 Videos of Music, Poetry, and Protest to Celebrate Max Roach’s 97th Birthday

    Frans Schellekens/Redferns/Getty

    Max Roach would have turned 97 yesterday. After last week’s deadly Capitol rampage, when the escalating effects of Trumpism laid bare the atrocities of American history, Roach’s insistence on political engagement and justice resonates. The drummer’s 1960 We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, with Abbey Lincoln, acutely protested injustice and set the stage for his affirmation that “I will never again play anything that doesn’t have social significance.”

    In a poem for the drummer’s 75th birthday, Amiri Baraka painted the picture: “Max is the highest, the outtest, the largest, the greatest, the fastest, the hippest…When we say Max, that’s our word for artist, djali, nzuri ngoma, Señor Congero, leader, mwalimu, scientist of sound, sonic designer, trappist definer, composer, revolutionary democrat…Papa Joe’s successor, Philly Joe’s confessor, AT’s mentor, Roy Haynes’ inventor. Ask Jimmy Cobb, Elvin, or Klook, or even Sunny Murray when he ain’t in a hurry…Barry Harris can tell you…Ask Bud if you see him. You know he know even after the cops beat him Un Poco Loco.”

    “I mean you can ask Pharoah or David or Dizzy when he come out of hiding. It’s a trick, Diz just outta sight. I heard ‘Con Alma’ and Diz and Max in Paris just the other night. But ask anybody conscious who Max Roach be. Miles certainly knew and Coltrane too. All the cats who know the science of drum, know where our last dispensation come from.”

    Watch Baraka read the full poem at Roach’s funeral at the end of an interview on Democracy Now.

    “A drum master for freedom,” tweeted the saxophonist Charles Lloyd yesterday in celebration, “who stood up and marched alongside Hawk, Monk, Bird, Diz, Bud, Sonny, Clifford, and Booker Little, fighting for all of humanity. He metered out his protest with each beat of his drumstick.”

    Roach’s Emarcy best with Sonny Rollins is here. Baraka’s video is here. The drummer in conversation is here.

  • From Our Archives, Prescient Reporting on Trump, White Supremacy, and Hate Groups

    Each Friday, we pull articles from our archives to propel you into the weekend.

    On January 6, a white mob attacked the Capitol fueled by the words of President Donald Trump. It was unprecedented in many ways, but also deeply resonant with much of American history, and predictable. White violence against even the sniff of a more equitable system is not new. Nor is the championing of violence by purported half-jokes like Trump’s. We’ve written about this at length. I wanted to unearth a few of those articles, which may help put into context why this week, while harrowing, does not seem out of place. It’s not good news itself, but the reporting is worth reading.

    From the start, there have been warnings about Trump and his lackeys fanning the flames of white supremacy to—in that falsely neutral phrase—“play to the base.” In 2016, we reported on the deep connection between Trump and hate groups, and his ability to turn them increasingly mainstream. We know that Trump only furthered what has long been a deep root of Republican power: racism. We know Jeff Sessions is a bigot, and he was fundamental to the Trump administration. As was Steve Bannon. We wrote about how Trump was inciting violence over the election, and then it happened. We’ve written about how this isn’t Trump uniquely but instead the outgrowth of a racist Republican Party.

    There is also a broader view. We’ve written about how the current vigilante and racist groups tie back to the same grievances that led to the birth of the KKK during Reconstruction. Just the day before the attack, we published an essay arguing that many white opinion-makers and historians have been slow to understand the danger of Trump’s racism (and the racism of liberal institutions and their versions of history) in favor of a more pacifying “this is not us” narrative. We’ve written about white backlash and Reconstruction and how it should not be assumed that revolutions always progress forward toward a better world.

    And we’ve written specifically, and powerfully, about the threat of QAnon, militias, and white supremacists.

  • Catch Our Liveblog Coverage of the Insurrection Attempt

    Making sense of what happened yesterday, January 6, when a mob stormed the Capitol after President Trump ordered them there to overturn his loss in the 2020 election, takes context. Start by reading our coverage to help you wrap your head around it. Catch up on the basics with our liveblog here. You might’ve missed, for example, the tweet at 4 a.m. from a Trump staffer that the president plans an “orderly transition.” Hard to know if that’s true, fake, or even written by Trump; remember that his own Twitter account has been suspended. Our reporters are keeping you updated on growing calls for a second impeachment and how the movement has spread to other states. We’ll keep it up.

    Also on this day in history, good news here (Galileo! Purvis! Gershwin! Globetrotters!) and here (First Nations and Metis protest a Manitoba Hydro project). And if you missed yesterday’s Recharge and want a soundtrack to the countdown, 17 spins of Georgia’s official state song:

    Ray Charles (1960)
    Billie Holiday (1941)
    Jimmy McGriff (1965)
    Dexter Gordon (1976)
    Mildred Bailey (1931)
    Maceo Parker (1992)
    Yolanda Adams (2003)
    Louis Armstrong (1932)
    Booker T and the MGs (1960s)
    Ernestine Anderson and Ray Brown (1979)
    Led Zeppelin (1973)
    Oscar Peterson (1962)
    James Brown (1981)
    Hoagy Carmichael (1930)
    Usher singing to Barack and Michelle Obama (2016)
    Willie Nelson (1978)
    Stephanie Anne Johnson (2021)

  • History-Making Headlines in Georgia—and 17 Spins of the State’s Official Song

    Politico: “Georgia on My Mind.” Intelligencer: “Georgia on My Mind.” Inquirer: “Georgia on Everyone’s Mind.” The Hill: “Georgia Is on All Our Minds.” New Times: “Georgia on Your Mind?” CNN: “Everyone in Washington Has Georgia on Their Mind.” Roll Call: “Georgia on My Mind.” The Economist: “On My Mind—Will Georgia Tip the Balance of American Politics?” Reuters UK: “Georgia on My Mind.” Sun Sentinel: “Georgia on the Mind.” Philadelphia Tribune: “Georgia on My Mind.” Post-Gazette: “Georgia on My Mind.” NBC KARE11: “Georgia on My Mind.” RealMoney: “Georgia on My Mind.” FXStreet: “Georgia on the Mind of Betting Markets.” Elko Daily Free Press: “Senate Runoff Keeps Georgia on My Mind.” CleanTechnica: “Georgia on My Mind: Senate Runoffs and Renewables.” Fergus Falls Daily Journal: “Georgia on My Mind.”

    And, because many media colleagues didn’t link to the actual music, here it is, celebrated 17 ways. The song was written in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell. It was designated in 1979 as the state’s official song and performed that year by Ray Charles before a joint meeting of the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives. Soundtrack with a few videos:

    Ray Charles (1960)
    Billie Holiday (1941)
    Jimmy McGriff (1965)
    Dexter Gordon (1976)
    Mildred Bailey (1931)
    Maceo Parker (1992)
    Yolanda Adams (2003)
    Louis Armstrong (1932)
    Booker T and the MGs (1960s)
    Ernestine Anderson and Ray Brown (1979)
    Led Zeppelin (1973)
    Oscar Peterson (1962)
    James Brown (1981)
    Hoagy Carmichael (1930)
    Usher singing to Barack and Michelle Obama (2016)
    Willie Nelson (1978)
    Stephanie Anne Johnson (2021)

    If there’s good news on your mind, let us know at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • A Legendary Music Club Faces Permanent Closure. But Crowdfunding Is on Pace to Save It.

    One spot after another has been toppled by the pandemic. Birdland, the historic New York City venue, could be next. But the club’s fate isn’t sealed yet. It’s a living shrine to the music, memory, and resilience of Charlie Parker and the continuum of bebop innovators throughout history. The venue launched a GoFundMe campaign two days ago after nine months of dormancy and another lockdown order that’s pushed it toward extinction. Crowdfunding is coming in.

    The club aims to raise $250,000 to stay afloat. At last check, it’s pulled in nearly half. It’s seeing some of the support reciprocated that it’s shown the world over 72 years as a birthplace of revolutions in harmony and rhythm. “On March 16 we were given the order to close,” the club’s owner, Gianni Valenti, told WBGO’s Nate Chinen. “I thought it would be a couple of weeks, and I kept everybody employed through March.” After laying off almost 60 workers but keeping a small part-time staff, the owner invested more heavily—before the latest lockdown order.

    “I needed people to realize that we’re still alive, that we’re going to be there, that we’re part of the landscape…It’s heartwarming to see the outpouring for the club. I don’t care if someone gives a dollar or a thousand dollars. It’s that they made an effort to help.”

  • “United We Play,” a Fitting New Film of Jazz, Blues, and Symphonic Swing From Musicians’ Homes

    In the first few minutes of United We Play, a short new livestream from musicians’ living rooms and distanced bandstands, the pianist and narrator Marcus Roberts makes a familiar point that bears repeating as the pandemic stretches on: “In jazz, we play the blues to defeat the blues in life.” In different contexts, this can sound like a totalizing theory that not every jazz innovator identifies with, but in the moving words and music of Roberts, it’s a foundational truth and the creative core of his life. It’s also the timely theme of the film, “inspired by the current turbulent times.”

    United We Play is free and powerful. Catch it here. Roberts joins the American Symphony Orchestra and the Modern Jazz Generation in a premiere of three works: America Has the Blues, Seeking Peace, and United We Play. “This is a very politically charged time in our history,” he says halfway through. “It’s so important that we do everything we can to listen to one another.” If you’re new to Roberts, start with his brilliant solo spin of “Blue Monk.”

  • Pharoahe Monch’s “Fight” Takes a Torch to the Moving Targets of American History

    Pharoahe Monch and Th1rt3en; Marcus Machado and Daru Jones

    On the morning after media outlets reported that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election, Pharoahe Monch tweeted a parting message to the dearly departing 45th president: “SIMON SAYS! GTF(OUT)!” The hip-hop luminary shared a video of voters dancing in the streets of New York City to a verse made immortal by Monch, with everyone chanting, “Simon says, Get the fuck up! Throw your hands in the sky.”

    “It’s an honor to be a part of the global soundtrack” of celebration and repudiation, Monch said, telling me days later about the thrill of hearing his signature sounds lit up by voters affirming “their choice in a democracy with this record.”

    His latest single, “Fight,” expands his range as emcee and filmmaker in a fiery collaboration with Cypress Hill. It’s an explosive song set to a short film of a Molotov cocktail hurling in slow motion. The lyrics and visuals are all flames—action, horror, vengeance, Klan robes set ablaze. But what makes “Fight” so intricate, and Monch so subtle a storyteller, isn’t the imagery alone; it’s the scrambling of storyline, themes, and characters. Just as the Molotov is thrown in what looks like the direction of a cop’s house, with his family inside, there’s a hard pivot. The plot changes. Targets and concepts move. The near-flattening of action into a binary—heroes and monsters, saints and sinners—takes a detour. “Fight” becomes a call to action, but it’s a call to get the targets right.

    Pharoahe Monch and Th1rt3en
    Pharoahe Monch and Th1rt3en
    Pharoahe Monch and Th1rt3en
    Pharoahe Monch and Th1rt3en

    The originality of “Fight” is in its use of an external fight to wage an internal one, an unpacking of what justice can look and sound like. “We were shooting this scene of a young lady lighting a Molotov,” he tells me. “It’s shot really slow. She throws it a couple times. She’s apprehensive, tired. She’s lighting it, lighting it.”

    “Cut!” Monch approaches her. “When you throw this bottle, throw that shit! Throw it with who you are.”

    After another take, “she started to tear up. She broke down. There’s a young kid on the set looking at me, and she’s crying too. The assistant director was like, ‘Do you know what we just got here?’ Then I started crying. It was powerful.”

    The production coordinator, Zoi Ellis, tells me about the pin-drop silence, the emotional and historical weight of the moment: “It was the most incredible production I’ve ever been a part of…There weren’t many dry eyes on the set.”

    “That’s what we were dealing with,” Monch says. “They’re like, ‘Yo, Pharoahe’s crying too.’ That was just another fucking dope thing. We were all in tears. I still feel this energy, the vibrations and rhythm that feel like a pendulum swinging back and forth. America is so divided right now.” Asked how to build a movement of unity through music, he points away from the trappings and tripwires of social media: “So much nuance is lost there, but music can bring that conversation with nuance. It feels like we’re designed to be divided purposefully.”

    “This Trump guy, knowing who he is and how he riled up his base, I have a more spiritual and global humanity and want to think collectively, like how do you exorcise the darkness that has transpired?”

    Our conversation veers from rap to film to jazz in a three-way call with another filmmaker, Nat Livingston Johnson of the directorial duo Peking. I invited Johnson into the call to hear two of today’s talented filmmakers trade notes about their storytelling styles: similarly raw emotional depth, intricate detail, tense pacing, cinematically tight story arcs. Answering a question from Johnson about how to reconcile rap’s roots of justice with a few hip-hop stars’ endorsements of Trump, Monch doesn’t single anyone out. Instead he critiques the warping effects of fame and fortune: “We’re all jaded with the pretentiousness of hip-hop and art in general right now. When you look at art, you have to ask yourself, ‘Are you trying to fool me? Are you trying to get me to buy something? Are you trying to get me to click somewhere? What is this?’”

    “If you’re this huge star and live in the hills and have a mansion, I don’t understand what I’m even looking at,” Monch says. “I don’t understand why I’m supposed to be invested in that. I’m like, yo, let’s go heavy art instead and campaign with it and move to the person who appreciates that type of musicianship that evokes that I’m serious about this shit.”

    Monch has built the loyalty and trust of diehard fans by opening up about his struggles and growth. “But it took me time to be like, yo, I’m not lying. I’m sending this shit to all my friends. I discovered some shit and I want to share it with someone. I want that feeling.”

    “Fight” is both hip-hop power and rock-star eruption, fueled by the guitar of Marcus Machado and the drums of Daru Jones. Beyond rap and film, Monch has recorded with jazz musicians Robert Glasper and Marcus Strickland and absorbed elements of John Coltrane’s tenor. “Coltrane was one of my main influences when I was developing my voice. His bending the note, breath control, his sheer expression of emotion.”

    Breath control means survival for Monch, who’s lived with asthma since childhood, a condition he raps about in “Still Standing”:

    13 months old with a lung disease
    That almost took my life twice,
    Brought me to my knees,
    A system not designed for you to achieve.

    If “Still Standing” is a story of breathing to survive, “Fight” is about surviving to breathe, persevering under the threat of cop corruption away from cameras:

    This little piggy killed a minor.
    Same piggy got paid to stay home.
    This next pork chop removed his bodycam
    And he aimed his Glock at my dome.

    Monch moves “beyond the pen and paper,” he tells me. “It’s how you express yourself in the literature and tones.” He welcomes “coming to your own conclusions” about whether “Fight” resolves or reinforces the tension it shows. “I like that about art generally. At its best, you’re standing in a museum looking at a painting for 15 or 20 minutes and think about what it means to you, and someone can look over your shoulder and see something completely different.”

    Th1rt3en’s debut record, A Magnificent Day for an Exorcism, is scheduled to be released on January 22, 2021.

  • Banjo Player Jake Blount Challenges Genres and Questions Historical Narratives in “Spider Tales”

    For nearly a century, the musicians playing and promoting old-time string band and bluegrass music have tended to be white. That’s not merely a cultural trend, explains Jake Blount, a Black fiddler and banjo player who also has a degree in ethnomusicology. As he told me for a recent piece:

    In the 1920s, record labels began differentiating between “race records” and “hillbilly music,” sometimes erasing Black musicians from the hillbilly records by not crediting them. “They recorded Black people playing blues and jazz, and white people playing fiddle and banjo music. They marketed the Black people to Black people and the white people to white people,” Blount says. “By doing that, they created a financial incentive for those traditions to stop interweaving with one another and stop communicating.”

    This segregation catalyzed a Black exodus from old-time music during the 20th century, even though Black musicians were the ones who had helped alchemize the homegrown concoction of English ballads, Celtic fiddle songs, blues and spirituals, and African instrumentation that eventually gave rise to country and bluegrass music.

    Blount is part of a new generation of artists picking up where their ancestors left off. With his 2020 album, Spider Tales, one of my favorite of the year, Blount summons a rich history of American folk songs written and sung by Black and Indigenous musicians, tunes that have been there throughout the history of this country even if they were obscured, underpromoted, or drowned out, or audiences simply weren’t paying enough attention. “I see my role as someone who’s in the middle of all of those genres,” Blount says, “to start to undo that damage and put these things back in dialogue with one another.”

    Listen to some of Blount’s songs and read my interview with the musician here.

  • More Good News on the Way

    Recharge is getting a recharge this week and will return after the holidays. Enjoy yours safely. If you’re looking for a boost, the blog awaits. Send good news and New Year’s resolutions to recharge@motherjones.com.

  • There Will Be Good News in 2021. There Will Be Good News in 2021. There Will Be…

    Recharge is getting a recharge this week and will return after the holidays. Enjoy yours safely. If you’re looking for a boost, the blog awaits, and if you’re curious what became of my colleague Ben Dreyfuss’ New Year’s resolutions from last year, right this way. I’ve read his list and checked it twice, found it to be very nice, with a bit of spice and honest about vice, and, to keep this concise, it is—as his words of support and creativity are—full of good advice. His resolutions got me thinking about the media zeitgeist and what in 2021 will suffice. On that you cannot name a price, so I’m off now to close this device, prepare some rice or a pizza slice, and search for not quite paradise, but a pair of year-end dice. 2020 belongs on ice. I’ll finish this Recharge, and the year, with a classic: Roses are red, violets are blue, 2020 can go *$#% itself, and if that ain’t true…

    One more: Roses are red, violets are blue, consider supporting Mother Jones, if you’re able to, so we can support you. Here’s to 2021, and to 2022. Share New Year’s resolutions at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Before You Clock Out of 2020, Catch Saxophone Giant Frank Morgan’s Birthday Celebration

    Alto saxophonist Frank MorganJazz Services/Heritage Images/Getty

    “The last time I saw Frank Morgan onstage, he, at one point, put down his sax and asked the crowd, ‘It feels great to be alive, doesn’t it?’” wrote Tempo magazine’s Deonne Kahler in 2006, perfectly summing up the alto pioneer’s approach to sound and connection. Morgan got his start as Charlie Parker’s protege and shared stages with Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton, sculpting alto improvisations that were ethereal, loosely lyrical, and conversational. He played with ease. He soloed like speaking, and he had range, from the uptempo pivots of bebop to the quieter ballad touch on collaborations with Abbey Lincoln, who sings on his Antilles album A Lovesome Thing. (Morgan also plays on her 1997 Who Used to Dance, worth catching, with saxophone turns by Oliver Lake and Steve Coleman.)

    In honor of Morgan’s birthday today (he died in 2007), the Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival premieres online, entering its fifth year remotely during the pandemic, at 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT. Keep an eye out for Grace Kelly with George Cables. Here’s a start, if you’re new to the alto giant. Birthday wishes welcome: recharge@motherjones.com.