I’d love to change the world
But I don’t know what to do
So I’ll leave it up to you
— the prophet alvin lee
Halfway through the set, I realized the problem with Ani. She wasn’t able to change the world after all. None of us could.
I remember hearing the Ten Years After song as a kid. “I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do.” I thought of it as a call to arms, an urgent message that it is up to each of us. When I hear it today, Lee sounds like a prophet.
I read a column by Lauren Duca today. She is a Twitter phenom and writes for Teen Vogue magazine. I suppose it says much about the state of the world today that a 61-year-old man is getting his political commentary from Teen Vogue, but that’s a different issue. Her point was that people are feeling fight fatigue. You can only hold so many marches, knit so many pussy hats, hold up so many clever signs, write so many fervent political commentaries. You get tired. “It is happening to all of us,” she says, “and it is happening all of the time.”
As a journalist, I thought I could be a small part of the change by giving people the truth. Expose the scoundrels, uncover wrongdoings, offer solutions. But the new technology made news irrelevant. You can read what you want to read now. Facts are no longer important. To make things worse, I am not allowed a viewpoint because of the necessity of maintaining an air of neutrality. I don’t know what to do.
When I first saw Ani, she was 27. She was beginning the arc of stardom, allowing her political message a much more prominent platform. She was fighting the Good Fight. There was a sense of passion, of urgency. The True Believers believed. She and the two guys she was touring with had just come from playing the bar at the Hard Rock in Vegas. They had all worn dresses and stolen the place blind. She played songs she had just written about love and injustice and the threat of taking action against political injustice. It was a movement.
Twenty years later, she’s older. We all are. The movement isn’t moving. She’s a mom, a businessperson, a brand name, a sensible haircut. She has come from another medium-size nameless venue on a nightly show that varies little. She sells “someone call the girl police” bumper stickers from a 1998 song. There’s a pitch before the show to stop uranium mining at the Grand Canyon, an effort that is doomed. How long is a half-life? She sings her well-meaning new songs to an audience of young gays and old liberals, then dives into the catalog from decades past. That’s where the passion is. But these days, it’s just a memory. Dance, monkey, dance. The torch has been passed. Sadly, I suspect it’s a tiki torch.
I’m the same. I’m a comfortable old man, more concerned with retiring so I can avoid the news altogether than I am with effecting change. Duca recalls meeting a feminist idol of hers, someone who had caused her entire worldview to change. “I got the chance to meet her, and she was so incredibly … dispassonate,” she says. “I shared this with a friend who had also met her, and she didn’t skip a beat when I expressed my disillusionment. ‘Lauren,’ she said, ‘I think she’s just really burnt out. I think she’s tired.’ ”
That’s me. I’m burnt out. I’m tired. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that the world isn’t going to get better. I spent a lifetime of writing 1 column 42 pt headlines in an effort to make a difference. I failed. I’m tired. I Officially Don’t Care Anymore. The end.
I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. So I’ll leave it up to you.
Good luck with that, SpongeBob.
if I hear one more time
about a fool’s right to his tools of rage
I’m gonna take all my friends
and I’m going to move to Canada
And we’re going to die of old age
— ani (she wrote this in 1999. she still lives in new orleans. the crowd still goes wild when they hear this line. i guess they haven’t figured it out.)