Music That Makes a Difference 2018
 

Music That Makes a Difference 2018

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Jack Johnson
 

Jack Johnson

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Eddie Van Halen

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Gary Clark Jr.

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It’s often been said that being President of the United States doesn’t build character — but reveals character.

Critics and opponents would argue the past two years have revealed much about Donald Trump.

In particular, that racism and bigotry are a feature of this presidency, not an aberration.

That’s been a unifying motivation for many artists and performers… the political protest song hasn’t seen days like this since the 60s.

The music and lyrics in many cases have been powerful, moving and personal.

And while the driving force of their anger and despair is obvious, often the president himself, and his loyal supporters are implied but not named.

That is until now.

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That’s part of the title track from a new album from one of the most talented musicians of a generation, Gary Clark Jr.

It’s called “This Land” — a pull-no-punches, in-your-face protest song about racism, discrimination and Trump’s America… what feels like years of anger, outrage and frustration packed into three minutes and 41 seconds.

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Paranoid and pissed off
We don’t want, we don’t want your kind
Now that I got the money
Fifty acres and a model A
Right in the middle of Trump country
I told you there goes a neighborhood
Now mister Williams ain’t so funny
I see you looking out your window
Can’t wait to call the police on me
When I know you think I’m up to somethin’
I’m just eating out but still hungry
And this is my analogy
I ain’t even near you can’t till you put me

I remember when you used to tell me
‘Nigga run, nigga run
Go back where you come from
Nigga run, nigga run
Go back where you come from
We think you’s a dog born
Fuck you, I’m America’s son
This is where I come from

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Gary Clark Jr. joined John Vause on “CNN Newsroom” and explained his run-in with Mr. Williams — a real person with a fictitious name.

Clark Jr. owns a sprawling 50-acre property outside Austin, Texas, with horse paddocks and a pool. “Mr. Williams” is his neighbor and apparently didn’t roll out the welcome mat.

“It was around 2016, around the elections, and everything was going on,” Clark Jr. told CNN. “I had this particular incident with this person who drove up to my house. We exchanged some words and it was sad to feel like I wasn’t equal to another man.”

The white neighbor reportedly questioned the black singer’s ability to afford such a spread telling him, “There’s no way you can live here.”

And he did so in front of Clark Jr.’s son — which made the whole thing even worse.

“It just got me thinking and it got me frustrated,” Clark Jr. said. “I was thinking about my childhood and growing up (in Texas) and people confronting me with the confederate flag, calling me names and making me feel like I wasn’t anybody else.

“It was something I just dealt with and I could usually brush it off — but it was in the time and having children… it frustrated me. Everything in my life affects me to a point where I write about it in my music. That’s my way of getting it off my chest and kind of my therapy.”

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Clark Jr. has long talked about the importance of family and how his has kept him grounded.

He’s in a mixed marriage. His wife, Nicole, is an Australian-born model and they have two beautiful kids. They were all featured in a recent ad campaign by designer John Varvatos in a dreamo vision of what a post-racial America should look like.

While advertising campaigns are essentially aspirational, Clark Jr. does feel that this country can move beyond discrimination. “I would say that there’s forward momentum with a little bit of resistance — but I feel like we’ll be alright.”

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© John Varvatos

On February 16th, Clark Jr. brought his message of truth and hope to “Saturday Night Live” — performing “This Land” for the show’s closing number.

There are rules and regulations when it comes to the language which can be broadcast on a free-to-air television network like NBC. Certain words are banned including the “N-word” which took away a little of the anger in the song and, perhaps, sanitized its impact a bit… but the set did generate quite a bit of buzz.

“I’m a fan of the show and I’d like to be invited back,” Clark Jr. told CNN. “They asked me to take out a couple words and I understand what that is. But I think overall you can understand what the message is in that song and where I’m coming from.”

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In 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama invited Clark Jr. to perform at the White House. At the time, he called Clark Jr. the “future of music.”

For most of his presidency the theory was that President Obama was playing it cool out of fear of alienating white voters by coming across as the mythical “angry black man.”

Clark Jr. seem to be taking the polar opposite approach in this latest album. Obviously, he’s not an elected politician, but he acknowledges that some of white America may just hear the anger and miss the message.

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GCJR_THIS LAND (3).Cover Art Final jpg“I’ve actually had a little bit of push back. What this song has done for me is through social media I’ve been able to have conversations with people directly. It started a dialog which has ended in a peaceful resolution. It’s basically giving each other perspectives.

“At the end of the day, I’m not angry all the time. But some things make me angry. As a human being I go through all the emotions. So to deny this for fear of alienating people — I wouldn’t be being my authentic, true self. I feel like art reflects life… if you’re gonna do the happy, love, hope, you know, let’s put everything into it.”

The album does exactly what Clark Jr. intended. While it makes cultural statements, it also mixes genre, style and tone — a bit Clapton, a little Hendrix with some Curtis Mayfield, too.

He’s a musical decathlete — producing and playing most of the instruments himself and upping his multi-range vocal game including an impressive falsetto.

“I’m really excited about this album,” Clark Jr. concluded. “I put a lot into it. I wanted to push the limit, you know, not just be the Texas guitar slinger that people may know me for, but really write and compose songs and arrangements. So I really got to lock down in the studio and realize a vision fully and that was ‘This Land’ and I’m really proud of it. I’m excited about the buzz that it’s had so far and I’m excited to share it with the people.”

Written by Ben Bamsey & John Vause, produced by Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom.”

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