A Change Ain’t Gonna Come

Sam Cooke - A Change Ain't Gonna ComeI do love the Sam Cooke song “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Cooke is one of those performers, like Brel, who never misses. If you put together “Sam Cooke’s Least Loved Songs” it would still be a great album. According to Cooke the song is about social change and he was thinking specifically of his touring group being turned away by a “whites only” hotel. But it sounds like a gospel song. In particular, it sounds like a black gospel song — so full of hope because that’s all they had.

When I first went to college, one of the few courses I always attended was Developmental Psychology. And I learned the term “meta-grumble.” The construction actually makes no sense: a grumble about a grumble?! But what it means in the literature is the complaints of those who have all their basic needs met. As a result, any complaint I have is a meta-grumble. Imagine if someone had told me at 10 years old that I would be a successful freelance writer and editor and have enough money to buy anything that I wanted and was able to spend much of my time learning new things. I would have been thrilled.

My Meta-Grumbles

But I’m not. Earlier I was having a panic attack. I drove to the store to buy a bottle of vodka. I was so freaked out that I got a bottle of gin instead. But I drank two shots and the panic went away. But I can still taste the gin and that makes me want to retch. Here I am living my dream life and self-medicating with vile alcohol. I don’t have anything but meta-grumbles. Yet here I am: a hopeless mess.

The initial incident that spawned “A Change Is Gonna Come” happened just a year and half before Sam Cooke was murdered. It was recorded less than a year before he was murdered. And it was release a week and a half after he was murdered. The most important lines to me are these:

There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on.

Sam Cooke was Wrongly Optimistic

In fact, no. He couldn’t carry on long enough for the song to be released. And the police never considered it a murder. It was just a black man, after all. I have little doubt that Cooke was set up to be robbed and that the murder was part of that: Elisa Boyer and Bertha Franklin were working a scam they had worked many times before. But again: the police were probably only interested in the case to the extent that it deprived them of killing Sam Cooke themselves. The absolute best take on the murder was that Sam Cooke was robbed and Franklin did feel threatened. But I find it hard to believe that someone feels that threatened but has time to go get the shot gun.

Regardless, I’m not writing about Sam Cooke. I’m writing about everyone. The truth is that President Donald Trump really bothers me. I feel like I live in a new country. Even if the Democrats take control of Congress (which is unlikely; hopefully they will take the House) and a Democrat becomes President in 2020, everything has changed. The Democrat will be more corrupt than they would have been without this dark moment in the US.

It’s possible that it will all work as shock therapy. The Republicans, freed from having to pledge allegiance to Trump otherwise they will be primaried, will work to turn their “party” into a normal conservative political party. I mean, I understand why the current Republicans don’t stand up against Trump. The most recent polling of evangelicals shows that he is more popular than ever. A married man has affairs with a Playboy playmate and a porn star, and these good “traditional values” evangelicals like him more than ever.

Is This the US or North Korea?

I feel like I’m living in North Korea. The Dear Leader can do no wrong. Anything said against him is a lie. If Trump claimed he shot 18 holes of golf and got a score of -38 with 5 holes-in one, these people would believe it. Because Trump doesn’t have a constituency; he has a cult.

There is no reasoning with these people. They’ve learned that truth is just a matter of opinion. That’s right: conservative Christians are now postmodern. If I want to believe that the Moon is made of green cheese, well, that’s just my opinion. They know it’s wrong, because the Moon is actually made of Donald Trump’s sperm. But I have video evidence:

Okay! So no green cheese, but some kind of cheese! But who is to say? I literally have more evidence that the Moon is made of green cheese than they have that Donald Trump is a moral man. Because there is plenty of video evidence (mostly not in claymation) that shows quite the opposite. Just listen to him interviewed by Howard Stern. Is this the Christ of the modern conservative Christian?!

Suicide Is Always an Option

Maybe none of it matters. The first thing I think about each morning is killing myself. Don’t alert the authorities! There was a two month period over the summer where I was actually suicidal. And if things had not made a turn for the better, you would probably not be reading this today. But generally (and currently and for all my life except those two months) suicide has been an intellectual issue.

I’ve studied it very well, and I know how to kill myself in a painless and foolproof way. What I’ve never quite figured out is how exactly to do it so my body is found by professionals. I would never want a family member or friend or even hotel maid to find me. Oh yes, dying in the bathtub and putting a very clear note on the door of the hotel bathroom would probably work. But it isn’t certain. At this point, that’s what I would do.

Hope Remains

As I said though: I’m not going to kill myself. As long as I can write, I still have hope. And as long as I have hope, I would never kill myself. And let’s face it: I’m too much of a coward to do it. If I didn’t do it over the summer, I don’t think I will ever do it. I do hope I die before I’m 60, but that’s quite different.

Still, hope that Sam Cooke showed in “A Change Is Gonnna Come” is something I just can’t relate to. I love it. I listen to it often. But I fear any change that comes will be for the worse. I’m not of my father’s generation when things were improving. My life has seen things get worse and worse. Not for me, of course! I’m blessed. I am literally living the dream.

But that isn’t enough, I’m afraid. I’m not that selfish. And of course, that’s what my country wants me to be.


It is a couple of hours since I wrote this and I’ve spent most of that time listening to Minutemen. I’ve always known that George Hurley was a great drummer, but it really stood out tonight. Strangely, I’ve found the music to be very calming. And nothing more than this acoustic set from only a few month before Boon tragically died. God I love those guys. Tonight it was “History Lesson – Part II” that really struck me, even though “I Felt Like a Gringo” will always be my song:

No. We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

Although I wish every member of the NRA would listen to “Little Man With a Gun in His Hand.” Because that’s what we think of you all. You think you’re tough. We think you’re pathetic.

Afterword II

Now I’m listening to a live (1980) concert by Talking Heads with Adrian Belew et al. Maybe it’s just my mood, but for the first time, I see that it’s really the rhythm section that makes the band — Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. There isn’t a lot that David Byrne adds. Of course, I think that Byrne is a supreme asshole who thinks all the success of the band is due to him. But his guitar playing really is bad. I play funk guitar better than he does. And the only album of theirs that really remains listenable is Remain in Light, and that is one of only two albums that Byrne allowed the others to take their appropriate credit. Still, this is okay. Nothing close to the worst of Minutemen.

Note: whenever I rag on Byrne, someone comes by and says, “Oh, you have to listen to X.” And I do. And it’s totally derivative work. He spent all his creativity on those first four albums. There’s nothing left. He’s boring.

And really: what was the point of bringing in Busta Jones on bass? Weymouth was perfectly competent. That’s no slight of Jones who was an amazing bassist. But it just stinks of Byrne trying to push everyone away to make himself the star. Like I said: I hate the man. If he were in the room, I’d slap him. Age hasn’t improved him either. Maturity doesn’t go along with aging for David Byrne.

Listen to the bass part on “Once in a Lifetime.” It’s almost all just vamping. That’s true of most of the songs Jones plays. Nothing he plays requires his level of skill. Did I mention that David Byrne is an asshole? It makes me feel better. I’m a mess. And there are times when I am unkind. But at least I’m not David Byrne.

Afterword III

I hope you understand that my real problem with Byrne is his lack of loyalty. Loyalty is very big in my life. And those who show a lack of it are really out as far as I’m concerned. I have read a lot about Byrne — especially from the early to mid-1980s. I wanted to like him but there was little to like. And if you want a good example of just how pathetic he is, listen in 1994’s “Angels.” Why didn’t he just re-release “Once in a Lifetime”? Or better: just him screaming, “I have no new ideas!”

And with that I guess I’ll go watch a monster movie because I really do feel better. The only thing is that I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.

Afterword IV

Maybe I’m just going crazy. But I could hardly breathe watching this.


7 thoughts on “A Change Ain’t Gonna Come

  1. How dreadful. Depression is no joke. A thing I’ve been enjoying lately is the late Ursula LeGuin’s last collection of essays, “No Time To Lose.” They’re short, so they fit my reading attention span these days, and she’s such a gifted prose writer. You’d like her piece on the “meaning” of her novels; she believed the reader makes the meaning, not the writer. That makes sense. I can totally see some sci-fi fan enjoying both Heinlein and LeGuin novels, even though the authors have vastly different moral viewpoints.

    Byrne… I dunno. It’s probably telling that Weymouth & Franz absolutely refuse to work with him again. (And a Heads reunion tour would make everyone obscene cash.) Definitely his only decent “solo” album is “Rei Momo,” where he had that stupendous horn band. Then he never worked with that band again.

    The song which tweaks me out most is “The Big Country.” (Per your observation, the beautiful slide guitar on that is Jerry Harrison’s, not Byrne’s.) The lyrics almost — almost — sound like self-doubt by a hipster who realizes Being Chic is an empty pursuit. But the condescension keeps it from quite getting there. There’s no love in Byrne’s depiction of flyover country. Werner Herzog would also see it as strange, but would admire the strangeness.

    A writer (I forget his name, sorry) who is a recovering fundamentalist had a good take on Trump & fundamentalist voters awhile back. A central concept in fundamentalism is that “they mock us, but they’ll see when the Rapture comes and we’re proven right.” They see perceived slights everywhere, and each one makes the anticipated day of “who’s laughing now” all the more appealing. (The hugely successful “Left Behind” book series is basically revenge porn, describing how miserable we doubters will be.)

    Trump’s whole schtick is “the people who mock me will get it when I’m the boss of them.” It has been, his entire life. So he appeals to fundamentalists on a self-narrative level, even if his religious bonafides are ridiculous.

    And I’m not immune to this. Obviously, I realize Trump is a deranged monster, but I’ve put emotional stock into seeing artists succeed because I think they’re “people like me.” Which they aren’t! They’re people like themselves, for good & ill. (All ill, in the 45th president’s case.)

    Hope you feel better soon. And I agree — gin is nasty, vodka much better. For awhile I was into homemade Bloody Mary mixes, because the commercial ones are too watery. I got pretty good at ‘em. Then I had to stop, because they were dangerously yummy…

    • My library has 6 books with that title, but not hers. I didn’t much like her fantasy work, but then, I don’t really like the genre. I liked her science fiction work. I loved The Lathe of Heaven when I was a kid. I’d buy the book of essays but I’m afraid I wouldn’t get around to reading it. But it sounds interesting. I didn’t realize she died this year. What she said about the reader finding the meaning is something I’ve been pushing for years. I hate it when someone tells me that a song doesn’t mean what I think because, “I saw the songwriter on MTV Storytellers and they said it was about X.” Beyond the fact that the reader must be the one to find the meaning because they are the ones who receive the art work, my experience is that most good writers are far too involved with everything that goes into creating a piece of art that they are often the most obtuse people to ask about its meaning. Another thing is I have seen artists find the meaning of their works change radically over time. A novelist is the only person who can’t read their novels with any kind of distance or objectivity.

      I enjoyed that Byrne album. I’ve enjoyed other Byrne albums. But none of them were original. In every case you are better off listening to the people he’s ripping off. Of course, what made Talking Heads good was that they wanted to be a funk band but really weren’t up to it. So they created something original. As for Tina and Chris, it probably has something to do with Byrne suing them and what’s his name on the keyboards when they were touring with different lead singers under “No Head.” Byrne won the case, of course, because he has the most money. Welcome to America. Another amazing asshole: Roger Waters.

      Your reading of “The Big Country” is different than mine. But I certainly agree with you that what makes it work is that he doesn’t really tip his hand. But I do think he does in the third verse where he talks about wanting to belong somewhere. I believe the line is something like, “I’m tired of traveling; I want to be some place.”

      It’s funny that every generation of these evangelicals believes that this is the one; this is the generation that Jesus will come back and kick ass. But I think this feeling of always being slighted is new. And the reason is because the country has become more diverse. As I wrote about in my article on the “War on Christmas,” they aren’t mad that people are being mean to them; they are made because not everyone is saying, “You are totally right and everyone else is totally wrong.” They talk about blacks getting special rights (Ha!) but they are the ones constantly demanding special rights.

      Interestingly, I recently bought Marjoe and watched it last night. I had seen it before and it does destroy the evangelical movement. But I saw it on television when I was in my teens. And it kind of ended abruptly. Watching last night, I saw why. At the end of the film, Marjoe’s girlfriend is introduced. She seems to be half black and half Asian. But at that time, people would just say she was black. And I’m sure they cut that out. They couldn’t show a white man kissing a black woman! The film was made in 1971. It won Best Feature Documentary at the 1972 Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen it, try to find it. I got it from Amazon. It was expensive: $19, and it came in one of those slim cases with basically no extras. Not even the trailer (maybe they never made one).

      And I do feel better. Trump is still president, but for the last week, work has been going really well and that has cut down on my stress. But the election of Trump really has made me think that the US is hopeless. Yeah, liberals are fighting back. Leftists are pushing the Democratic Party more toward a center left party than the centrist party Bill Clinton turned it into. But the country is slowly dying. And the first and hardest hurt will be the weak. Life will always be good for the billionaire class. In fact, after we go full Banana Republic, it will be better for them than ever. They can hire PhD physicists to do their laundry. Hooray!

      • @Frank — I’ve just long been a fan of LeGuin’s essays, that’s what’s helping me at the moment. YMMV, as the kids say. I usually try to get distracted by baseball, but I find myself more and more disgusted by everything surrounding it, these days.

        Per “The Big Country”: I once knew so many hipsters who lived in the Coolest Places and I was always well behind them on Figuring It Out. I finally had to go “fuck it” and move to Minnesota. It’s just not even worth it to try being cool, you’ll always lose.

        So I take the song the way I take it. It means a lot to me. Is it what the musicians intended? I don’t give a blistering shit. “Over The Rainbow” was written by an atheist socialist. It’s played at conservative Christian funerals, often. Does the author care? Heck, no! He’s pretty happy people like his song.

        I guess Byrne says he has Asperger syndrome, now, and that excuses his shitty behavior. Well, I don’t entirely buy Asperger as a real thing (I’m not against the diagnosis, I just think the data isn’t all in), and he appears to have no problem collaborating with whomever’s the Chic New Star of the day.

        Fundamentalism; I could tell a story or twelve. But that’s a bit for another day.

  2. Sorry you’re feeling depressed. I really appreciate the writing you do here, and you seem like a good guy. Hope things start looking up.

  3. Back in the late Sixties, there was a Beat-ish poet named Ken Lawless; this is from his collection, “Tailing Off”:

    Yesterday at lunch
    I realized it had been weeks since I had laughed aloud
    That made me cry
    When I realized why I was crying

    Still out here, still reading. ;)

    • That’s a wonderfully clever poem. When I was a kid, my favorite poets were Russell Edson and William Carpenter. They were both surrealists, but often similarly clever. Carpenter might have been influenced by Lawless. Edson and Lawless might have influenced each other. Anyway, I’ll have to look into Lawless. I’m very tired of most of what I read (of course 95 percent of it is for work). I’m feeling very stale. I should probably subscribe to Exquisite Corpse or something.

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