I’ve listened to the radio more this past year than I have in a long time thanks to the addition of Philly’s Radio 104.5. Among getting to hear new music from Social Distortion or Weezer along with pre-Nickleback alt-rock, they also play exciting new music from bands like Vampire Weekend. It’s surprisingly refreshing (although it comes from the evil of Clear Channels). OK, end of commercial.
They’ve started playing this hypnotic song that begins with plucked violin strings and the words “I can ride my bike with no handlebars…no handlebars…no handlebars”. If you’ve heard this song, I know you’re with me. Turns out the song is performed by Denver natives FLOBOTS.
I found their new CD at Borders for a low price tonight and I was in the mood to hear something new. I was interested by the fact that this band–a multiracial hip-hop group with a viola, trumpet and generally live instruments throughout–had started a non-profit organization committed to organizing people around social change through the arts. But honestly speaking: I was itching for some new music, the CD was cheap, the band was interesting, and there was at least one song I knew I would enjoy.
At the cash register, there was a young guy who told me that he had just bought the CD himself and informed me that it was full of “sick beats”. As I walked to the car, I was a little bit worried. I’m just old and white enough to steer clear of rhythms that might be ill. I’m a guitar guy.
What an interesting CD. I wanted to drive around all night and see how it sounded different after the sun went down. Early in the CD, they describe themselves as “somewhere between prayer and revolution, between Jesus and Huey P. Newton”. Sometimes there’s a little bit of sloganeering going on…but just a little bit.
The first tune that really got me was “Stand Up”, a lament and call to action written in the shadows of Katrina, 9/11, and current wars:
Under God…but we kill like the son of Sam
but if you fell like I feel about the son of Man
we will overcome…we shall not be moved
except by a child with no socks and shoes
except by a woman dying from a loss of food
except by a freedom fighter bleeding on a cross for you
A few tracks later, there’s “Anne Braden“, a tribute to the white Episcopalian woman who raised holy hell in the segregated south. It begins by describing how she came to realize the evil around her as a child:
She knew there was something wrong
because the song said “yellow, red, black, white”
everyone precious in the path of Christ
but what about the daughter of the woman cleaning their house?
Wasn’t she a child they were singing about?
And if Jesus loves us black or white skin
Why didn’t her white mother invite them in?
When did it become a room for no blacks to step in?
How did she already know not to ask the question?
As she grew older and became an activist for equality (even mentioned by name in MLK’s letter from Birmingham Jail), she struggled with not meeting hatred with hatred:
she faced it every day
people she saw on a regular basis
people she loved in several cases
people she knew were incredibly racist
It was painful but she never stopped loving them
Never stopped calling their name
And she never stopped being a southern woman
And she never stopped calling for change
The CD ends with the song “Rise”. The final words of the song (and therefore the whole disc) are:
The answer’s obvious
we switch the consanants
Change the Sword to wordS
and lift continents
And then the refrain repeats off into the sunset “We rise together…we rise together…we rise together” In the end, they add the words “If you believe in redemption coming to you from another dimension”.
I believe in redemption coming from another dimension. Let’s rise together! God is at work in this world trying to move us to action: to love and serve. It falls somewhere between prayer and revolution…or maybe it’s both?
In the end, I’m still hypnotized by “No Handlebars”.
Some of these songs can be heard at the FLOBOTS myspace page.
And for the record…the kid was right: the beats are sick!