By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — State of the Illusion address
Well I got a hammer,
And I got a bell,
And I got a song to sing, all over this land.
It’s the hammer of Justice, It’s the bell of Freedom,
It’s the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land ...
— Pete Seeger, 1919-2014
It was the summer of 1962 when I bought my first acoustic guitar from a co-worker for the sum of twenty whole dollars; two dollars down, two dollars per week.
Like a lot of 15 year olds back in those days, I had a good paying minimum wage after-school part-time job which paid me exactly one dollar per hour.
In October of that year, the minimum wage skyrocketed to one dollar and 15 cents; phat money considering the relative average costs of living back then looked like this compared to 2013:
New home $18,200 $270,000
New car $2,500 $31,252
First-class stamp $0.04 $0.49
Gallon of gas $0.31 $3.35
Dozen eggs $0.54 $2.68
Gallon of Milk $0.49 3.43
Piano lessons ($5 each, per child per week) were mandatory in our household; Mom believed that music could soothe the soul and inspire our hearts, so I already had some music fundamentals planted in my head, nurtured by Mom’s own beautiful singing voice, cultivated by the good Sisters at Our Lady of the Rosary School, and shaped by the distant din of radio and recorded music that constantly filled our home, and the streets of Niagara Falls in those days.
Because there were so many active churches with live bell towers, some chiming every hour, mingled with the Carillon Tower at the Rainbow Bridge and the periodic whistles that signaled the end of one shift and the beginning of the next at the factories from one end of the City to the other, there was always music in the air.
So, with little skill, and a lot of hope, I taught myself how to play a few tunes on the guitar; Booker T & The MGs’ Green Onions, Ray Charles’ What’d I Say and Peter, Paul & Mary’s If I Had a Hammer were fairly easy to play, though initially, I focused solely on the music, not the lyrics.
Eventually, I found my way to the Blues, though it might be more accurate to say the Blues found its way to me as I graduated up to an electric guitar, thanks to Mom, and to the puzzlement of my Dad who, one day complimented me on my playing, but suggested I was too young to know anything about the Blues, “Boy, you don’t have a clue ... “
He was right, but in time I learned.
That’s when I started to play closer attention to the words of the songs I was learning instead of concentrating only on sound, and that’s when I began to appreciate the real power of music.
When great artists combine great lyrics with great melodies and rhythm and get their messages broadcast around the planet, they have the power to change the world, and they have, which brings me to my point.
The President’s focus on income equality in last night’s State of the Union Address to Congress might actually strike a clearer chord if it could be set to music with the same fanfare and staging as, say, the Grammys or the Super Bowl half-time shows.
Can you imagine a Daft Punk version of the President’s speech and the Black Eyed Peas offering the GOP Official Response with Miley Cyrus “intwerkpeting” the message on stage left?
Oh say, can you see it? “Yes I can” see and hear it now …
The real point here is this: The annual presidential State of the Union’s declarations boasting about the Nation’s strength is an illusion.
While the stock market continues to surge and corporate profits are soaring through the roof making a few people at the very top, very ridiculously rich, too many of us down here on the ground have been left in the dust trying to make ends meet as we seek what is rapidly becoming for many, The Man of Lamancha’s absolutely Impossible Dream.
Too many people simply cannot make it, not even on New York’s eight dollar an hour minimum without help. So why do we keep subsidizing big businesses by allowing them to pay unlivable wages making the so much of the workforce eligible for food stamps instead of collecting a real living wage?
Naturally, as always, there is another side to this; businesses will argue that raising the rate will cause them to lay people off because they cannot afford to pay higher wages.
Some will have to raise their prices, making some things even more unaffordable to those already suffering.
Both are rational arguments to some extent, but most of us would be willing to pay a little more for products manufactured here in the good old USA by our neighbors earning a livable wage, wouldn’t you?
Most of us don’t measure our economic health by the ebb and flow of Wall Street; that whole so-called “trickle down” theory has unequivocally failed leaving millions feeling more like they’ve been pissed on rather than helped.
We measure our economic health by how much we have to worry about keeping food in a house that we can no longer afford, gas for a car we wish we had, a future better than this for our children.
Based upon these measures, the State of the Union is troubling, at the least.
Even JFKs 1963 proclamation that “a rising tide lifts all boats” has proven itself ineffective where tax cuts that were supposed to benefit the general economy only benefitted the highest income earners who did not, and rarely ever do without intervention, pass those dollars down.
So, there’s my two cents ($2 adjusted for inflation): Mr. President, you HAVE a hammer, a bell and a song.
It’s time to swing, ring and sing; we’re all listening.
Contact Bill Bradberry at firstname.lastname@example.orgContact Bill at email@example.com