The Clash released its EP The Cost of Living on election day in 1979, when the musically maligned conservative leader Margaret Thatcher assumed power of the United Kingdom. The EP's first track, "I Fought the Law," a song no doubt familiar to you now thanks to its bastardization in Pepsi commercials and dick-shriveling covers by artists like Hank Williams, Jr., was both a pounding protest anthem and a reluctant acceptance of the helplessness one feels when being crushed under the weight of a system not built by or for you.
According to oral history, the EP's cover art was going to feature some sort of combination of Thatcher's face and a swastika, but the idea was nixed before print time. The Clash's effort was a drop in a wave of U.K. punk that rose to challenge — among many other things — power and authority in all its brutal forms. A few years before The Cost of Living, fellow U.K. punks the Sex Pistols hopped on a boat during 1977's Silver Jubilee, an English celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's 25th anniversary on the throne and performed the seminal punk anthem "God Save the Queen." The plan was to blare it as they drifted by the Houses of Parliament, but police interference forced a premature docking and earned the band’s manager a pair of handcuffs. It was a noble effort nonetheless.
We look back at those days now with the understanding that something special, musically speaking, was happening. This week, as we attempt to find some sort of silver lining underneath what feels like a soggy quilt made of fear and bald-eagle cartilage, we can only hope we’re on the horizon of something similar.
This might seem, in the scope of our immediate reality, like a petty grasp at optimism. In the face of much more serious and immediate concerns — climate change, racist policy, mass deportation, and the overall stripping of a near-decade’s worth of progress — how can we talk about music right now? What asshole would dare suggest our country's problems, deep and wide as they run, can be fixed by a pitch-perfect force of mandolin-wielding guerillas?
Not this asshole.
Right now, music shouldn’t be at the forefront of any serious discussion. But it's a thought worth storing in our subconscious because it will come in handy after this feeling starts to numb. The same feeling currently making you want to forsake every pair of pants you own and burn through your Netflix queue while the world around you collapses in on itself — that feeling will, we hope, start to transform. Eventually, it will morph from paralyzed dread to a burning impulse — the very same impulse that burst out of the U.K. in the '70s and Compton in the '80s — to transform music and culture in irreversible ways.
And who, in this whole damn country, is better poised to take advantage of that impulse, musically speaking, than Miami?
Who else is perched so beautifully between genres, cultures, languages?
What other American city has such an opportunity to fuse the country’s currently under-attack Latin spirit with the always-on-the-attack punk-rock sound? We’ve seen it on display time after time at Churchill’s and in the music of our favorite local bands like the Plastic Pinks, Deaf Poets, and too many more to name here.
Let's toss genre aside for a moment. Good luck finding any band in Miami without a member of Latin, hispanic, or Caribbean origin. The same goes for DJs. Look no further than the fascinating surrealism of the part-Cuban Otto von Schirach, or listen to "Calle Ocho," a cut from Lazaro Casanova's recent release Made in Miami, in which he pays delicious tribute to Little Havana.
This is important. It’s important because music, at its best, builds bridges. And those bridges lead to empathy. Thanks to Bruce Springsteen, you don’t need to buy a ticket to go to New Jersey. Eminem showed us his Detroit. DJ Khaled — well, we're still trying to figure that out, honestly.
The point is, through a little bit of audio magic, we suddenly understand these musicians — not only as artists, but as people; people with backgrounds and mothers and dreams and beds and houses and hearts that break just like ours. It’s a tricky thing for an artist to accomplish, but fuck, it feels mighty important right now.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon myself, after moving to Miami from Broward County. You might remember Fort Lauderdale, my hometown, from its appearance on Tuesday as one of the few blue spots in the state of Florida. And it’s a diverse, liberal place. But, compared to Miami, it is deeply segregated. A kid can make it to 18 without seeing a cafecito. “The fuck is wrong with that mutant banana?” I remember thinking the first time I watched someone pick up a plantain in a grocery store.
Colombia's Bomba Estero performed at Miami's new Armando Records last week.
Photo by Chris Carter
When I accepted the music editor position at Miami New Times, I was woefully underexposed to Latin music — I still am, in a lot of ways. But two weeks ago, I finally saw Maná (which I had been pronouncing “Mayna” until, well, two weeks ago).
The titans of the Latin music world were on the appropriately named Latin Power tour when they stopped at Miami's American Airlines Arena. About halfway through the show, they launched into a cover of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up.” Behind them, an image of a fist bursting through a border wall looped while every single flag of Latin America whirred by.
Suddenly, I was struck with a profound understanding of just what America is. After months of being force-fed other people’s definitions, I had my own: America is a Mexican band singing a Jamaican man’s song while a half-Jewish, quarter-Lebanese guy listens along to a language he doesn't understand, sipping on a German beer. That’s America. That’s Miami.
Miami is America.
I’m beyond thankful for being graciously accepted by the city as an eager student of music and cultures I don’t fully understand, and I am even more grateful I haven't been tossed out of bars by my ankles for the pelvic seizure I call a salsa. In the process of my consumption, I have faced none of the resistance much of America seems so determined to throw at this country's minority groups.
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Experiences like the Maná concert have been some of my happiest, both professionally and personally, in Miami. And it is precisely moments like these that jumped into my mind as I watched the results tick in on Tuesday night. I thought about Charles Francis Xavier, AKA Professor X, the leader of the X-Men, and wished desperately for his ability to jump into the individual minds of the world.
If I could only show the Trump supporters who rallied so viscously behind the phobia of dark skin and foreign tongues how beautiful this all can be. If only there were an arena the size of a country and amplifiers loud enough to reach ever doorstep in every red state.
It’s silly, I know. Music is not a magical solution to the world’s problems. But it can help. And, in the next four years, a new revolution can start in Miami.