Shearwater are an ‘indie’ band of the USA, originating in Austin Texas, and basically revolving around songwriter and vocalist Johnathan Meiburg, someone with a haunting and expressive voice, weaving evocative images on a myriad of subjects.
I have been a fan of their music since 2011 when I chanced upon their fourth album The Golden Archipelago
Within Meiburg’s writings are expressed elements of concern about the environment, social injustice and politics and you can therefore guess a Shearwater album is not required listening amongst the followers of the current occupant of the Whitehouse.
Back in 2016 (pre-election days) was released Jet Plane and Oxbow Meiburg said he wanted to try and make a protest album which was not ‘dumb or preachy’… the latter wish being a difficult task since by its nature a protest song tends to the preachy anyway.
Preamble and Foreword
When I heard this first, we were still in the second tenure of President Obama and hoping that the Democrats could ‘swing it’ once more. By then I had grown into a role of defending the USA as not the Great Satan and cause of all the world’s ill, of course hands were not clean, of course the Iraq invasion had been a fearful blunder and any military intervention in Afghanistan is always a questionable move. My defence (British spelling) of the USA was that to assail the USA for every mis-deed was to ignore what Russia and China, to name but two were up to. Indeed in those days it was almost an article of faith of the British Left that it could never be ‘Russia’ it had to be the ‘USA’ and let’s pretend Assad of Syria was only defending himself against The West (The Useful Idiot syndrome as beloved by all dictators- but I digress).
Anyway back to the album:
Arguably one of the most striking songs is ‘Quiet Americans’, a lament against American policies and public acquiescence in general. Whether Meiburg took Graham Greene’s The Quiet American
As a source for the title I cannot personally say.
I greeted the song with mixed feelings, but to give you a fair idea of what I am on about here is the very striking video and the lyrics.
I can’t help it, if all the world is ending
All the life is gone while you’re calling up this name
Where are the Americans?
Your dim cultures, your hands and eyes that wander
Stumbling down the road
Or collapsing on parade
We’re lying alone in the Eastern land
Slipping in the morning hours, the only sound
From the lantern covered hills, the only light
From the day yet to begin, the only sign
Of the guns and silhouettes
The only sound, the only light
Done with silence, we’re disconnecting lives
Pull out the lightning dust
At the mention of his name
Wither the Americans!
Take the memories out, hide the evidence under
Piss on the world below
Like a dog, that knows its name
Where are the Americans?
I’m calling on the run tonight
Feeling the remaining hours, the only sound
Are the bells upon the hill, the only light
Are the lanterns in the wind, the only sight
Screams the rust off the rails
The only sound, the only light
The only light is the day yet to begin
The only sight are the lives in silhouette
The only sound is the rushing of the wind
The only light is not the only life
(Footnote: You may interpret the images as you see fit, many folk read many messages)
So in that glow of the Obama presidency, the mockery of the Ridiculous Right and the hope that we were still progress, a light which shone and illuminated the intolerance and oppression within the other Big Powers Russia and China I was thinking ‘Nice song Johnathan I do like it, but give your nation a break. It’s not that bad,’
It is dreadfully embarrassing when even after 60+ years on this planet and 50 of them spent following politics and reading histories you can still be found to be naïve and dreaming.
Here we are in 2020. And the rational amongst us, with any sense of the necessity of a nation united if it is to survive hoping, even praying that even someone as not very charismatic or of visibly towing intellect such as Joe Biden can bring down that colossus of ignorance, vanity and ineptitude, the one who sits in the Whitehouse due to a freak of the USA’s voting system, Trump.
Trump himself is an individual of small character and even less ability. Put him in a room, alone, with no audience and just one person of average determination and intelligence and after a short while Trump would storm out with all the dignity of a four year old having the TV switched off or video game taken away. You see Trump is not the issue. It is the bloc of voters who have created a creature of their own imagination and wish fulfillment who loathe the opposite of their views so much, who were so angered by ‘One of Those People’ being in the Whitehouse that they would choose a most obnoxious and inflammatory creature to be their voice simply to get back at the opposition. And that is all he is, The Mouthpiece.
Thus when I look back at the lyrics of Quiet Americans and bear in mind there is still a vast swell of folk who are willing to tolerate this ridiculous state of affairs either by tacit support or self-isolation from the virus of ignorance and bigotry I have to say in all contrition:
“Mr. Meiburg. I apologise. In my vanity I forgot, it is you who are living in the USA, not I. Your comments are thus quite understandable. In fact in post-Brexit and the wake of the UK’s 2019 General Election it is possible to import your song and transpose ‘Britain’ for ‘American’…..Though I am still working on which word to replace ‘Quiet’ with.”