MyAmericanFuture

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

February 13, 2018: Songs I Love: Steve Earle’s “Taneytown”



[For this year’s Valentine’s Day series, I wanted to share and briefly discuss a handful of my favorite songs, leading up to a special weekend post on a legendary singer/songwriter on whom my perspective has significantly and happily evolved. I’d love to hear about your favorite songs or artists in comments!]
On a favorite song that gets inside one of our darkest histories.
I’ve written about the lynching epidemic many times in this space, including in this tribute to the epidemic’s most inspiring opponent, Ida B. Wells. Despite the efforts of Wells and many others, I believe that we still have precious few collective memories or representations of this century-long, hugely pervasive and destructive national history. Hopefully that will change somewhat with the April 2018 opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Lynching Memorial, which promises to become immediately one of our most important public spaces. But as I’ve consistently argued in this space, cultural texts and artists have just as central in role as museums/memorials (or any other influence) in helping shape our collective memories and conversations.
Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” (1939) seems unlikely ever to be topped as the single best song about lynching. But I’m also a very big fan of Steve Earle’s “Taneytown” (1997), which tells a profoundly personal story of one young African American man and how his quiet, private life intersects with communal histories of place, race, and lynching. I won’t say any more than that about the song’s content here, and will just add that Earle weds those stories and themes to a driving, potent melody and sound which propel his narrator/protagonist and his audience alike towards the song’s stunning conclusion.
Next favorite song tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Favorite songs or artists you’d share?

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