There are no shortage of voices being raised across America today. It’s a sign of the times. Politicians, activists, artists, and everyday people look around and sense that something is terribly wrong — and, more troubling yet, that it’s only going to get worse without an immediate change in course. Presidential candidate Joe Biden, as you’ve probably heard him tell it, came out of political retirement to run for office after he saw neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups marching and stirring up violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. We’ve seen children-turned-activists like Emma Gonzalez and Greta Thunberg sound the warning alarm about rising gun violence and global warming, respectively. Dozens of artists have put their talents to use during our present pandemic, raising money and awareness and offering comfort as hundreds of thousands have died and millions of lives have been devastated or put on hold due to this botched health crisis. And socially conscious artists like Run the Jewels, Beyoncé, and Public Enemy have addressed racial issues head-on and helped soundtrack the Black Lives Matter push for police reform and justice.
In times like these, some voices are more obvious than others, of course, and one that made recent waves isn’t a voice we always associate with politics or social issues. Still, this week saw Stevie Nicks — one of the voices and songwriters behind Fleetwood Mac and some of our most cherished classic rock songs — driven to speak up and join the fight with the help of veteran producer Greg Kurstin, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart, and revered filmmaker Cameron Crowe. The single, “Show Them the Way”, marks Nicks’ first solo song in almost a decade and drew its inspiration from a dream the singer had years ago before the 2008 presidential election. In that dream, Nicks found herself in the company of political and civil rights figures like JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. More than a decade later, that dream surfaces again and finds renewed meaning at the heart of “Show Them the Way”.
Time is hard to pin down as Nicks recounts her dream (“I don’t know if it was 1960 or 1963/ Everything was timeless, even me/ I wasn’t old, I wasn’t young/ I was just part of their dream”) in an elusive narrative that spills out over more than six minutes. However, the effect creates the sense that some struggles — like the fight these historical dreamers once waged and the outcomes they strove, and even died, for — continue on and that when we stand up and raise our voices, we keep their dreams alive and become a part of them ourselves. The song finds powerful ebbs and flows through Stewart’s guitarwork and Grohl’s drums as they join insistent piano and Nicks’ voice, which ranges from that of an urgent storyteller to a swelling bullhorn throughout the song. “The dream, don’t forget it/ Please, God, show them the way,” echoes Nicks, a message that resonates all the stronger as Crowe’s video connects images throughout American history — from civil rights marches and assassinations to terrorist attacks and modern protests.
In times that feel unprecedented, there is a certain strength to be gained from thinking about our own problems as being the next chapter in a struggle as old as our country itself. It reminds us that America is, as much as anything else, an idea — powerful in its audacity but fragile in its faith in each generation of dreamers to reimagine and reshape it into something brighter and better. Nicks’ song urges us to lend our own voice to that dream and offers us hope that our own song, cries, or vote won’t be in vain.
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