The Revolution in Song – 10 of my favorites

I’ve been down for the revolution since I learned the definition of the word.  Oppressed communities, animals (big and small), the environment…countless things about the world they’ve created and we live in that I’d like to flip upside down.  In light of the latest spotlight on the U.S. propensity for capital punishment following this week’s executions of Troy Davis in Georgia and Derrick Mason in Alabama, the time feels right to think about a revolution.  Like starting one.

I have nothing new to add to the discussion.  But music always helps.

So here are ten of my favorite songs (feel free to add what I missed) about change that can be created by passionate people through revolution:

10) John Lennon – “Power to the People”

“Get on your feet and out on the street.”


9)  Sizzla – “Takin’ Over”

“We’re taking over and we’ve got nothing to fear.”

(terrible video…but I can’t blame them…and it’s in Amsterdam!)


8 ) Public Enemy – “Fight the Power”

“What we need is awareness. We can’t get careless.”

7) Marvin Gaye – “What’s Goin’ On?”

“You know we’ve got to find a way to bring some lovin’ here today.”


6) Arrested Development – “Revolution”

“It ain’t like we’ve never seen blood before…let’s talk revolution now.”


5) James Brown – “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”

“Brother we won’t quit till we get our share.”


4) Bob Marley – “Get Up, Stand Up”

“You can fool some people sometimes. But you can’t fool all the people all the time.”


3) Tracy Chapman – “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution”

“Finally the tables are starting to turn.”


2) Prince – “Party Up”

“Fightin’ war is such a fuckin’ bore. Party up.”


1) Nina Simone – “Revolution”

“The only way we’ll be able to stand, in fact, is when you get your foot off our back.”

The Queen’s Party

Amsterdam has a reputation for being a party city.  In response to telling them I was moving here, some people (mostly those who don’t know me well) would offer an assuming glance, as if to say, “I know what you’re going there for.”  And you can tell by the gaze and stammer of the tourists.  They come here with the expectation of playing with alcohol, (hopefully soft) drugs, and sex workers.  And from the looks of them, most of them seem to find what they’re looking for.

But for the most part, everyday life isn’t this way – at least not the everyday life I live and observe.  Folks ride their bikes to work, take the bus to the grocery store, walk to the park.  The public library is always so packed that I have to check multiple floors before I can find an available computer.  And you’ll find people having a beer or glass of wine before you’ll find them taking shots or frequenting coffee shops (the weed-selling type).  Not to say Dutch people don’t party.  They definitely party.  They’ll party hard until 6 in the morning – and it can be fun.  But not everyday.  Unlike the tourist approach, the party ends at some point.  There’s far more balance in the lifestyle than the reputation would have people believe.

Well, except for last week, of course.  Everyone went crazy last week.

April 30th was Koningennedag, or queen’s day, celebrating the queen’s birthday.  I know what you’re thinking – “wait, isn’t one of the (many) things that you have in common with the queen the fact that you’re both born on January 31st?”  And yes, you’re correct.  Queen Beatrix was indeed born on the 31st of January.  But her mother, Queen Juliana, was queen first.  And her birthday was April 30th.  So Beatrix, like the kind-spirited aquarius she is, decided to keep the official queen’s day on her mother’s birthday to allow for better weather and plenty of outdoor celebrating.  So every year beginning the night of April 29th, all of Holland turns into an orange garage sale/dance party (the national color is orange stemming from the Orange-Nassau royal family).

Orange flags and balloons were hung from restaurant doors and windows.  Other places hung signs that read “Gesloten Koninginnedag” (closed queen’s day).  It felt exciting before it even started.

So in order to fit in with the rest of the country (locals and tourists alike), I joined the festivities.  Beginning on Friday night, I rode my bike to my friend’s house in South Amsterdam, which is about 30 minutes from me – at my pace.  She, her boyfriend, and I headed to an outdoor party in Rembrandtplein, which was maybe  20 minutes toward the center.  Normally, nighttime streets are pretty quiet, with no traffic and a few bike-riders.  The party is only obvious when you arrive.  But on the 29th, the bicycle traffic was insane.  As we got closer, the crowds multiplied and were more intoxicated.  Everyone was happy – most people wore orange.  One woman fell off her bike in the middle of a busy intersection, hopped up to drop the bike on herself again, and laughed the entire time.  Other people swerved through the lanes, shouting and singing enthusiastically.

Now at this point, although I have become 100x more comfortable on my bike since my earlier day debacles, I would like to remind you of my humble beginnings.  As the drunk people multiplied, I was facing more traffic and more chaos than I ever had before.  So although I was laughing and smiling on the outside, I was freaking out.  I could get away with a few screams disguised as happy shouts.  But I was happy to finally park the bike and walk the rest of the way to the party.

We ended up on the street of the club hosting the party.  A stage was set up for djs and performers.  It was packed with a great crowd and the music wasn’t bad.  We stayed for awhile then walked a bit to another party.  And as I considered meeting another friend at the Rich Medina party that was happening another 20 minute bike ride away, I assessed I was already pooped by 1am, before most people were barely getting started.  I felt a combined sense of being lame and relieved as I rode out of the madness.

But then I rode right back in the following afternoon to meet some classmate friends.  Every street was lined with vendors selling things, including some people just selling – and eventually giving away – junk from their homes.  Everyone freely smoked and drank their substances of choice.  Yummy, fried food was everywhere.  And most importantly, I think, there was a different party, with a different vibe no matter where you turned.  The entire city was a party.  Even the canals were filled with party boats (my plan for next year, by the way) blasting disco music.  So we walked from one party to the next, our ultimate destination a party in a parking garage (although, due to its misleading name, I thought it was going to be a park).  And I shared in the free-flowing substances each time they came my way.  It was delightful.

Well, until I was exhausted (which didn’t take relatively long).  We took a break for a bit by some water, went to a couple more parties, had some pizza and wine, and I was done.  Hopes of sticking with my initial plan to party into the night were not so regrettably squashed.  Once again, I proudly hopped on my bike and rode away from the orange madness.  I was asleep, like a rock (passed out?), by 11.

Happy belated birthday to the queen…she sure can party!

Before I Go, Let’s Party…

I’ve been asked a number of times what I’ll miss most about living in New York. I always answer, “the people,” meaning my friends and family. Genuinely good friends aren’t easy to come by. And I’ve met plenty of good people in every city I’ve lived in. But something special has happened since I’ve lived here, giving me the opportunity to meet and fall in love with so many people, all of whom I hope will remain life-long friends.

In celebration of these friendships, as well as, of course, my upcoming move, I decided to party hard during my last few weeks in NYC. Not too much packing or Rosetta Stone studying has been done during this time. But I’ve certainly been having a great time.

A few highlights:

My going away party was on December 30th, the day before New Year’s eve and just days after the snowstorm that mysteriously paralyzed NYC. So I worried that no one would be able to come to Brooklyn to celebrate my upcoming departure. Fortunately I was wrong. Unfortunately I was too drunk to remember if I thanked everyone for coming.

The evening started with a pretty light dinner and a pretty strong mojito. So I was already feeling free before I even arrived at the party venue. And speaking of the venue, it was perfect: a private little movie theater with a bar, and seats that were formerly bucket seats from old cars. We were able to drink what we wanted, watch the little movie I created about my family history research, and then dance to the playlist I put together for the occasion. It was delightful. I was both the drunkest and happiest person at the party. Well, until I realized I had to say goodbye to people…then I started to cry. But it was a happy cry. Oh, and then when I got sick on the way home. But it was a happy puke, trust me.

The following night was New Year’s Eve. Two friends had come up from DC to stay with me and help me celebrate through the weekend. And we met up with some more friends at the party, where I danced more and drank a little less than I had the night before. We ended the night around 5am, at which time on that particular holiday you will find vomit in every car of the train on your way home. The sad thing was that on our train, all of us were too drunk and tired to either notice or move.

Exactly a week later was my last day working. Although I didn’t know what was planned, I knew my friends/coworkers would plan something funny and/or fun for my send-off. And to be honest, since the ante has been upped each time a person leaves, I figured I might be the first one in awhile to get a lollipop and a pat on the back. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The office has two floors. So around 5pm on the big and final day, I noticed all of the staff heading upstairs. They were discreet. But it was obvious. Then I could hear things being said on the microphone, including my name one or two times. Around the same time, I was met in my office by the CEO holding a blindfold (trust me, not a typical Friday). I was blindfolded and led upstairs, all the while hearing my friend on the mic welcoming me to the party. With the blindfold off, I was looking at a sea of purple, with everyone seated as an audience and wearing at least one purple item. There was a large purple seat reserved in the middle, along with a purple fedora, a purple boa, and an open bottle of champagne with a long straw. My fantasy.

I turned around to see eight of the most wonderful people dressed to the nines, looking remarkably similar to Prince and the Revolution. That alone would have been enough. But it was followed by a scripted and carefully choreographed Prince medley, telling the story of my time there. If I hadn’t been having such a good time dancing and laughing, I would have been crying because it was all so lovely. The evening continued with more drinking and more dancing. But the performance was the highlight.

And now, with less than a week left, I don’t expect my remaining days to include much partying. Rather, I need to make up for lost time on the whole packing project. And perhaps I’ll be struggling with the new, nagging feeling that I’m actually going to miss New York. Who would have thought?

Welcome 2 America – Well, thank you, Prince.

I was with Prince last night – at Madison Square Garden.

As you may know, I sincerely love Prince.  And I’ve loved him pretty much for as long as I’ve appreciated music.  Really, he’s one of the reasons I appreciate music.  Although I didn’t learn the meaning of many of the lyrics until much later, I always understood the brilliance of it all.  His voice, every instrument, the moves, individuality, ridiculously cool, and really sassy – but yet so quiet and shy.  He’s my ultimate.

In a way, my borderline worship becomes a problem when it comes to expectations.  I build him up in my head, enjoying each time I see a video of him or hear any of his songs as much as a normal person would enjoy a big cupcake or a peppermint patty – delighted, satisfied, and a bit blissful.  When it comes time to see him in person – live, in the same room with him – it makes me a little nervous.  Is that weird?

First, I worry I won’t enjoy the moments together if they have to be shared with thousands of people.  It’s too important to me for it to be so public.  And it’s a 100 percent guarantee that those people won’t understand me or what I feel for him.  They’ll be assholes who think they’re cool because they know all of the words to 1999, but have never heard of Lovesexy.  Or they’ll constantly complain that they miss the nasty Prince since he no longer grinds on the stage or performs Darling Nikki.  Or, worst of all, they won’t want to dance.

But then the unreasonable fear is that he’ll disappoint me.  How could he disappoint me, we all wonder.  We all know that he could walk on stage and curse us all out, and I would simply gaze into his eyes.  But the small fear is there.  He’ll walk on stage and for the first time in my life, I’ll wonder what all the fuss is about, basically questioning my faith.  Seeing him in person could reveal the lack of true depth of my love – I’ll be exposed as a fraud (even though now I’m exposing myself as a crazy person).

So Prince concerts come with a bit of anxiety.  The first opportunity I had to see him was in 2004.  A friend bought me a ticket to see him for shortly after I moved to Oakland.  It was the Musicology tour.  I loved that album.  And Prince was just recovering from a bit of a nonsense period – so it was good to have him back.  It was the perfect way to welcome myself to Oakland.  The only problem was timing.  The concert was on Thursday, September 9, 2004, about two weeks after my move.  My father died on Saturday, September 4th.  I flew right back to Philadelphia.  But several days later I returned to Oakland to commit to the move, and to see Prince.  I figured Dad would have been pissed if I chose to sit around and mope rather than enjoy Prince for a couple of hours.  So I did.  At least I did my best.  The concert was amazing.  He did old and new, and it felt like a party.  But I’m pretty sure I cried through parts.  Not really what I imagined my mood to be at a Prince concert.

Six years later, I got my second chance.  At almost an exact opposite time in my life (I’m super happy, I’m moving east rather than west, I’m chasing not running), the Welcome 2 America tour feels like perfect timing.  Less than a month before I leave “America,” only Prince could provide me with such an ironic send-off.  And it was perfect.  Well, Prince was perfect.  And the music was perfect.  And my seat was perfect.

in the red, in the middle - that's Prince

There were only two problems.  I was sitting alone since I wasn’t able to get a group of 3 seats together to sit with my friends.  And then there were grumpsters sitting next to me – literally sitting.  How can you sit through Purple Rain, you freaks!! (I wanted to scream that, but didn’t).  How can you have your arms tightly crossed over your chest during Let’s Go Crazy, you no-good-party-poopers!  And how does the mere sight of Sheila E. not make your head want to explode, you monsters!  Fortunately, my annoyance with my neighbors was peripheral.  I danced like I was auditioning for America’s Got Talent (if my talent were fanaticism).  And I screamed so very much – I even gave myself a pep talk that involved accepting the fact that I may do permanent damage to my voice.  And plenty of other good people around us came prepared for the party.

And that’s what it was – a party.  A party with Prince.  A really great party.  I didn’t mind that it wasn’t an intimate setting.   And it solidly confirmed my genuine love and appreciation for him.  It’s a real thing.   And I’m coming to terms with the fact that I narrowly missed an opportunity to go to the after party (damn me and my uncharged phone).

Really, nothing could make a night with Prince anything less than perfect.  Thanks for the right send-off, my friend!