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“Eddie Vedder admits that he changes the lyrics and meaning of the song when he performs it, but he wrote the song with one story in mind. The song was written during the first gulf war, when “Papa Bush” was President, as Eddie calls him. The story is about a young Grunger kid, all dressed up in his flannels with the long greasy hair. His brother goes off to fight in the war and gets killed. He gets a letter that comes in one of those yellow army envelopes and learns of his brother’s death. So, all upset, he decides to go out and walk it off. On his walk he passes by a neat, middle-aged or elderly couple sitting on their front porch having some tea, and he sees that they have an American flag out. He gives a wave, because he feels like he relates: “The flag, my brother, you know…” But they don’t know, of course. They don’t know what’s underneath the grunge and the long hair. All they see are the outward appearances, and they don’t wave back.”
Today I unfollowed a FB page when one of the members group-texted calling Bernie supporters ‘burnouts’.
It was all pro-Hillary and blah blah blah, look at how over-intellectualized we are followed by invented narratives and name-calling like five-year-olds.
And maybe I’m rushing too quickly to protect myself from those unlike me, but when time is short–and honestly, it’s actually short for all of us, all the time–it becomes less possible to entertain living within such an unsightly, formulaic dynamic. Because I’m more than the sum of one-word branding and finding space inside to nurture myself has been hard, and I’ve grown intolerant of a world quick to call names while simultaneously wondering why the world is so messed up.
And interestingly, I didn’t get too upset about it, like I might have at one point in time.
It just made me think of this song. They played it at the Bernie Sanders rally last year.
I went with my younger daughter, Livy (who’s named after Mark Twain’s wife; born in the year 2000–11 months after the Y2K “disaster”, 10 months before 9/11–on the same day as Twain, and gifted too with writing ability, and cursed, as he, with too many ideas) because as we walked back to the car, the sun was going down, and I was like, why not live the big dreams?
Why not believe in a better world? Why not use my passion to unplug a world that instinctively questions the goodness of a broken-hearted grunge kid? Why shouldn’t I live a truth in which the ideas spoken by an older politician gives me hope that the world won’t forget the tender people in tatty shirts?
For when you look at what we do with our thoughts–mindlessly cataloging human beings so as to protect our emotional selves–we are magic beings creating poison worlds, distancing ourselves from one another for no reason, lost inside a world in which somehow it makes more sense to create a docudrama of nefariousness out of someone waving than it is just to pick up our goddammed arm and wave. And why should I not let my heart hold to that hope we can do better? What is so unbelievable about a big dream?
And driving home, we turned up Yellow Ledbetter as we sank into the sky and clouds of a magic day, and passing the golf course, I was singing along with the mournful lyrics–and yes: I was so dreamy that day–but when I looked at Livy in the passenger seat of my car, window down, hair blowing in the air of a warm day, the earth was tilting towards a star and I was like “look at that big dream.”
Look at that art project of sky and skin. The sky painted color that’s actually just air and the girl of tender-hearted benevolence imprinting the world with a more grace-filled future.