Tomorrow, October 23, 2019, marks the 8th anniversary of the world premiere performance of A Story Within A Story, my collaboration with Carrie Mae Weems. A Story Within A Story reflects upon the persistent struggle for civil rights in the United States. Carrie’s powerful video takes us through the passing of history from one generation of women to the next, narrated by Weems, followed by a collage of found footage of civil rights gatherings and protests from 1963-1974. Carrie’s self-shot film of her solo impromptu performance at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin ends the video portion of the work as a live dancer (or a group of live dancers) continue her performance.
The central movement, The Madding Crowd, superimposes spoken quotations and dialogue about civil rights from civil rights figures from (mostly) the early to mid 1960s over Carrie’s powerful montage of found video images from the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and 70s as a gentle ostinato and slowly developing contrapuntal lines gradually crescendo. Voices include James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Dorothy Height, Shirley Chisholm, William F. Buckley, Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Fannie Lou Hamer, Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, James Farmer, and many others.
One purpose of this work, as with many works of art, is to raise questions and to encourage discussion. It is sad to me that today, especially in light of President Donald Trump’s ignorant and racially insensitive tweet made this morning comparing the impeachment investigation against him to a lynching, that The Madding Crowd is more than a reflection of history: Carrie’s video and the spoken words, which are far more essential to this work than my music, are taken from 45 – 55 years ago, but are still maddening relevant today (and increasingly so!) especially in the United States of America.
I am aware that to a large degree, I may be preaching to the choir. The majority of my friends and followers, I think, tend to share my beliefs regarding politics, religion, and sociology. But I am worried – no, frightened and angry – that the small strides toward equality that may have been made between 1963 and today are being intentionally undermined by people like Trump and his followers. Should you have chosen to read this far, and should you choose to watch and listen to The Madding Crowd, with whom will you discuss? To whom will you ask questions?
I ask you, President Trump: There is the beginning of an actual lynching in this video. Do you really believe that you are experiencing the pain and suffering of this poor victim? Is the behavior and resultant brutality witnessed in this video what it means to Make America Great Again?