For those wanting a deeper dive, we humbly present the guys’ thoughts on We the People, the first track on our 2021 album Try It Now! The genesis of the song was an instrumental arrangement by Rich, so we’ll let him go first:
In August 2017, like most Americans I watched the events from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, with shock and disgust. I also witnessed, in a peaceful display of strength against hate, that many counter-protesters came to Charlottesville. Sadly, one of the counter-protesters lost her life after being intentionally struck by a vehicle driven by a white nationalist. The song "We The People" started with a drum beat that I imagined was the backbeat for a nation coming together to participate in a peaceful counter-protester march against the hateful rhetoric and violence we witnessed in Charlottesville. After finding a suitable drum beat, I recorded my guitar parts next, came up with the idea for the title of the song, and shipped it off to the boys. Singer Pete's vocals and lyrics provide the heart and Steve's bass provide the rhythmic soul. A conscientious banger!
WE THE PEOPLE: AN ACCOUNTING
When I first wrote the lyrics I had in mind the divisiveness that has filled the political and social discussion in our country for so long. Unfortunately, these lyrics have only become more relevant. I usually try to adhere to the words of William Butler Yeats that “if a poet interprets a poem of his own, he limits its suggestibility”. But the band agreed to do this, so I figured I’d better get on board to counteract any erroneous suggestions by those guys (ha ha).
The “it’s so easy” refrain is a call to arms against how easy it is to just give up, to dismiss the ideas that we disagree with, get frustrated, and simply refuse to hear out the other side. It is so easy to do, but also calls to mind the larger picture of losing democracy itself by inaction.
Next is just a hodge-podge of things I can hear my dad saying, a WWII veteran who had strong political views. “Now get in line, stand up and be counted” also afterwards, fit nicely into the reality of long voter lines during the 2020 elections. The other refrain is a couple Roman references to the Civil War (49-45 BC), again sadly prophetic, when the Republic morphed into an Empire: “the die is cast” (Latin: alea iacta est) and “the Rubicon is crossed”. The sayings have come to mean a point of no return. I hoped that this was not true, but wanted it to be a rallying cry for the message that at some point it becomes too late!
Then we get into it, with references to the trending insults that permeate social media: libtards, deplorables, elitists, and etc.. I thought of the memes of actor Sam Eliot smirking and how that has been used by both sides to insult the other, as in “you have to be a special kind of stupid to”…fill in the blank. Too often we define the other by their radical elements, with Republicans and Democrats focusing on the most radical personnel and ideas of the other side, using that to define the whole.
That’s it at the core, the whole written lyrics are a call to stop doing that. The hero worship that goes on does not have to be the normal way of things. Most Americans vote based on their slight leanings towards the lesser of the evils in their minds. We can work with that. The fanatics, lunatic fringe, and radical corps are a little tougher to engage in conversation with. One last quote, this time from Oliver Cromwell, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken”. It’s a good rule for all sides.
The whole musical tone had a sort of John Philip Sousa Americana feel to me. It reminded me of previous riffs on Sweet Concerned Citizen off the Dogs in Helicopters album which was a much more light-hearted look at political activism. Steve and Rich had begun with this driving powerful march, and a title, and the lyrics just seemed to flow from there.
Our songs get written in several different ways. This one started with an instrumental track by Rich, to which Pete added lyrics. I came last, adding bass and some backing vocals, so the song’s theme and mood were already well-established by the time I added my parts. In early discussions, I recalled that Rich envisioned the drums as a marching beat, and the tempo suggests a steadily forward-moving march. The beautiful and densely layered electric guitars, with Rich’s trademark delays, definitely add to that feel. I did my best to add a similarly propulsive bass part with a fairly simple eighth-note line that I hope suggests the movement of feet marching forward. Of course, I had to add a few flourishes, just because. I tried to change up the mood to a more melodic part, to the “it’s so easy” section to reflect the mood of the lyrics. One last note on my contribution to the music is in regard to the bass solo (has anybody noticed that ZFB has way too many bass solos? Someone should reign that guy in!) which ends on a quote from our national anthem. I thought it felt right in this context, and being a prog-rock-concept nerd, I also enjoyed the idea that I employed that same quote in my guitar solo on our song Sweet Concerned Citizen from way back in 2014. Zappa called it “conceptual continuity,” which is a much more preferable term than “rehashing the same old ideas.”
On the topic of the lyrics, since Pete wrote them he’s got the definitive word on what he meant by them. As I write this, I haven’t yet read Pete’s take, nor have we ever discussed it in great detail. (Side note: It's amusing to me that as the person who does the bulk of the mixing and mastering of our stuff, I have heard, and toiled over, all of our songs hundreds of times by the time they get released, and yet I still sometimes don't know certain lyrics or what we're even prattling on about sometimes). I tend to subscribe to the notion that the meaning of a song is whatever the listener gets from the song. So as a listener to these lyrics, I am most taken by how I read a sense of optimism in the otherwise serious subject matter. “It’s all good on the left and on the right” suggests to me that despite the lunatic fringes of our society, there remain good folks with different, yet legitimate, points of view, and that we the people have to (and can) find a way. While Pete sings “it’s so easy, to let it all fade away” my personal intention in repeating the “it’s so easy” line at the end is an invitation to unite as Americans, as humans, to come together when we can, and to have meaningful discussions to resolve our difference. (Update: with the events at our U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, I find myself discouraged, and worried that perhaps the Rubicon has in fact been crossed. But I suppose if we tried hard enough, maybe we could cross back over that river and roll those bones again.)