“God” (John Lennon)

Somewhere between “All You Need is Love” (1967) and “Across the Universe” (1968), John Lennon converted from hippie to a man both harried and barricaded: the open advocacy of “love” for everyone transmuted into the defensive doctrine, “nothing’s gonna change my world.” (Bowie’s cover version of the latter on Young Americans appropriately encodes it as the ravings of a coke fiend). 1970s brooding, pained “God” takes this one step further and couples it with a strong dose of nihilism: a loss of faith in all kings, religions, and rock’n’roll, including the Beatles. All of these are now seen as myths and phantasms: “the dream is over.” But Lennon’s is an incomplete nihilism that continues to assert a Cartesian shot of truth with a splash of intersubjectivity: “I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that’s reality.” Lennon here gets hung up on the same limit that has plagued all popular forms of nihilism: the “I.” Stuck with this seemingly ineluctable consciousness, nihilism never has a chance.


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“Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)

Watching the Foundation for a Better Life’s commercial featuring this trax—a stitched-together series of royalty-free videos, it seems—one probably wouldn’t assume that it’s related to Philip Anshustz, notorious contributor to and advocate for causes aimed at defeating Kyoto Protocol compliance, overturning LGBT rights in Colorado, and an intelligent design think tank (the Discovery Institute). “Focused on our commonalities, not the beliefs that divide us,” the Foundation aims to “share [positive] values.” But it also tiptoes ever so gently onto the ground of Antonio Gramsci’s “good sense,” claiming that even though “people are basically good,” they need a “simple reminder.” Clarkson’s video, comes at this same point from the opposite direction, positing one’s younger self as the avatar of complete faith in the realization of emancipation. The difficulty is figuring out who the oppressors are. Willingly deaf parents ignoring the pleas of a youngster? Exurban/Suburban isolation and a temperate climate? Record company execs and rejection ad infinitum? Don’t be misled, because it’s not about being a victim. Saying “goodbye” to “make a change”—considering business propositions—is the “risk” to be taken in a world that rewards entrepreneurial moxie. Libertarian domination.


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“Til the Last Shot’s Fired” (Trace Adkins)

While Adkins’ micro-display of the Confederate flag and his narration as a Confederate soldier certainly resides over the edge of credulity, his call to “say a prayer for peace” centers the conversation. Though George W. Bush expressly focused on anti-poverty religious and community organizations in his first Executive Order, he also forcefully argued for the relative autonomy of faith-based financial assistance. And this trax’s association with the Wounded Warrior Project, in some way, hinges on a faith in the power of cost-shifting from government apportionment to people directly funding each other’s care. (Recurring donations that are tax-deductible if the amount is large enough!) More directly, this is institutionalized and structured prayer that takes place within a war economy. But Adkins isn’t singing about survivors or “warriors;” his primary narrators are corpses who have died grisly battlefield deaths. From the grave, they yearn for rest (“Let us lay down our guns”) despite war’s relentless forward march (“But we can’t come home til/The last shot’s fired”). Peace founded upon a corpse, and the price of doing (nation) business. Also: a monument to living.


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