I’ve debated whether to share this song. I’ve shared a few other socially conscious pieces (Vultures, Fools), but this is the one I always come back to when I’m really, really angry, and that’s usually the shit that people jump on as something that needs to be extinguished immediately before someone actually expresses a negative, opposing thought or feeling.
I love you, but I’m really angry all the time. I look back at what this country came from, what it created, everything we’ve done, where we are now, and just get so frustrated how little the big things change. How progress isn’t forward but sideways. How human nature screws us over and no one listens and no one learns, and it’s always been there. It’s our entire industrious, ignominious history. It’s what we’re made of, what we built our foundation on, and I hate seeing that washed away or reframed or dismissed as though guilt and shame are somehow an irrational – or treasonous – response.
I carry with me pockets of history that seem like reflection – from the Salem Witch Trials to the Civil War to the suffragettes to the civil rights movement, from the first wave of colonists and all subsequent immigrants that all previous immigrants lamented. To everything going on now as though nothing has fucking changed at all. To a clock approaching midnight and all the gears and springs falling out, but we still keep polishing and winding the damn thing like it’s working the way it’s supposed to.
I’m mad. So I bring in the history, and I bring in the metaphors. Please don’t crucify me. (Part of sharing these songs is to take risks, and one of those risks is that people won’t like me. I don’t handle that well or sometimes at all, but I’ll probably survive. So you don’t have to like me or what I say.)
CITY ON THE HILL
Ivory-skinned pilgrims in sober black clothes
Sailed to a new world, fleeing inadequate souls
Built their city on a hill upon fields of stone
In anger and hunger, virtue took its own toll.
From scaffold and stones to chains and bones
The city rose west, boots on blood and on tears
With a vow that what came was worth all the cost
Because all of the world would rejoice we were here.
The city on the hill, now the city on fire
Every year’s ashes build its flames higher
From the last lighthouse another funeral pyre
Lives left in ruins by silver-tongued liars
If the city on the hill refuses to learn
Maybe it’s time to let it all burn.
We carve our casualties into weeping walls
Lock our strangers in prisons till memories fade
We draw and drown witches of all of our fears
While they float for the lies that every judge made.
We raise our own monuments, sing our own songs
Until skulls crack from all the deafening sounds
From deplorable vices cloaked in virtuous days
Burying beauty and history in unhallowed grounds.
We build walls to keep out the ones we invade
And towers to rise from the bodies we laid
O new ‘Salem, O suspicion and pain
Paranoia in your heart and blood on your name.