Sunday, October 22, 2006

John Mayer's Waiting on the World to Change

Me and all my friends
We're all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing
And there's no way we ever could
Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above it all
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change
[. . .]
Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on the door

Thus spake John Mayer. The song's "Waiting on the World to Change" from his latest CD Continuum. As a single, it's reached number twenty on the Hot 100 and number two on the Adult Top 40. (The CD has made it to number two on Billboard's album chart.)

So what does it mean?

First of all, it's not a statement from or by "young people." Mayer hits 30 next October 16th and his audience is more likely to listen to Norah Jones than Green Day.

As though he hailed from the factories of Orville Redenbacher, he popped onto the scene in 2001 and 2002 instructing audiences that their body was a wonderland in the most asetic manner. Since then, Mayer's attempted to prove that he's got more than corn. We'd argue he's done that with the last two CDs.

These days, he's singing jaded songs to a jaded audience. We'd argue that "Waiting on the World" and "Belief" are targeted to them. (On the latter, written by Mayer, the chorus repeats: "We're not gonna win the world/ We're never gonna stop the war/ We're never gonna beat this/ If belief is what we're fighting for." No, we don't think the lyrics stand up to deep thought either.)

Mayer's documenting his own life and some are responding to his lyrics. (We think he's improved immensely in his writing of music and playing of it. We'd be more impressed with the vocals if he'd let loose. Rebecca's just glad he's changed his hair from the "ragged cotton ball look.")

There's a lot to be dejected about these days. We'd argue a lot of people will feel even more dejected in a few more weeks. Why? Elections.

Mayer writes lyrics that read like someone with a strong belief in the electoral process as cure all. While all involved in the writing of this feature will be voting in November and many are working on efforts to turn out the vote, we honestly think the over hyping of what can and cannot be accomplished through the ballot box means that after any election, some grow dejected and some are left to pick up the pieces. We think that's true whether your top pick wins or loses.

We think the ones responding to the lyrics of Mayer's "Waiting for the World to Change" include people who worked on many issues (we'd guess sweatshop labor being chief among them) and have seen that elections change very little.

We don't begrudge Mayer his interpretation (and we actually enjoy the song and the entire CD). But independent media is in hype mode and we don't think Mayer's song could have come at a better time. You see, and mind you, we're not talking about mainstream media, candidates with questionable records with regards to civil liberties, civil rights, reproductive rights and more pushed as though they were the embodiment of the best of the system. Most aren't.

If you're a first time voter (and seven of us participating in this feature are young enough to remember clearly our hopes and expectations the first time we voted), you're being sold a huge bill of goods and, truth is, most of it wouldn't pass a basic inspection.

From time to time, you'll be told that. Not outright, but in an aside. It'll be stressed that the Democratic Party, with control of one or both houses, will be able to do things so you should vote for them regardless of the individual candidate. While a Democrat controlled house is better than a Republican controlled one, it's not an answer. It's a tool but it's promoted as an answer. As though Democrats didn't just join with Republicans in stripping citizens and non-citizens of the very justice system this nation was built upon.

We're not slamming the outlook expressed in Mayer's song. It's the job of the artist to communicate and the sentiment expressed isn't uncommon. We will slam the ones who are so busy hyping candidates and elections that, come November, there will be a lot of buyer's remorse. We personally prefer CounterPunch's near universal, healthy disrespect for all candidates to much of the blather and gloss too many independent media outlets are engaging in. The comedown's going to be tough for first-time voters and you have to wonder why independent media engages in that each election cycle?

The 'non-partisan,' the 'independent' media bangs the drum each election cycle. Ruth Conniff, to cite one example, has already magnanimously suggested that " If there is a Green Party candidate who is running against an atrocious, conservative Democrat then by all means that's a great person to support." Color us underwhelmed.

But that attitude certainly explains the lousy commentary that the Conniffs have been turning out of late. Dispatches from Teddy's (Kennedy), praise for the likes of Joe Biden, superficial, non-thought pieces that don't inform you because they aren't meant to inform. They're about access and they're about turning out the vote for the Democratic Party. We'd suggest that independent publications stop giving us glossy bios and beltway talk and start exploring the reality of candidates. We'd further suggest that Congressional beat includes following legislation through -- writing about the actual impact on the people.

Leave the 'close up' looks to Vanity Fair if you can't go beyond the obvious. Vanity Fair's a glossy for a reason. But the gloss intrudes into independent media and it's no wonder that each election cycle voters confront the post-election reality and feel disempowered.

It's easy to include as an aside, and many do, that it takes more than elections. But when you're only coverage of the way people can make a difference is at the voting booth, you're sending out a stronger message with that than with any of your asides.

The stronger message is what gets through and why Mayer's song "Waiting for the World to Change" speaks to many. They've been hyped (and, in some cases, lied to) too many times. They've been burned and they know that. They feel disempowered because they were sold voting as empowerment.

Our advice is to vote for the candidate (in all races) that speaks most clearly to your issues and concerns. If that means Democratic, great. If that means Green or another third party, go for it. Your vote is your vote. It's not guaranteed, it's not for sale. You need to own it. And you need to grasp that the way the system is set up (big money contributions, jerry mandered districts, questionable voting machines, rigged voting rolls), your vote isn't the be-all-end-all.

The fright wing has tilted the country to the right for years and they've done so regardless of whether their party controlled a house (Congress or White). They've done it by agitating (and other means). The left has basically accepted that candidates would represent them. Once elected, there's been no effort to hold their feet to the fire.

Mayer sings of "Waiting for the World to Change." The World Can't Wait. And elected officials are never leaders. If you're dejected, good. When illusions crumble, that can be empowering. Independent media jaw boning in the exact manner that we criticize the mainstream media for isn't empowering. It's sending out a message that elections are the be-all-end-all and it's demonstrating that useless blather comes in all mediums.

The song that best sums up the American people on John Mayer's Continuum may be "In Repair" which ends with: "I'm in repair/ I'm not together but I'm getting there."
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