My guest today is Don Arbor, long-time musician and songwriter, based in San Francisco. Welcome to OpEdNews, Don.
CD cover of 'Everyone Comes From Somewhere'
(Image by photo by Irene Young, courtesy of Don Arbor) Permission Details DMCA
Joan Brunwasser: I understand that you have a new music video, "Everyone Comes From Somewhere." Can you please get us started with a little of the backstory?
Don Arbor: Sure, thanks for your interest, Joan. "Everyone Comes from Somewhere" is a welcome song for immigrants, honoring my own immigrant roots--three of my four grandparents were born outside the US, and I'm grateful for the opportunities I have had because they were able to re-settle and make new lives here. I am trying to spread a little empathy and compassion in this song and video, to counter the hostility toward immigrants that I see promoted by the President and his allies. With the fate of 800,000 DACA Dreamers at stake in the coming weeks and months, I think it's especially important to speak up, take part, stand together.
JB: How long ago did you finish the song and video? And what kind of response have you gotten so far? With the country so split, I'm not sure what to expect.
DA: I started writing the song in the fall of 2015, and I didn't finish it until the Spring of 2017. In between, there was so much I wanted to say that I couldn't fit it all into a song. I finally set a deadline for myself-- we had a show coming up in April 2017 at the Freight and Salvage in my home town of Berkeley, CA, and I wanted to perform "Everyone Comes from Somewhere" for my friends and fans. So I worked on putting the different ideas into a form where they spoke to each other. Lucky for me, my friend Charles Koppelman, a gifted filmmaker, was at the show at the Freight and Salvage, he loved the song, and we agreed that evening to make the video. It was a lot of very satisfying work to get it done on February 2, 2018. The response has been incredible--thousands of views, many sharing with their friends, and lots of really moving comments. There have been a few negative posts, but only a very small minority. I don't know that a song can change the split you are referring to, but I think it can reach people on levels that policy debates can't access.
JB: I'm glad you've had such a positive response. The video is linked here so our readers can enjoy it for themselves! Is this foray into politics a new one for you, Don?
DA: Not a new foray at all. I remember my first awareness of "politics" when the Governor of Arkansas wouldn't let African American children into the all-white school in Little Rock, and they had to call out the National Guard. I was only six years old when I heard that on the radio, and I felt a wound in my heart for those kids. Ever since, I have tried my best to be on the side of fairness, justice, and equality. Those are tall challenges even in the best of times, but especially now. Many of my songs also address social and political issues, like "Salam Pax," a peace anthem written to honor an Iraqi blogger who became an internet phenomenon based on his personal stories in the runup and aftermath of the 2003 invasion. That music video won some awards, and it's still up on YouTube and the donarbor.com website.
JB: I'd like to see that one. I watched another music video that you did about the Trayvon Martin shooting. What can you tell us about that one?
DA: It's kind of a parallel to the others, in that I felt a strong emotional connection to the subject that I couldn't put out of my mind, followed by a single spark that I followed to its musical conclusion. "If I Had a Son, He'd Look Like Trayvon" were the words spoken by President Obama in addressing the nation about the senseless murder of that young man. I was taken with Obama's humanity, his ability to put the tragedy into personal-yet-universal terms, and I worked with my engineer friend to put Obama's actual voice and words into the song and video. That song touches on themes that are very important to me-- too many guns, and too much racial injustice. I don't know that it needs to be said, but Obama shed real tears over the incessant murders and mass shootings, and he sought real solutions-- a stark contrast to what we see from the White House these days.
JB: You mentioned how you first became "political" as a very young boy. That was a while ago. This is a tricky environment right now. There are so many things that are out of whack, it's easy to become dejected and to retreat. How do you deal with that impulse?
DA: I actually have a song for that. It's called "Hope Is Hard to Kill," and it's exactly about the struggle to remain active, hopeful, and positive, in the face of tough times and long odds. I recorded it the same day as "Everyone Comes from Somewhere," in April 2017, and you can hear it at the donarbor.com website, or on the FB page. The song acknowledges that this is not the first time we've had to face down dark days, and that the spirit to keep fighting has gotten us through each time. It's much more of a hard-edged, rock-influenced track, featuring some stellar work by Stef Burns, the lead guitarist for Huey Lewis and the News, and Kevin Hayes, who had the drum chair with the Robert Cray Band for 20 years.
JB: That is a stellar crew! In one of the videos I watched, you referred to Goldie. Who was she, how did she influence you and what does she have to do with your song?
Goldie Sloan, nee Grodinski, Lower East Side, circa 1910
(Image by courtesy of Don Arbor) Permission Details DMCA