We can’t live together because we don’t really want to

Dear President Biden,

Happy New Fiscal Year’s Eve! And nice job getting the stopgap-funding bill signed before we all turned into pumpkins. I know it was just a can kicking exercise and we’ll be facing the same demonic BS from the GOP on the debt ceiling in October and a real funding bill will have to be hammered out in December, but there’s nothing like a teensy-weensy bit of breathing space to let US Americans pretend that everything’s ok for a minute – at least long enough to wrack up some more individual credit card debt.

I’ve not told you this about Laura, but she has a huge chunk of her cerebral cortex given over to music – she is an awesome teacher but she might have missed her calling as a star DJ; not sure about that, but it’s a distinct possibility. Anyway, every once in a while she will give me a music history lesson and last night was one of those nights. She started with Stevie Wonder’s As since the day before yesterday was Songs in the Key of Life’s 45th (!!!!) anniversary and As is her favorite song from that album. Then, in honor of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s passing that same day, she played a song he and Iggy Pop (again, !!!!) recently covered starting with the original from 1973 by Timmy Thomas and Betty Wright – Why Can’t We Live Together?

It was fun chopping vegetables to As. Laura scrolled the lyrics for me and I got to appreciate what a rich, deep piece of work that song is. It’s gorgeous.

As is Why Can’t We Live Together?

After the Thomas and Wright version, Laura moved onto the Sade version from 1984 and then ended with the 2021 Smith/Pop version, complete with Smith’s lush Wurlitzer magic.

Here’s the first verse from the original version:

Tell me why? Tell me why? Tell me why?
Umm, why can’t we live together?
Tell me why? Tell me why?
Umm, why can’t we live together?
Everybody wants to live together
Why can’t we live together?

Do you know the answer to the question? To the lament, really?

Well, it wasn’t until the third go-round listening to the strange Iggy Pop rendition that it dawned on me that the reason we can’t live together (without war, discord, hate, racial strife, etc.) is that we don’t actually want to. Even though the song says that everybody wants to live together and most all of us routinely mouth that sentiment, the deal is that if we really wanted to live together harmoniously (or at least reasonably harmoniously) we could do that. It’s not rocket science – we know how to treat (certain) people with respect and dignity and we know how to disagree with and work things through with (certain) people and if we had the will to generalize these skills to everyone, you know we could.

We – the big collective “we” – doesn’t really want to, so we don’t.

That song is nearly 50 years old and it is just as melancholy and poignant and grasping in the 2021 version as it was in the 1973 version – even with Pop singing over Dr. Smith’s Wurlitzer flourishes. It’s just as much a lament to our brokenness now as it was then.

And the stakes have only gotten higher.

May we all be safe living together.
May we at least get that it’s in our basic self-interest to want to live together – for real.
May we be strong enough to put aside our asinine, myopic in group/out group thinking.
May we accept that doing more of same in the current situation is not smart.

Tracy Simpson

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