In recent years, it’s become increasingly challenging to make sense of this American life.
Hollywood itself would fail spectacularly if tasked with developing an eccentric plot so off-the-rails preposterous as the one we’re living.
With a population befallen by a global pandemic from a continually mutating virus responsible for millions of deaths, combined with our American political landscape devolving into a nightmarish hellscape of absurdity and dysfunction, this has culminated in a tragic tale almost too surreal and harrowing to believe.
Yet, somehow, in this chaotic era we consistently manage to eclipse the insanity of each passing year, one-upping on a near daily basis the previous traumatic news cycle with an alarming escalation of shock and awe. Invariably, in this current climate things quickly go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
Mark Twain wrote that truth is stranger than fiction because fiction needs to make sense; truth does not.
These days very little makes sense, and so in such troubled times we turn to that which brings us comfort, leaning heavily on those things which calm our anxious minds and soothe our troubled hearts.
In The American Crisis Playlist (2020-2021), Terry Barr expertly guides us through our seemingly never-ending dark night of the soul with qualified commentary and a sublime selection of music aimed at reinforcing belief in ourselves and bolstering faith in the existence of our better angels.
When it seems all hope is lost, music is always there to save us either from outside forces or from ourselves.
Fittingly, this playlist series begins and ends with classics. “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads and “Jungleland” by Bruce Springsteen bookend the collection, but between there are hundreds of time-appropriate songs from such disparate artists as David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Solomon Burke, Leonard Cohen, The Black Keys, Aretha Franklin, Tame Impala, The Clash, Lou Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, Local Natives, Spoon, Neil Young, Otis Redding, Sonic Youth, and The Raconteurs, to name but a few.
And speaking of raconteurs, Terry is among the finest storytellers to ever put pen to paper or digital ink to screen. His writing is an amazing tapestry of personal stories, nostalgia, astute observations on current affairs, and popular music all woven together in a unique style all his own.
Terry’s singular voice comes through in this magnificent collection of essays with clarity and commiseration, reassuring us that we’re not living through these unprecedented times alone and that we are not lost despite having no roadmap for navigating the great unknown which lies before us all, growing more uncertain by the day.
This book is a gift, both timely and timeless, recounting tales of ages past and present, with a narrative both sentimental and futuristic emerging. Terry provides a gripping exploration of one of the most anarchic and turbulent eras ever witnessed by the American people.
Historical times, indeed.
Any road trip is only as great as the endless supply of accompanying tunes one brings along. As a true connoisseur and lover of music, Terry guides us on an extremely emotional musical journey here, with a year’s worth of songs both classic and new.
These fifty-two playlists—consisting of ten songs each—serve to remind us where we’ve been, show us how far we’ve come, and reassure us over the great distance we’ve yet to go.
As Terry would say, here’s coping…
—Chris Zappa August 2022
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