February 2017 Song of the Month: Turnpike Troubadours – 1968

This month’s Song of the Month is “1968” by Turnpike Troubadours, a song about recognizing the potential in the people around you with reference to Martin Luther King Jr.

About Turnpike Troubadours:

Website: http://www.turnpiketroubadours.com/
iTunes: Turnpike Troubadours on iTunes
Spotify: Turnpike Troubadours on Spotify

I found myself in Oklahoma last year, heading back from a failed trip to Salt Lake City.  It’s a long story that I’ll write about later, but it was part for work, and part on my trek to see all of the state capitols in the United States.  I swung through Oklahoma City around 3:00am after heading east from Santa Fe and Amarillo.  I ended up meeting a really friendly Oklahoma State Trooper that night, who encouraged me to stick around town for a while and who also gave me a heads up on the brunch situation in town.  Per his recommendation, I stopped by a place called Cheever’s.

You’re probably wondering how this factors into the Turnpike Troubadours.  Well, here it is: I ended up having a conversation with some of the staff about the State of Oklahoma’s history, earthquakes (because they have those now), and music.  During the conversation, the genres of “Texas Country” and “Red Dirt” came up when I mentioned I liked bluegrass music.  I had never heard of either.

Since then, I’ve come to learn that “Red Dirt” gets it’s name from the color of the dirt in Oklahoma.  Now, this shouldn’t be confused with “Texas Red Dirt” which is a completely different sound altogether.  Whether it’s bigger, like supposedly everything in Texas, I’m not sure. But who knew, right?  How’s an Ohio boy to know the first thing about Oklahoma dirt – or it’s musical namesake? Skeptical and curious about the genre, I asked for some recommendations.  This is how I discovered one of my favorite bands – Turnpike Troubadours.

The Turnpike Troubadours hail from eastern Oklahoma.  I’ve been unable to find a backstory about their formation, but I can tell you that they released their first album titled Bossier City in 2007 and have released three additional albums since then, with the song Bossier City rounding out their latest self-titled album released in 2015.

About “1968”:

Lyrics: 1968 by Turnpike Troubadours – lyrics on Genius.com

Now that I’ve switched to doing these articles monthly rather than weekly, I can be more selective about what songs I choose and better define why I made the selection I did.

For this month, I chose the song 1968 by the Turnpike Troubadours and I did so for several reasons.  First, because February is Black History Month and the song lyrically touches on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. who was tragically assassinated in April of 1968.  In addition to that, as I’ll get to in a moment, I chose this song because it’s about finding inspiration and recognizing the potential of those around you.

Where We Are

To begin – and I say this for the people reading this in the future rather than at this moment because it is apparent in this instant – these are dark times.  As the former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev said in a piece in Time on January 26th:

“More troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers are being brought to Europe. NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank. […] It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.”

I’ve heard it said recently, that for people who have read history and thought about what they would do in past situations, look around. We are in the midst of history writing itself at this very moment, and if you’ve been waiting for your chance to act, it’s now.

In the past twelve days in the new American administration we’ve seen a lurch toward authoritarianism with fascist and corporatocratic undertones (or is it overtones? I simply cannot decide.)   The result of this dramatic lurch to the right has been:

Mass demonstrations in the streets for women’s rights, for the preservation of the Affordable Care Act, at airports for the human rights of immigrants, and for the preservation of honest science in the face of an administration which seeks to destroy it.

There have been protests against various cabinet appointments like Rex Tillerson the former CEO of ExxonMobil for Secretary of State, and Betsy DeVos, a major Trump donor, for Secretary of Education.

There have been social media demonstrations, like the National Parks Service employees forming alternate social media accounts after the department was silenced by the administration for posting pictures of the inauguration’s lackluster crowd, as well as internal White House employees leaking (albeit, unverified) accounts of the day-to-day insanity of the Trump White House.

And to top it all off, there has been a ton of media/public pressure on topics such as: The logistics of actually building a 15 billion dollar wall across the southern border of the United States, a very weird and very public dispute as to whether or not President Trump’s inauguration was more attended than Obama’s (news flash, it wasn’t) and the “alternative facts” that the administration is using to point to it being more attended, and the fact that the administration seems hell bent on ordering a massive investigation into voter fraud when absolutely zero evidence exists to bolster their claim that 3-5 million people voted illegally.

All of this, in twelve days – and in spite of all this, the administration chugs along, making their own path through the countless lives they recklessly push through to advance their narrow minded agenda.  Through the protests, they press on, leaving many people wondering, what does it take to stop this?

The Tie In

So, back to the song. According to the Troubadour’s frontman Evan Felker in an interview with GalleyWinter,  1968 is about, “[The] many people in this country who are capable of great things. The entire concept of the song is someone recognizing that potential in a person that they know.”

While it might not be directly apparent in the lyrics, as at first blush it seems they seem to jump from random memories to greeting the incarnate of the civil rights icon, the song in my estimation is about the description of some kind of journey with someone and realizing that person’s potential along the way.

Felker sings in each chorus:

And you look like 1968 or was it ‘69,
When I heard you caught a bullet,
Well I guess you’re doing fine.
And you speak of revolution,
Like it’s some place that you’ve been,
Well you’ve been a long time gone,
Good too see you my old friend.

The final line, “Good to see you, my old friend,” is a line that I take in combination with the first lines of the chorus where he seems to be speaking directly to King.  In this instance he’s speaking to his friend as if he’s welcoming the soul of Dr. King back to Earth.

The song continues:

And we’ve all been looking for you,
Like a hobo you walk in,
Well how the mighty all have fallen,
How the holy all have sinned,
Is that the clattering of sabers,
Or the cool September winds,
Well you’ve been a long time gone,
Good to see you my old friend.

Felker here seems to be drawing a comparison between the expected return of any grand figure with the ineffectual entrance of his friend.  To me this drums up tales of meeting God as the homeless man on the subway.  But whether Felker was going for this comparison or not, it’s an interesting picture to paint, saying how we’ve all been waiting for this great return, and then this unassuming chap comes sulking through the door.

The song closes with what I think is a fitting tribute:

And when the rounds were fired that April you were on the balcony,
When ten thousand tear drops hit the ground in Memphis, Tennessee,
You were a prideful rebel yell among a million marching men,
And you’ve been a long time gone,
Good to see you my old friend,
Well you’ve been a long time gone,
Good to see you my old friend.

In Closing

We know that these are trying times.  As a civilization we’ve been through them before.  As Karl Popper once wrote:

“This civilization has not yet fully recovered from the shock of its birth — the transition from the tribal or ‘enclosed society,’ with its submission to magical forces, to the ‘open society’ which sets free the critical powers of man. […] The shock of this transition is one of the factors that have made possible the rise of those reactionary movements which have tried, and still try, to overthrow civilization and to return to tribalism”

What we’re seeing in it’s simplest form is a return to tribalism.  The Alt-Right (read, Neo-Nazi), which professes white nationalism, disdain for immigrants of all origins, and hatred toward Jewish people and African Americans is a function of this contraction of society as induced by the shock.  They’re fighting for a return to tribalism.

I didn’t intend for this to become a diatribe on politics. Though, now that it’s all typed I’m certainly not going to delete it. One of the principle reasons I chose this song this month is because it serves as a reminder to all of us in this trying time, that while we might be waiting for the next King, Lincoln, Kennedy or some other grand figure of history to come back and whisk us away from the injustice we see, we have to remember that they’re not.  It’s up to us.  We’re all born in the legacy of these great people, each and every one of us.  Though they are gone, their work endures. We stand on their shoulders. And it is for that reason each and every one of us has the power to make a remarkable impact in this world.  It’s not just our responsibility, it’s our duty.

So with that, go out today and give the world something that makes it better than it was when you found it in the morning.

One Reply to “February 2017 Song of the Month: Turnpike Troubadours – 1968”

  1. Danielle Dufour says: Reply

    Great tie in past, present and future ? I never would have got as much out of the song prior to reading your article!

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