Hope is a good thing

I heard a song this week, and it helped me get through my day. By someone, Iris Dement, who I’d never heard of before. Chances are you’ve never heard of her either, but, I don’t know, maybe it’ll also help you get through yours.

What made it so special? Well, just two things: the music and the words. That music has gorgeous chord changes, punchy horn charts, a twangy guitar solo break, and Dement’s sweet, understated voice. But her lyrics were what jumped out at me. In an era that increasingly seems to lean towards fatalistic hopelessness, ‘Workin’ On A World’ delivered a straightforward, logical rebuttal. Plus, as Dick Clark liked to say, you can still dance to it.

I’m sure scant few would need recounting of why such hopelessness might presently exist, but I’ll raise just one recent example. This week a New York Times headline read: “In a new poll of battleground states, 17 percent of voters blame Biden for the end of Roe v. Wade.” To which I audibly exclaimed to myself, “What the f*ck’s the point?” Regardless of your opinion on the underlying issue itself, that assertion is, in a word, untrue (if you prefer two words, then it’s “not true”). And 17% is a scarily high percentage of these now mythical purple-hued, swing-state voters. As we all know, under our venerated electoral system, my vote – and quite possibly yours – counts not even the same as these obscenely unintelligent dolts, but sadly far less.

Let me be clear. I do not refer to such respondents as “unintelligent” because their opinions about reproductive rights may differ from mine. I say so merely because they demonstrably can not, or will not, accept objective truth. And objective truth does still exist, whether one cares to accept that or not. The world is not flat, 2 + 2 does not equal 5, Joe Biden is not the cause for the abandonment of nearly 50 years of famously “settled law,” and Prince is the most overrated artist in music history. I do try to slip that last one in whenever possible.

(Okay, if you’re done cursing me for that closing bit, let’s continue)

Beginning with something as inane as the counting of an inauguration crowd, a previous, and feasibly future, administration cynically ushered in the era of “alternative facts,” nothing more than consciously cultivated dissembling and ultimately a permission system for willful ignorance. There are, of course, no such things as alternative facts. As the late, great senator Patrick Moynihan once uttered, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” And that’s a fact.

So I ask:

How can the betterment of a just society possibly be served by an untethering from, in fact an utter disdain for, reality?
What, other than disaster, could possibly await from such a patently fraudulent foundation?

Aaaany-hew, where was I? Oh yes, Iris Dement, and her lovely and inspiring song. Sorry, everyone.

“I’m workin’ on a world I may never see,” sings Dement. Not an afterlife thing, mind you, but a very earthly sentiment: that the type of world any of us may envision may yet someday exist, just not while we still exist in it. And that simple reformulation, where humility meets mortality to create a fresh perspective on futility, seems transformative in defeating hopelessness. We are, indeed, but grains of sand within passing eons of history, and the arc of change is surely long. So maybe it is still worth getting out of bed in the morning. Or at least by the crack of noon.

Iris Dement’s beautiful song arrived to me out of nowhere (or at least through the magic of satellite radio). But I’ve found that she is no newcomer. The Arkansas-born singer-songwriter has been active for more than 30 years, employing a musical style that fuses elements of folk, country and gospel into full-bodied Americana over seven albums and including two Grammy nominations. She’s consistently explored weighty themes such as religious skepticism, small-town life, and human frailty, and has also recorded numerous duets with heavy-hitters John Prine, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris. (it turns out the Goo Goo Dolls signature 1998 hit ‘Iris’ was also named after her, but only because songwriter John Rzeznik noticed her upcoming appearance in an LA Weekly concert listing).

I’m not sure how I’d missed Iris Dement to date, a true revelation on ‘Workin’ On A World’ and throughout the like-titled 2023 album on which it appears. But I’m grateful to have been presented with this exquisite song now, and invigorated with the hopefulness not only of its clarifying message, but in the grounded, reality-based expectation of being around to hear plenty more toe-tapping, soul-enriching songs like it. Like the wise Andy Dufresne said, “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things.”

I certainly hope so.

“I hope…”