Imagine yourself as a mad scientist charged with creating a computer program to write the anthem for the next Monsters of Vaguely Folkish Alterna-Rock Festival. The song will be performed by a replicant attempting to pose as a newly woke hipster dedicated to the #resistance.
Now imagine that your work is pointless because Joe Scarborough beat you to it, albeit ostensibly via his own hand and not an algorithm run amok. Whether he can pass the Turing test remains to be seen.
What can be seen or at least heard, and never unseen or unheard, is “Stand,” Scarborough’s latest anthem. Anthem may be overselling it a bit. Let’s just agree that it is a song and, per Scarborough’s own statement, “[inspired] by the Women’s March and dedicated to those who #Resist.”
Also, Mika and he salute you. They do not specify if their salute is related to the marchers about to rock, but we can hazard a guess to that question, especially given the song in question.
The Song Has Its Moments
Let’s start with the good. Scarborough is pretty skilled at enunciation. This is an important thing when delivering scorching lyrics such as the opening verse of “Stand,” each line a towering summit of insight and originality. It would be a shame if any of it crumbled, Tower of Babel-style.
As the acoustic guitar begins, Joe’s raspy-ish voice gently blasts us, preparing us to take on the establishment or something. “Once in your life, you may get the chance to stand, against a column of tanks, holding up your hand.”
He doesn’t say why the tanks are holding up your hand. Since you’re against them, it’s unlikely a sign of solidarity. We also don’t find out if the tanks can pass the Turing test, but we don’t have time for that, because Joe is still going. “Once in your life, you may get the chance to say, words like deep within your heart, I’d change the outcome of a day.”
At least I think that’s it. He’s not a master of enunciation, he’s only pretty good at it. Also, I have no idea what he’s talking about regardless, so it isn’t worth doing a Google search or anything. Plus, the drums and other instruments are getting going by that point, and we’re treated to “once in your life, you may dare hold out your hand, to a stranger in need, whose world you cannot understand.”
Music’s Teleportive Potential
I don’t know about you, but just reading those words transports me into the throngs of a crowd marching on the White House and just generally resisting things, except for the panhandler we apparently encounter along the way. We don’t resist him. And that’s just the first verse. The chorus is where the jam really gets rolling.
“And how the world turns, violently. We’re battered by the savagery. But we will not break, not on bended knees. We will not go down quietly. We will not go down silently.”
Please refrain from holding your lighters up in the air, it’s triggering to moths. Instead, use the hand that would’ve held a lighter to scratch your head at the notion that the #Resistance has been silent, much less quiet. Joe should know this, since he spends a lot of time howling about Trump ever since he stopped giving Trump a bunch of air-time because it was good for ratings.
Also, the production values are good and the song is decently composed, if not particularly surprising in any way. It’s not very long. Joe’s vocals are adequate and there isn’t any unnecessary fluff or a guest verse by a random rap artist or anything. (Sorry, Tay Tay, I love you, but whatever track that is on “Reputation” didn’t need a guest appearance by a random rap artist. Or maybe he’s famous. I don’t know and I’m digressing.)
Second Verse, Not the Same as the First
Moving back to “Stand” and onto the second verse: Scarborough continues spouting fire, at least what he imagines fire to be. To appreciate it, I have to write out the second verse in its entirety: “Once in your life. [Musical interlude.]”
Most artists, when writing protest anthems, are compelled to use words. Think of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and please forgive me for making you think of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Its second verse is way more than one sentence and it even has a third verse. Scarborough not only resists Trump, he resists the normal formula of including lyrics in the second verse, instead letting the music play until it’s again time for the chorus.
Lest you think he merely repeats the chorus exactly—continuing with an established level of lyrical boldness not heard since “Feliz Navidad”—he most certainly does not. No, he expands on the first chorus. How so? He repeats the part about not going down quietly not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES before closing with “we will not go down silently.”
Point? You’re Missing the Big Picture!
At this juncture you may be wondering exactly what any of that has to do with the Women’s March. That’s an excellent question that I have no answer for. You might also be curious about the tanks from the first, and honestly, only verse. We’re not talking about a Tiananmen Square redux here, because Trump is Hitler, so those must just have been symbolic, man.
So maybe “Stand” doesn’t really have a point, other than showcasing that a human can do the work of a computer program designed to write an anthem for the next Monsters of Vaguely Folkish Alterna-Rock Festival. That human will definitely not do it on bended knee, quietly or silently, but can still do so while bursting with bot-like adequacivity. That’s because when you want a small cornucopia of protest non-sequiturs strung together in musical form, you want artisanal mediocrity from a human. Rage against the machine, not with help from a machine.
For that, and for not being about to rock or make sense or anything, Joe Scarborough, we don’t salute you, but we’re not going to form a new #Resistance either. At least not yet, though maybe you should take your own resistance toward having second verses with lyrics and instead resist the urge to hit the studio entirely.