Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Love it #4: The Mortal Poetry of "Pressure Drop"

The compliment "immortal poetry" seems like a towering honour, but what higher compliment can be given to verse than to call it mortal poetry, the poetry of mortality itself.

Progressives have a habit of highlighting difference, and it is true that oppressions come down asymmetrically, with violence raining in unequal measure according to categories of race, class, gender, sexuality, physical 'ability and other divisions. Justice is not equally available to all, though it should be. While it is important to examine inequality in order to fight it, it's solidarity that gives people the power to change unjust circumstances.

While philosophers and activists examine our differences, mortal poetry points to our similarities, similarities that can act as the foundation of solidarity.

In the photo above, a mist hangs over the Cape Breton cliffs that overlook the meeting point of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence River. Powerful currents and deadly waves mingle together under the cold clouds, in a scene that unfolds thousands of miles north of the Jamaican shores that inspired the song "Pressure Drop."

Pressure Drop, first recorded by The Maytals in 1969 with legendary producer Leslie Kong. Featured on "The Harder They Come" film soundtrack, it has since been covered by many artists, including The Specials and The Clash.

While the song itself is a wonder to behold, the lyrics transcend social and geographical difference by making reference to a sensation that threatens every living mammal on the planet. Immediately before a storm- whether it is an Atlantic hurricane bearing down on Jamaica or Nova Scotia, a tornado touching down in Texas, or a pacific squall, the air pressure suddenly drops, causing the hairs on the back of the neck to stand up, and signaling the need to seek sound shelter. That is the poetry of mortality.

Mortality, the threat of death, the precarious nature of life itself, the need for food and water to stave off the inevitable end, this is the tie that unites, and for all the very real differences that put justice beyond or within reach, there is a thread running through every life in common.


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