I took Jesse over to her school today, to drop off the past month’s work. Before I pulled out of the driveway, I grabbed my phone, brought up her playlist (which I have named “Young teenage POP Angst”), and put it on shuffle.
I did not remember that Bobby McFerrin was on the playlist. If you don’t remember him? Don’t worry, be happy.
Here, if you must, listen to the song that shuffled into our ears:
Bobby’s happy tweety harmonies blasted through the car’s speakers. In this pandemic age, where some noisome people are more worried about getting haircuts and a drink at a bar than about helping each other stay safe, and the voices of racists are being amplified by the American president, and protests against police abuses have been going on for more than a week now, and a small cotillion of provocateurs are using this opportunity to turn to violence and looting, and right-wing media sources are wrapping them all up unfairly with people legitimately seeking justice and equity, and a president is insanely threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act to throttle peaceful protesters, and an entire fascist-minded apparatus is falling in line behind that mindset, and people are feeling angry and hopeless and filled with a good deal of despair… Bobby didn’t sound cheerful and optimistic. He sounded sarcastic and shrill, like it was a big lie, like the whole time everyone thought he was selling an upbeat vibe, he was actually dying inside.
These thoughts passed through my mind in a very brief second or two, and then I glanced back at Jesse through the rear view mirror. The look on her face as she stared out the window said what I was feeling, which, boiled down to essentials, was this: WTF BOBBY.
After just a few measures of wheedling happiness, it became too painful to listen to, without amendments. I started singing along, with my own lyrics.
A 12-year-old plays with a fake gun
The cops come and shoot him down
But don’t worry, be happy
Jesse grunted. “He must have been black, they wouldn’t have done that to a white kid.”
I replied. “If any white boy in America had been shot by the police for playing with a toy gun, Fox would never stop talking about it and I’m sure they’ve tried their level best to find a story like that.”
Ooh, ooh ooh ooh oo-ooh ooh oo-ooh, oo-oo- oooh
Don’t worry, be happy
Jesse snorted. “Yeah.”
A black man runs away from a cop
He’s scared cuz he knows he’ll be shot
Don’t worry, be happy
Jesse rolled her eyes from the back seat and scoffed. I needed to keep drowning Bobby out.
A white cop puts his knee on your neck
Nine minutes later you just drop dead
Don’t worry, be–
“MOM, STOP IT OKAY? JUST STOP IT! I GET IT, I GET IT, OKAY?? I’M UPSET ABOUT IT, OKAY?? I KNOW I HAVE IT EASY, OKAY??”
I hollered back. “WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I’M TRYING TO SEND YOU A MESSAGE? I’M PROCESSING A LOT OF FEELINGS AND ANGER TOO AND MAYBE IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!”
Jesse hollered back. “THEN DO IT QUIETLY, OKAY? JUST DO IT QUIETLY.”
Said my daughter who yells her feelings at me every day. I heard my words in hers, the echo of me telling her to quiet down, day after day, to find a way to hold her huge feelings and needs in silent check. In that moment, I felt intense regret. Don’t quiet down, I thought, casting the feeling out across my nation. Don’t do it quietly. Keep making as much noise as you can.
But I was stuck in a car with Jesse, so I didn’t say it out loud. We finished the drive in silence, as Bobby’s self-reflecting overdubs shrilled to the bitter end.