In Pursuit

Sign of the times.
Sign of the times.

Now that I’m closer to being 70 than I am to the ‘70s, I find my enthusiasm for the hectic skirmish of modern life is tempered by the cold shower of perspective.

In January, as I joined thousands of women thronging the streets outside the Capitol rallying for justice and civil rights for all citizens of this still young country, I couldn’t help noticing how many of my fellow marchers were too young to have experienced the  protests of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was encouraging to see their passion and conviction that right must prevail over might. However, having witnessed more than a few wrong turns in the journey of this rough and tumble democracy, I’ve come to feel that flashy speeches and flag waving are just smoke and mirrors. The nitty gritty work of democracy is accomplished in the quiet dedication of scholars and the unflinching courage of soldiers.

Real heroes have no need for boasting and threats. They simply do their jobs.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the scholars and soldiers who helped establish this democracy of ours. We hear the stories of George Washington and the lore of Jefferson in school. But how many of us have the time and energy to dig deeper into the complexities of the characters who shaped our national heritage?

I am no scholar. I’m more of a cultural mayfly, skimming the surface of the mysteries of life. Recently I read with delight “And the Pursuit of Happiness,” Maira Kalman’s illustrated journal, published in 2008, a moment of historic optimism. Her piquant drawings and dry observations offer a refreshing mix of offbeat humor and  admiration for our history and democracy itself.

She covers so much territory, from Leif Ericson to Herman Melville, from Dolley Madison to Ruth Bader Ginsberg. And in each case, Kalman delivers surprising insights into the past and what we can learn from it.

I was particularly intrigued by the chapter on Thomas Jefferson. Having spent most of my life in Virginia, I thought I knew all there was to know about our third president, the one who wrote, “I cannot live without books.” He also wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was 33 when he wrote it. He owned hundreds of slaves, even though he was against slavery. As Kalman puts it, “The monumental man had monumental flaws.”

It’s hard to imagine any of the current crop of “so-called” statesmen measuring up to the achievements of the early men and women who dedicated their lives to the ideals of this democracy. But in addition to the sketches of famous patriots, Kalman also offers vignettes of lesser known men and women working then and now to keep the democratic dream alive.

I was heartened to learn of the Thomas Jefferson quote engraved above the door to the women’s room in the Capitol Building. “Enlighten the people generally and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

Read on!

Deep Rooted Soul

Tucked away in the Japanese Garden, a Moon Bridge symbolizes the difficulty of living a good life.
Tucked away in the Japanese Garden, a Moon Bridge symbolizes the difficulty of living a good life.

If you fly into Seattle and head north on I-5 to the city, you will not see The Kubota Garden on the way. Even if you notice the modest sign for the turnoff, you may be in too much of a hurry to reach other destinations to visit this gem hidden in plain sight.

When I lived in Seattle I always assumed I would one day visit the garden, but somehow the time flew. I wasted my opportunities.

Last week I finally got there.

Serenity goes with the territory at The Kubota Gardens.
Serenity goes with the territory at The Kubota Gardens.

This extraordinary garden began as the work of one man, Fujitaro Kubota, who immigrated to America in 1907. He worked on the railroad before establishing his own gardening company in Seattle in 1923. In 1927 he began planting the garden on five acres of swampland in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. By 1930 the core of the Japanese Garden was complete.

Waterfalls enliven the mountainside trail.
Waterfalls enliven the mountainside trail.

However, as anyone who gardens knows, a garden is not a static creation. Its life and health and beauty depend upon the persistent care and vision of the gardener. The Kubota Garden suffered an unusual setback during World War II, when, like tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent, the Kubota family was incarcerated at an internment camp in Idaho for four years.

When the Kubotas were allowed to return to Seattle, Mr. Kubota and his sons set to work to restore and expand the garden. The result of their labors is a stunning testimony to the power of gardening to foster peace and generate goodwill.

Hydrangeas light up the shady borders.
Hydrangeas light up the shady borders.

The calm voice of reason is too often lost in rabble-rousing and the vicious spin cycle of media rivals. It’s worth remembering that this great country of ours has been built in large part by the immigrants who arrived here from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Most arrived with little but hope and ambition, and most endured resistance from the folks who got here “first.” Yet, with the exception of the original citizens of this nation, who were nearly wiped out by the early pioneers and now are compelled to fight for the most basic human rights, here in the United States of America we are all immigrants. We all wave the same little flags on the Fourth of July and during electoral seasons. But flags mean nothing if we forget what they stand for.

At The Kubota Garden, the meaning of good citizenship is embedded in rocks and roots. It flows freely in the waterfalls, stands tall in the evergreens. It tells us: work hard, grow strong, and remember where you came from.

Rain of Signs

D.C. has had record breaking rain this summer. Keep those umbrellas handy.
D.C. has had record breaking rain this summer. Keep those umbrellas handy.

When I was a kid there was no Weather Channel. The idea that millions of people might spend a great portion of every day watching news on screens was a far-fetched notion, worthy of a science fiction story perhaps, but not plausible.

Welcome to modern life. Plausible it may not be, but stranger than fiction it certainly is.

When we lived on the West Coast and were considering the challenges of trying to move back East, we had an imaginary white board on which we listed the pros and cons of the two coasts. Each has its merits. Each has its downsides.

But whenever the issue of weather came up, I would tell myself that wasn’t the main reason. Every place has weather. No place is perfect. Not even Hawaii, or Los Angeles, no matter what the locals may say.

It’s a matter of degree. In weather, as in body temperature, a few degrees one way or the other can spell the difference between delight and delirium. Also, there’s the issue of quantity. A couple of 100 degree days here and there, with low humidity, and you might think, so what? But if an extreme situation persists without letup, say, forty days of rain, or four hundred maybe, it’s only natural to start wondering if maybe Mother Nature is fed up and starting to clean house.

And we are the ants in the cupboard. No offense, Ant Man.

While governments and policy makers continue to drag their feet in acknowledging global climate change, the climate is changing so quickly now that even the Pope has taken note. Unfortunately legislators accustomed to giving lip service to religion have no qualms about continuing business as usual, allowing the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources in order to keep the engines of greed churning. If only that were science fiction.

I don’t read a whole lot of science fiction. I don’t have a lot of interest in distant galaxies although I enjoy watching them explode on the big screen. I’m only human.

However,  I picked up one of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels because I was intrigued by the title: “Forty Signs of Rain.” Written in 2004, it reads almost as if it were taken from today’s news. Set mostly in a steamy summer in Washington, D.C., the story centers on the efforts of a Senate staffer working on environmental issues, while his wife works to solve the problems from the scientific side at the National Science Foundation.

The book is replete with scientific detail that I, quite frankly, didn’t bother to commit to memory, but the essence of the story is compelling and the scenes of weather-related chaos resonate in part because these situations are already happening with increasing frequency all over the world. The flooded zoos where the animals must be released to have a chance of survival, the outreach from the “League of Drowning Nations,” islands and whole cultures facing obliteration as the sea inexorably rises, the mega “100-year” storms happening every month.

Readers looking for a neat solution or an apocalyptic end won’t find either in this novel, but the scenario Robinson creates is vivid and entirely plausible, and coming soon to a reality near you and me.

You won’t need to watch it on the Weather Channel. Just step outside while you still can.

Old Stoneface

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove is a far cry from the Washington Monument.
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove is a far cry from the Washington Monument.

Monuments and memorial statues occupy a lot of real estate in Washington, D.C..

The more popular historical figures naturally claim pride of place along the National Mall, where millions of tourists pay homage annually. However, not all the significant players on this world stage are commemorated in stone or bronze. While there are no less than three statues of Lincoln downtown (and who doesn’t love Lincoln?), some worthy national figures don’t even rate a plaque.

Across the Potomac from the National Mall, on a small strip of land nestled between the Columbia Marina and Reagan National Airport, but still technically part of the District, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove offers a unique perspective on our Nation’s Capitol.

A rough granite monolith sits surrounded by a grove of white pines and dogwoods. There are a few benches and a serpentine path through the woods. There are a couple of quotes from Johnson, but they weren’t drawn from his landmark work on the Civil Rights Act, or his efforts to end poverty. They’re just a couple of simple lines about how all children should have the freedom and opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this nation. Of course, Lady Bird Johnson, who guided the creation of the memorial grove in 1974, probably selected the quotes in an effort to remind visitors that her embattled husband was, beneath his forceful and plain-speaking exterior, a sensitive man fighting for justice in a system tilted to benefit the rich.

That system is still going strong. The War on Poverty, which Johnson launched in 1964, ran out of gas well before the ’80s. But that doesn’t prove it wasn’t a good idea.

The recent riots in Baltimore, like the continuing violence in our cities nationwide, reflect the sense of hopelessness that breeds in a system which perpetuates economic injustice.

Popular television shows that portray a decayed and corrupt system of government in this country have some value. But reality is a lot harder to wrap up in one or two seasons. When the War on Poverty began in 1964, the poverty rate in the United States was 19 percent. In 2014 it was 14.5 percent. That’s some progress. But it’s hard to appreciate when your kids are hungry.

Not many tourists cross the river to spend a quiet moment staring at the big rock that symbolizes the hard-headed 36th President of the United States. Like so many of us, he was complex. People remember his crude sense of humor, his determination to win the Vietnam War. People forget that it was Johnson who created the National Endowment for the Arts.

Politicians are only human. Critics hungry for heroes might do well to try serving on the local school board before they assume it’s easy to run a country of 325 million strong-minded individuals.

Lyndon Johnson, the boy from Stonewall, Texas, was one of them.

Between a rock and a hard place, a fitting memorial to LBJ.
Between a rock and a hard place, a fitting memorial to LBJ.


The Way We Live Now

Is this freedom or simply a roomy cage?
Is this freedom or simply a roomy cage?

Everyone reads Dickens in high school. Trollope not so much.

As an English major, I read a lot of literature. But somehow the works of Anthony Trollope never made the must-read list. I would pick up one of his dozens of classic novels and glance at the hundreds of pages of dense text and think, maybe some other time.

That time finally arrived last month when I was looking for a good long book to provide a portable door (thanks be to Tom Holt) through which to find respite from the exhausting realities of current problems. I was intrigued by the title: “The Way We Live Now.”

Anthony Trollope was born on April 24, 1815. The “now” in which his characters strive and scheme and pine is a far cry from the “now” of 2015. Thus, in some ways reading “The Way We Live Now” now was, for me, rather like watching one of those soporific BBC series in which a rigid sense of propriety locks all the characters into their places on the social scale.

Trollope’s writing style, however, offers surprising turns of wit and wisdom delivered with unhurried grace. Published in 1875, “The Way We Live Now” is driven by issues which remain relevant today: women’s rights, entrenched economic disparity, and the power of audacity to sway public opinion regardless of evidence. The story bustles with life. And there’s a good bit of romantic foolishness as well, with young women pining for handsome cads while worthy heroes suffer in silence.

The contrasts between the now of Trollope’s world and the now in which we live are too numerous to count, and perhaps modern people living in the First World feel secure enough in the embrace of technology to ignore the ideas of a writer so two centuries ago.

We moderns think we’re so free.

Yet in spite of all our jets and handheld gadgets and security surveillance, freedom remains a complex challenge. Freedom of movement, freedom of thought, freedom of speech — these concepts we cherish must be rooted in respect for the dignity and worth of all life on Earth, regardless of gender or ethnicity or religion or age. Without compassion for each other, all our so-called sophistication is worse than meaningless. It’s a fraud.

Thus wrote Anthony Trollope, and he wasn’t wrong.

“The Pearl That Broke Its Shell”

Among the millions of books available to the modern reader, there are books that educate, books that entertain, books that break your heart, and books that help to mend it.

My own selections tend to be based on my admittedly narrow focus on fiction. I avoid grisly horror, for instance, since I get my fill of that in the daily news. But even a diehard escapist occasionally feels drawn to read novels that deal with reality.

A few weeks ago I read a modern novel about the life of women in Afghanistan. I went into it with a kind of starry-eyed optimism. You know how it is. Book blurbs sometimes entice with vague marketing babble that obscures the real message of a book.

When I was considering whether or not to read Nadia Hashimi’s literary debut, “The Pearl That Broke Its Shell,” I skimmed through the reviews to see what to expect. I saw that Khaled Hosseini, the esteemed author of the powerful novel “The Kite Runner,” had described the new book as “a tender and beautiful family story.” Booklist described it as “spellbinding.”

I decided to give it a try.

And I was thoroughly engrossed from the first page to the last. Nashimi weaves a mesmerizing story of the struggles of two young Afghan women, born a century apart.

Set in Kabul in 2007, the story paints a devastating picture of the conditions for Afghan women living in the rural areas of that country, where men, and only men, decide who is allowed to move about freely, to hold a job, to be educated, to speak in public. Rahima is a young girl with a drug-addicted father in a family with no sons to chaperone the five daughters. As part of an ancient custom called bacha posh, Rahima is allowed to dress as a boy temporarily, so that she can help her mother, and as a result she is allowed to taste the freedoms that only boys have there. What follows, as the family is torn apart with the daughters virtually sold off as child brides to support the father’s drug addiction, is hardly what I would call a beautiful family story.

But then, I’m a spoiled western woman. Perspective is everything.

Women in the United States have made a lot of progress in terms of demanding equal pay for equal work, and access to education and healthcare. And women here still aren’t satisfied.

After reading “The Pearl That Broke Its Shell,” I was depressed to think of the habitual abuses women in some other countries have to endure.

And then this past week, a 27-year-old religious scholar in Kabul was beaten to death by a mob of men after she was falsely accused of burning the Quran.

Having just read Hashimi’s novel, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by this atrocity. But I was stunned, as I sincerely hope all the world is stunned by this monstrous behavior. The increasing violence towards women must be stopped, not only in Afghanistan, but in India and Pakistan and other countries where religious unrest and economic disparity drive men to acts of anger and desperation.

I think about the young girls in Afghanistan. The heroines of Nashimi’s novel are not so different from young women anywhere. They have hopes and dreams of happiness, even love, in spite of being trapped in a complex cultural situation from which there is no easy escape. Yet, even in the worst situations, people find hope in stories.

“The Pearl That Broke Its Shell” is such a story. Though it’s full of pain and suffering, the author offers some hope of a better future, not just for Afghan women, but for women everywhere.


Kitschy Coup


The edgy sculptures of modern Spanish artist Bernardi Roig exemplify the kind of intellectually challenging work that draws museum interest. His "Man of Light" series, recently exhibited at The Phillips Collection, dealt with "existential dualities of entrapment and liberation, blinding and illumination" among other things.
A mysterious figure carries a bundle of fluorescent tubes. Why?

The new film Big Eyes, which focuses on the dark secret behind a kitsch painting phenomenon of the 1950s, touches on the no-man’s-land between fine and popular art.

There are artists whose work crosses over, embraced by both aesthetes and ordinary folks who just want something pretty to hang on the wall above the couch. Van Gogh and Monet, for instance, both seen as rebels in their day, are mainstream now, their masterpieces transcribed onto everything from dishtowels to shower curtains.

Nothing wrong with that.

But some critics hold that serious art has a responsibility to be edgy, to address weighty philosophical and social issues. The sculptures of modern artist Bernardi Roig of Spain, for example, exemplify the kind of intellectually challenging work that draws museum interest. Roig’s “Man of Light” works, recently exhibited at The Phillips Collection, deal with “existential dualities of entrapment and liberation, blinding and illumination” among other things. Not everyone wants reminders of such issues hanging in their living rooms.

Yet historically there have always been patrons of artists willing to produce images that support political or social agendas. Propaganda is a powerful tool for persuading voters, as well as moviegoers. An image worth a million words sometimes trumps the finest policy speech.

Of course when it comes to art, everyone’s a critic. We know what we like. And we know what we don’t.

Millions of people love the paintings of Margaret Keane, whose big-eyed images sold like hotcakes in the fifties, and no doubt will see a boost in sales from the new film. Yet Keane’s work was dismissed by most serious art critics from the start of her career until much later, after the truth came out that the artist had been swindled by her first husband, who for years took credit for her paintings and got rich and famous pretending they were his. Since then the big-eyed paintings have been reevaluated in the context of the continuing struggle for women’s rights.

The power of art to speak to power, to challenge power, has been dramatically apparent this past week. The murders in Paris of more than a dozen people, many of them comic artists, underscores the relevance of art in our world. By committing their crime in the City of Light, the epicenter of Art in the civilized world, the perpetrators of this latest affront to freedom and peace have raised the stakes in our terrorist-plagued time. And judging by the passionate response in Paris and the entire world, perhaps there is hope that humanity will finally find the political will to unite against this common threat.

Too often in the dialogue of nations communications stall due to failures of language. Mistrust and confusion fester in bad translation.

Art transcends the barriers of written and spoken language. Sometimes the message is simple and poignant. Big eyed children gaze at us not only in kitschy paintings but in sharp photographs of ongoing famine situations. The sight of one can summon the emotional response of the other.

It’s understandable that religious extremists see nothing humorous in comics that mock their views. They’re free to be offended if they can’t take a joke. But in the recent case, by committing murder in the name of whatever they think is holy, they have drawn far more attention to comic art, thus increasing its impact.

Sure, some comics are cute. Some are silly. But artful humor has a role in the fight against the dark side. And never underestimate the art of wrath. In a war of wits the winner has the last laugh.

Heavy Medal

I tuned in to the Concert for Valor last night, after I learned that HBO was unscrambling its signal so that even non-subscribers such as I could enjoy the Veterans Day tribute.

I expected the usual bland assortment of pop music stars delivering the usual red, white, and blue anthems with earnest efficiency. And the first couple of performers I caught didn’t do much to stir my soul. The Black Keys were pleasant and capable. Carrie Underwood, bright-eyed, blonde and slightly pregnant, delivered a mild set of forgettable songs.

I reached for the crossword puzzle to work on during the breaks. But then Tom Hanks showed up on the big screen in a prerecorded piece about Team Rubicon and suddenly I was totally engaged. Started by two veterans, Team Rubicon unites military veterans with disaster response teams to provide lifesaving assistance in emergency situations worldwide. The project not only rebuilds civilian lives, it offers vets a new sense of purpose and fulfillment after their military service is over.

The theme of what happens to veterans after they come home gave last night’s tribute a deeper resonance than a mere collection of musical performances could provide. The examples of veterans, some with devastating injuries, returning home and finding ways to keep inspiring others, was profoundly moving, and underscored by the presence in the audience of those veterans. The emphasis on the veterans, true heroes who give all that is asked of them yet often return home to find they can’t get a job, made the Concert for Valor more meaningful.

Of the 800,000 people in attendance, many were uniformed service men and women invited into the areas closest to the stage. They sang along to some of the songs. But no act got a more enthusiastic response than the band that has for more than thirty years exemplified the gritty power and controlled fury of heavy metal.

If you had told me thirty years ago that I would ever be a Metallica fan I would have scoffed at the idea. I’m not scoffing now.

Those guys are incredible. The audience, which had been listening with polite attention to all the previous acts, jumped into action when James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich unleashed their blistering brand of rock. Let’s just say it was a far cry from “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

Of course, the truth is, the world is a much different place than it was in 1940. Wars have changed. They seem to be continual, for one thing. And the adversaries are harder to define, much less find and root out. The only thing constant is that young men and women continue to suffer and die to keep the rest of us safe. And we owe them. More than an occasional concert or parade. We owe them a country worth fighting for. A country that takes care of its own, and more.

Opinions will always vary about what sort of music is best. But even if we disagree about whether or not Bruce Springsteen was right to sing an antiwar song at the Veterans Day concert, surely we can agree that it’s past time for us, as a country, to stop bickering about trivial matters and get back to working together on what matters. Let’s take care of our veterans, our children, and our world.

Bang your head once if you agree. Bang repeatedly if it feels right.


No Ordinary Book

The Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., includes telling quotes from the New Deal era, as well as World War II.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., includes telling quotes from his momentous twelve years in office.

I don’t know who I am anymore.

I used to be this fiction person. Never willingly read anything else. But something’s come over me in the last year or so. Call it reality, at long last rearing its hydra heads, or maybe it’s just the anesthetic of youth finally wearing off, but whatever it is, I find myself increasingly drawn to long, detail rich, laboriously researched and exhaustively annotated books about history.


I’m not sure where this is coming from, though I suspect it may be rooted in the sense of vertigo that came upon me after losing both my parents. Suddenly there’s no one holding down the floor anymore. It’s up to me to know what came before. And before that. And boy there’s a lot.

While I’ve more or less abandoned hope of ever fully grasping the ups and downs of the Byzantine Empire or the Balkans, and European history is so full of incident and horror that I doubt I have the intellectual stamina to get far in that field,  I feel the least I can do is try to get a grip on the story here in North America.

You might have thought that, as product of Virginia public schools, I would have picked up a bit on my way through. But back then I was unable to really care about what happened before I was born. I mean, you know, life begins when you’re born, right?

However, I just finished reading “No Ordinary Time,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 1995 Pulitzer Prize winning account of how the extraordinary partnership between Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt changed the United States during World War Two, and I’m beginning to realize that I owe a lot to Eleanor. Also probably FDR. But honestly, as I worked my way through more than 600 pages filled with incident and amazing detail, it was Eleanor’s courage, determination, and vision that inspired me most. Her influence on civil rights, labor, and social justice for all helped change the nation. She took a lot of heat for being an uppity woman back before people had learned to appreciate the wonders an uppity woman can perform. She paved the way for generations of crusaders.

The 1940s were indeed “No Ordinary Time.” Yet perhaps no time is ordinary. We live in an age of such breathtaking miracles and heartbreaking terror, sometimes it makes me want to curl up on the couch and take a nap.

But then I think, what would Eleanor do? She was no napper.

I’m trying to measure up.

No ordinary dog, FDR's beloved Fala has a place of honor at the memorial.
No ordinary dog, FDR’s beloved Fala has a place of honor at the memorial.


Summer in the City

Claude Jones played for free under the stars at Fort Reno Park in 1970.
Claude Jones played real good for free at Fort Reno Park in 1970.

Everybody sing: “Back of my neck gettin’ hot and gritty.”

In 1966, whether you lived on a farm or in a penthouse, chances are you heard that Lovin Spoonful hit floating on the breeze. It was everywhere for a few weeks that summer while it rose to number one on popular music charts.

With its catchy rhythm track that included the sound of car horns and even a jackhammer, the song evoked the kind of pressure cooker atmosphere that makes living in a major city such an adrenaline boost. You either love it or you don’t.

I did. Having been raised in the suburbs, I couldn’t wait to make my home in a city. In the summer of ’68, I lived in Washington, D.C..

The District is always full of energy and passionate people espousing causes. That summer was unique. The city was recovering from the riots that tore through downtown in the spring. Anti-war sentiment mixed with a surge of frustration and anger after the murder of Martin Luther King had left many people feeling hopeless and bitter.

But life goes on. And when we have a choice of either working to make things better or tearing down the whole country, I’d like to think our better natures will prevail. They did in 1968. People regrouped, rebuilt, and continued the process of trying to make things better for everyone.

One of the small steps taken in that summer of 1968 was the beginning of the summer in the parks free music concerts at Fort Reno Park in the Tenleytown neighborhood. Tenleytown was fairly low-key back then. There was no Whole Foods, no metro stop, and Wilson High School was relatively small.

The stage was nestled under some trees next to a basketball court. The concerts were casual and eclectic. I have fond memories of those first few summers in the city.

The city has changed a lot since then, but I was happy to see that the Fort Reno concerts are still going strong. Stronger than ever in some ways. The stage has been moved to an open field, and the crowds are much bigger. In fact, the scene has become so popular that this week there was talk on the news about shutting it down because the Park Service wanted organizers to provide paid security staff. As there is no budget for this, there was concern that it would be the end of an era. At present, it looks like the crisis has been averted, and I, for one, am glad.

Summer in the city, any city,  is a special time. When large numbers of people live in close proximity to each other, their chances to interact are influenced by the architecture of the city in which they live. Unlike New York City,  D.C. has no Central Park. Our riverfront is a work in progress. But our parks are vibrant and plentiful and full of life in the summer. The chance to enjoy free music together is an essential element of our shared environment.

Another song that got a lot of airplay in the late sixties was “Get Together.” Written by Chet Powers  in 1964, it became a hit after The Youngbloods released their version in 1967. The lyrics might strike modern ears as too earnest and sappy, but the message still resonates, even for today’s bright young millennials with their cute chapeaux and sustainably sourced optimism.

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now.

You need a lot more than love, of course. You need affordable housing, a decent job, access to health care — subjects too weighty for popular music. But lightweight as it may be, the songs of summer help lift the mood when the going gets sweaty.

It’s July. Let’s get together and celebrate the music of warm summer nights.