It took listening to Jesse Thorn's Bullseye to remind me of the greatness of The Pointer Sisters. The song “Yes We Can Can,” written by Allen Toussaint, was the hit single from their first self-titled album in 1973. When I listen to it today I can hear echoes of the time, the song coming out of transistor radios, car radios and television sets. Richard Nixon had been re-elected, the Viet Nam War continued on, Pink Floyd released “Dark Side of the Moon,” E.F. Schumacher published “Small is Beautiful,” Watergate began to heat up, the Skylab space station was launched, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its DSM-II and the Endangered Species Act was enacted. Even in the face of the rising backlash against the counter-culture 60s, that song captured something of the strong optimistic spirit of those times.
The “Yes We Can” theme was famously used in Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Given the political battles that have unfolded in the interim, we look back on that sentiment as naive. From this vantage point we're singing more about going it alone than moving forward together.
Faced with global warming and the sixth mass extinction event, it's difficult to see how we can alter the course of the biosphere through uncoordinated individual action. Actually, that's how we got ourselves into this mess. We act at the level of species whether we intend to or not.
Beyond “Yes We Can” might be “Yes We Can Can.” Beyond the scientific observations and the rhetorical hammers is a groove that shows us something about the kindness that we can give.