NPR logo Yes We Can, Or Hell No?

Yes We Can, Or Hell No?

Depending on the day, the glass is half empty or it's half full. I'm either loving the world like a hippie on the beach, sitting atop a piece a driftwood and playing my didgeridoo, or I'm lambasting everything in plain sight, from puppies to kittens to rainbows. I can't possibly be alone in my vacillations, in my extremes. Right?

I'm back in Portland for a bit, and the other day I was shopping in a local store, listening to the clerk tell me through sniffles and a hoarse, cracked voice that he refuses to take anything for his allergies — not even the homeopathic remedies. He explained that allergy medication is just another way that humans shield themselves from the realities of the world, a way in which we cut ourselves off from our bodies. I told him I was using a nasal spray that contained steroids, but that I also use a Neti Pot. I hoped, by mentioning the latter, that I would illustrate how I was balancing out the evil and alienating nature of Flonase with what amounts to a warm, salt-water douche for your nose. I always feel the need to overshare, especially in Portland, where one can feel judged for simply wanting to take an unimpeded breath. This act of Too Much Information on my part leads me right back into a contrary and misanthropic state: All of a sudden, I feel the urge to buy a gas-guzzler, wax eloquent about Barnes and Noble in front of Powell's, ask for extra plastic bags at the grocery store and shop so un-locally that I'm ordering my "Keep Portland Weird" bumper sticker from the Wal-Mart Web site.

But it's not just local politics and people that freak me out; sometimes all it takes is reading a Frank Rich piece in The New York Times, agreeing wholeheartedly, and then reading the opposing views in the comments and realizing that I'm just a tool in some progressive and liberal toolbox. Should I join the Tea Party? Do I agree with Sarah Palin and think, "Hell, no"? Um, I don't think so. But I can't say that I always operate with sustained hope, or feel "Yes we can" day in and day out.

When it comes to music, I can fall in love with styles that fuel the positive and the hopeful. I can go see Garotas Suecas on a Friday night (which I just did), and dance with just a handful of other freaky people and love the feeling that the band's music brings to my life. I'll call this hope.

But I can just as easily be fueled by a "Hell no" attitude in songs. And sometimes I miss more of that in contemporary music. In this past year, I've heard "Hell no" in Ted Leo, Quasi, Liars, Talk Normal, Sonic Youth and Viv Albertine, but not in a lot of other places. It's not a literal or lyrical energy, but it's an energy nonetheless.

I need some of my music to agitate me, and then I need something else to come along and quell that very agitation. So while "Yes We Can" and "Hell No" might seem diametrically opposed on the political spectrum, most music listeners probably want a little bit of both.

Please share what bands have you shouting "Hell No!" and which ones make you feel like, "Yes We Can!"