After the Women's March in January and the Presidential Inauguration, Laura Burhenn, who writes and records as The Mynabirds, hoped to document the events of the day with what she calls "emotional journalism." She wound up with nine new songs, which she's released over the summer in the form of three EPs.
Now this music inspired by Standing Rock, the travel ban and heartfelt fears and feelings following the 2016 election are being released as a single, complete album called Be Here Now.
One of the songs from the new record, "Golden Age," feels the most relevant given the recent events in Charlottesville. In fact Laura Burhenn decided to release a new video for the track a week early because of the violence that unfolded. "After everything that happened in Charlottesville last week, it felt too important to wait," she writes in an email. "When I wrote the song, I worried that a line about standing up to Nazism would feel gimmicky or dated. Who knew it'd be more relevant than ever?"
The video, directed by Jason Lester tackles sadness with humor in a way that is both entertaining and thoughtful, in the same spirit as the song. Laura told me she was thinking about the year that had just passed when she wrote "Golden Age" and the year that was rapidly unfolding. "2016 was a hard year. First we lost [David] Bowie and Leonard Cohen and Prince. The ice caps kept melting and the man who was elected President of the U.S. didn't believe in the science explaining why."
There were also a few exhibitions in Washington, D.C. that touched and inspired Laura. "I found myself in the Hirshhorn Museum between Ragnar Kjartansson's "Woman in E" and a 2D iceberg field and felt like I was looking at a portrait of America — the woman looked like Lady Liberty dressed in cheap gold (a sad concession prize from the election), and the icebergs felt like the Golden Age of America disappearing before our eyes. It all felt like a terrible magic trick.
"I was disgusted and angry to see the hate, racism and intolerance in the headlines and our own backyards. Was this really America? In the midst of my despair, Walt Whitman came to me in a vision. In the booming voice of a sage who'd slogged through the worst of the Civil War, I heard him say, 'There's a woman off the coast of Manhattan who cannot be disappeared; look to her.' Lady Liberty, the woman bearing the torch of light in the darkness, opening her arms to weary refugees, to the tired, the hungry, the needy — she stands for what is great about America, and what gives me the hope and the fight to persevere. She embodies a spirit of generosity, of steadiness through the storm. In these tumultuous times, I know where I want to stand.
"Ugh! America! You terrible wonderful crazy awful beautiful thing! I hate you! I love you! You drive me up the wall, and I want to quit you and also marry you! Can't we just go get some ice cream and remember how good we can be when we embrace our humanity?"
Be Here Now by The Mynabirds is out Friday August 25 on Saddle Creek.