If your first thought each morning is wondering what new hell the world cooked up for you since bedtime, you’re not alone. 2016 has been a troll of a year, dishing out unfathomable political and social upheaval, senseless deaths, and soul-crushing disasters, all while systematically robbing us of the artists we turned to for comfort when nothing and nobody else made sense. If 2016 could be summed up in two words, they just might be, “now what?” And if 2016 could be summed up in just one song, it just might be Don Covay’s “What’s In The Headlines” from 1972.
1972 remains a low point in most regards for many of the same reasons people are hiding under their covers today
It makes sense that a song from 1972 would so perfectly capture the mourn-resent-repeat cycle that seems to have become our new normal. As far as recent history goes ’72 was a low point in most regards, and for many of the same reasons so many people are hiding under their covers in 2016: Terrorism? Look up Bloody Friday (and the British Army’s Bloody Sunday response) that shook Ireland, or the attack that killed 11 athletes at the Munich Olympics. Racial Issues? At those same Olympics, two African-American athletes caused outrage by refusing to stand during the U.S. National Anthem, and were banned from future competition as a result of their peaceful protest. Natural disasters? Earthquakes in Iraq and Nicaragua killed tens of thousands, while hurricanes and floods killed hundreds in America. We had over 100,000 Americans marching in anti-war demonstrations as we continued to bomb South-East Asia, not to mention the beginnings of the Watergate scandal that would take down Nixon and cause a distrust in government that still shapes American politics. A cover story from Time Magazine asked “Is The U.S. Going Broke?,” questioning why a country that appeared so wealthy on the surface couldn’t afford to pay for the most basic needs of its citizens.
It was, for most, a very scary time. Hell, 1972 still holds the record for most airplane crashes. And this was the year that Don Covay, Mick Jagger’s vocal inspiration and one of music’s great, unsung, genre-busting outlaws (though most folks at least know some of the songs he wrote for Aretha and others), grabbed his kazoo and knocked out a back-porch blues weary and worried enough for 2016.
“Good morning, mean old world, what do you have in store for me today?”
“What’s In The Headlines” is sparse, funny, dark, and all too real. It’s lyrics capture the “now what” fear and malaise that seems to be the subtext of every post in your Facebook feed and every water-cooler discussion you’re brave enough to engage. “Good morning, mean old world, what do you have in store for me today?” is all he can ask, pondering just how bad things are likely to get next. How many people are gonna die? How many children are gonna cry? Will he end up in the bread line, the red line, the dead line, the welfare line, or jail? The only thing he’s sure of is that the day ain’t ending well. The helplessness and hopelessness is all too familiar nowadays: “Does anybody know I’m here? Does anybody even care?” These are existential blues and they cut deep. But it doesn’t descend completely in to bleak nihilism. After all, you can only be so sad with a kazoo on your lips and even Covay’s backup singers bust out laughing at the end. Yep, Don was able to hold on to his sense of humor in 1972, so here’s hoping we can do the same as we start to close out 2016 and pray that things start looking up in January.
BONUS CUT: If you’re not familiar with Don Covay, here are 10 tracks to introduce you. You just might dig him as much as Aretha, Peter Wolf, Bobby Womack, Iggy Pop, and The Stones did: