This is What Equality Sounds Like: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “Same Love”

I can’t change. Even if I tried. Even if I wanted to.” M&L

Although I endeavor to separate my politics from my taste in art, on occasion, a track breaks the false wall I have constructed, overwhelming my defenses with both its poetry and its poignancy. Popular American music is no stranger to politicized art, even though commercial radio has done a fair job of trying to dumb down the public discourse. (Folk music from its inception told the story of class and individual struggle against larger forces, often pitting labor against capital or dramatizing the African American struggle for equality.) The elephantine problem with “political art” is its inherent didacticism and self-righteousness – the preacher at the bully pulpit moralizing and denouncing wrongs. Even if one is on the side of the “right”, one cannot help but feel a slight bludgeon from the weighty superiority of the orator. But, great songs transcend this inherent conflict by side-stepping the didacticism all together…

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” is born from a very simple idea: love in whatever shape, size, color, creed, or orientation is a Human Right to be shared by, with, and for all. Love like equality is blind to difference and embraces it. “Same Love” works not because it is on the “side of the right” but because it speaks (the) truth (of the matter); in how we love, we are all the same. In its uncomplicated message matched by the very stark, simple production lays the track’s brilliance and beauty. And, despite my (somewhat over the top) introduction, “Same Love” is not a political song at all, even if the circumstances surrounding and inspiring it are inextricably rooted in politics.

Before reading on please listen… and listen closely.

I’ll admit I first heard this song when my friend posted it a while back. But while I heard it, I didn’t listen to the words, and therein lies the song’s power: a straightforward from-the-heart observation of the tragic hypocrisy and realities of the society and culture in which we live (e.g., “some would rather die than be who they are; “When I was in church they taught me something else if you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed, that holy water that you soak in has been poisoned;” ” no freedom till we are equal, damn right I support it.”). The latter statement about support is both a general one for marriage equality and for the upcoming referendum (Referendum 74) on a Washington state law that legalized same-sex marriage that is set for November’s general election. (You are registered to vote right? Just in case, go here.) Beginning with a low organ-like tone, the song proceeds and progress along a handful of piano chords, nothing too elaborate or complex, allowing Macklemore to foreground the story. About a minute later, another subtle percussion enters followed by Mary Lambert’s soul-stirring vocals. And the horns!!! It’s the kind of song you can easily imagine a large congregation of people coming together to sing and celebrate. Nothing about the music is groundbreaking or mind-blowing, but the idea is…

Step back for a second and remove the issue of gay marriage from the equation and think about the recurring chorus in this song:

I can’t change.

Even if I tried.

Even if I wanted to.

It is a truism that (1) we are born and (2) we each develop in different yet particular ways, part of this arises from nature (i.e., genetics) and another part from nurture (i.e., one’s actual environment). People start to differ on the weight given to either of these and the illusory notion that identity or orientation is a choice, like what brand of clothing or tattoo design you want to showcase. However, there is no question that we all are born and develop unique characteristics that are inherent to us. At a certain stage of life, we come to “understand” ourselves (some earlier than others) and we realize that despite how much we want to change certain aspects of our selves, we are (for better or for worse) who we are – the beautiful and the bad, the good and the ugly. Each of us in our lives has to come to terms with certain qualities and characteristics of who were that we can’t change, even if wanted to. But, once we come to accept our unique qualities (both our gifts and our shortcomings) and embrace them, we can move forward and beyond.  This is the kernel of the story M&L are telling, except invert the paradigm. It is our society and our culture (and the world, really) that must learn to accept and bring forth true equality by undergoing this process of empathy, of listening, and of understanding.

For me the issue of marriage equality has never really been an issue; it is a priori that we should all be entitled to equality under the laws. I still recall at an early age meeting a couple that were friends with my sister who were introduced to me as “roommates”, probably this term was used because I was about seven or eight years old and/or South Miami and the Catholic community in which I was raised weren’t the most tolerant or accepting of difference(s). But despite the linguistic gymnastics, even at that age I fully understood that these two men didn’t just share a living space. They clearly shared their lives and loved, cared, and supported each other. Nothing about their relationship or even the idea of same sex couples living together struck me as odd. In fact, it wasn’t until later in life that I wondered (and still wonder) why it bothered anyone else.

I hope and pray (in my secular fashion) for my family and friends that are gay that one day they will all be able to fully share in the rights offered to heterosexual couples, especially the opportunity to walk down an aisle, city hall, or whatever space they choose to demonstrate their love and commitment to their partner in front of their loved ones.  I firmly believe it’s just a matter of when, not if.

No law is gonna change us, we have to change us,
Whatever God we believe in, we come from the same one,
Strip away the fear, underneath it’s all the same love. – M&L


p.s.  If you would like to purchase the song or support Music For Marriage Equality, go here.

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