In a time of ever-worsening division, Long Island musician Roger Street Friedman is arguing that love, hope, and trust are feelings that should flow in more than just our closest relationships. They may be necessary for the survival of our society.
“Like anyone else I can get sucked into the political arguments on Facebook, but I just came to realize it wasn’t serving me or anyone else,” Friedman said. “Really, the way to approach life is to understand that we’re more alike that we are different. We all want the same things, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The voices we are hearing are the most extreme voices. It’s not how most people feel.”
In our discussion, Friedman and I were pretty much in agreement that we have to hope for the best and that most people were deserving of love. But we disagreed on just how realistic it is to trust folks on the other side of the aisle in a time of attempts to overturn elections and undermine democracy. I was against the idea. While Friedman noted that his song was “aspirational, he added that misinformation and biases have a lot to do with how people think and that they alone aren’t to blame.
“Understanding what these people are exposed to and what they’re going through makes me hopeful that if I were across the table drinking a beer with somebody that we could have a reasonable and rational discussion,” Friedman said.
“The Ghosts of Sugarland” is one of the more impressive pieces of activist songwriting from 2022. It specifically tells the story of the prison slave labor Southern states and business such as Imperial Sugar exploited in the years following emancipation. Clocking in at nearly 7 minutes, the song tells the whole story from how a mass grave found at a former prison revealed the horrors that befell the newly freed Black population and the legal maneuverings that allowed it all to happen.
“I was so angry that I never learned about it in school,” Friedman said. “And then to think about what’s going on now where they’re trying to not teach Black history in school because they don’t want people to feel bad, it just felt like the time was right to tell this story. It was not that long ago. It wasn’t outlawed in Texas until 1912.”
While the song rightly condemns the 19th and 20th century Whites involved in the scheme, it more gently prods the modern listener to reconsider the true cost of their luxury goods and the complacency it may inspire. Given the product being produced at the plantation, the line about ‘sugarcoating’ what’s taught in schools feels particularly bitter.
Elsewhere on the album, “Mother and Son,” “Thankful For This Day,” and “Multiply by Two” are particularly worth listening to. Friedman really shines when he’s focused on love, positivity, and relationships absolutely packed with the love, hope, and trust he hopes society at large can adopt. “Mother and Son” is especially remarkable in the way it manages to fold in stories from so many family members to create a portrait of a woman I probably would’ve liked a lot.
Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Roger Street Friedman and the songs we discussed, starting with the title track, which challenged my more distrusting nature. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit http://www.WUSB.fm and https://www.rogerstreetfriedman.com for more.