One of the fun things about having an i-Pod and listening to it all the time is getting acquainted with old songs from one's collection never listened to much, or re-acquainted with songs of past affection.
I've always respected and admired the seminal hip-hoppers Public Enemy, from Chuck D's sermon-like rapping to Flavor Flav's comical punctuations. Obviously a song like "Fight the Power", used to such great effect in Spike Lee's great 1989 movie Do The Right Thing, is a classic. Public Enemy also has what may be my favorite album title from any artist: It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, a brilliant reverse-view of the oppression-ridden African American experience.
When the song "By The Time I Get To Arizona" came about, I received it with a bit of a chuckle. This was the early 90s, and the states of New Hampshire and Arizona were slow to enact Martin Luther King's birthday as a national holiday. People forget this now, but there was a bit of a practicality issue at play in whether to add another holiday to the American worker's array of days off, or to subtract a different holiday's apportioned time off such as Columbus Day or Presidents' Day.
Understandably, though, Public Enemy and many other African American leaders saw these two states abstaining from an MLK holiday as a racist act. As Sista Soulja (remember her?) says in the intro to the song, they seemed to find "...psychological discomfort in paying tribute to a black man who tried to teach white people the meaning of civilization."
What I love about the song, though, isn't its attention to the politics of national holidays, or even race itself. I find myself continually pumped up and energized by the more transcendent sense of righteous anger. We all have stuff that gets us angry now and then. We feel wronged, or that some person or entity close to us has. We feel powerless, frustrated, and want to act out. "By The Time I Get To Arizona" has a very strong, cathartic aspect that I can apply to any of my own feelings and motivations.
I also have a somewhat more specific, Arizona-related connection to the song, but it's nothing as noble in inspiration as race relations or Dr. King. I'm thinking of the football game a few months ago when Oregon's most successful season in its 113-year history--one with a Heisman Trophy and a national championship seemingly within reach--was ruined on the field in Tuscon at the University of Arizona. Nobody on the UA team caused Dennis Dixon's knee injury that evening, but it's far from the first time that turf has caused a major injury to an Oregon quarterback. Two years ago, NFL-bound Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens broke his leg there, and Oregon (despite winning their last three games without him) was more or less aced out of a prestigious January bowl game because of it. A decade earlier, Ducks quarterback Bill Musgrave had an akle sprain in practice on the field that cost the team the game.
By the time I get to Arizona? I'm installing artificial turf. But only at night, because you'd have to be insane to go outside when it's 120 degrees.
Then again, it was just yesterday that my parents departed for a vacation in--where else?--Arizona. Apparently they and others seem to think walking onto the surface of the sun is pleasurable to a little light rain.
Of course, my listening to the song so regularly should also be a reminder that righteous anger is a dangerous emotion. When people are too righteous, they stop listening to reason. I think of the Winston Churchill quote we have on a fridge magnet in the kitchen: "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." Unless it involves a sports team called the Ducks or Blazers, I don't want to be a fanatic or to be self-righteous.
But then again, it's always fun to blow off a little steam. And while I may be mellow on the outside most of the time, it'd take nation of millions to hold back my emotions.