Like many others, I was shocked and saddened by the death of George Floyd on May 25th of 2020. I understood that institutional racism existed, and I knew the legacy of far too many black people who had died uneccesarily at the hands of mostly white police officers. But the existence of video that showed the slow and methodical murder of George Floyd was unlikely anything I had ever seen before. I have to admit that I couldn’t watch the entire video. He repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, begged for his life, and called for his deceased mother. It was heart wrenching and enraging. My first reaction was to want to hold law enforcement responsible for his death. But in the days that followed I couldn’t avoid confronting the systemic issues that led to his death and the role that I, as a privledged white male, play in helping perpetuate them. I am complict. In my new found world view, complicty is part of the problem which makes me a racist. Or perhaps more accurately, I have not been antiracist.
A few days after Mr. Floyd’s death, I sat down at my piano. I wasn’t thinking of writing a song. In fact, I was just waiting for my wife to come downstairs before we left the house to run an errand. I put my hands on the keyboard and within 20 seconds composed what became the verse and chorus of this song. The refrain of “I can’t breathe”, long familiar in the African American community, emerged even more strongly as a national meme in the wake of George Floyd’s death and it kept popping into my mind as I considered where the composition was going.
A couple of days later I decided to write some lyrics based on the “I can’t breathe” theme. The entire song was done less than 2 hours later. This is one of the few times in my life where I felt I was channeling creativity rather than generating it.
The song was produced in Logic Pro X which is an absolutely unbelievable piece of software technology. I performed, engineered, and mixed everything myself. There are a copule of easter eggs for the discerning listener with similar musical interests. I’ve got short musical quotes from Prince and Sting embedded in the song. Bonus points if you can identify them (and the songs they were cribbed from).
I recognize that the theme of the song, coming from a white man, might rub some people the wrong way. I have no intent to offend. The song is true to my current observations and perspective, and I’m proud of the work. I hope you enjoy it.
He’s buying smokes at the corner store at 8 o’clock in the eve
The cops arrive and find him and friends just hanging around
He’s cuffed and questioned cooperative and tells them he’s claustrophobic
They just ignore him before they throw him down to the ground
I can’t believe
What we still see
How will we be
Why must I plead
That led to these
Don’t bring to me
Your old disease
The worst of the blue bends down and places a knee on his neck
Community documents and gathers around
He pleas and he cries out for his mother as his lungs are compressed
And suddenly silent, his life slowly runs down
We cannot wait
We must dictate
How do you rate
As we await
To those that hate
It’s plain to see
So clear to me
That he can’t breathe!
The protestors gather and their voices splinter with rage
Destruction is wrought upon the corporate elite
Emerging awakening among the public at large
A time to change, engage, and rearrange the ruling bourgeoisie
Our right to try
Ignore the lies
So clear to me
His right to be
But he can’t breathe!
I don’t know what to do but it can’t go on unabated
I don’t know what to say so I won’t
Now I must listen closely and recognize my advantage
And act to bring a change moving on
It’s time for we
All human beings
So let him breathe!
But he can’t breathe
So let him breathe
But he can’t breathe