Acclaimed singer-songwriter Ike Reilly released his new album, 'Because The Angels', this week and to celebrate he tells us about the song "F*** the Good Old Days." Here is the story:
I live in a pretty homogenous upper-middle class town in Illinois called Libertyville. We have a regular farmer's market, a town square, plenty of happenin' restaurants, upscale and dive bars, yoga studios, and an army of baristas. People do pretty well here, and we have notable folks that come from this place -- Marlon Brando, Adam Jones (from the band Tool), Gwynne Shotwell (the president of SpaceX), and my good friend Tom Morello -- they all hail from Libertyville. Of course they all left; I didn't. I've lived here my whole life, and I do love it. My kids and their families are here, my mother is still here, I have many friends and many, many more acquaintances here, too.
The town can appear idyllic, and in many ways it is, but like anywhere in America, you can scrape through the sparkle in the finish and see hypocrisy, the denial of history, and you sometimes hear sh*t that makes you think it's 1952... ya know, the good old days? I have high aspirations for my town -- I don't want everybody to believe exactly what I believe -- but I hope the people that I live with, my neighbors -- ya know, the fortunate, God-fearing town folk I walk among -- also believe that people with less in this world should get a fair chance to get more, and that people who have been beat down and oppressed now get a fair shake. I hope that the same people who dwell on their "up-from-boot-straps" bullsh*t mythology can see that their paths, like my path, wasn't really that difficult. I hope that folks have the desire to leave this place more just than when they got here. I hope we can all see beyond the edge of town. Anyway, before I dive into the nuts and bolts of writing "F*** The Good Old Days," I gotta tell ya about "Laura."
I have a song called "Laura," and before I sing it out in the clubs, I sometimes ask the audience if anybody out there is dating a racist. Some people laugh, some don't, some folks point at each other, and a few have even walked out. After the unofficial poll is taken, I tell them about the Laura in the song -- she's a former lover, a Christian, and she's white. She's also got a problem with the value of people unlike herself. The catalyst for the song "Laura," written before Trump was elected, was a conversation I overheard at a local joint I used to hang out at. I heard a woman I kind of knew speaking to a man that I didn't know, and she was ranting about the Black Lives Matter movement. Like many, she understood BLM to mean that her life might not matter as much as she thought it did or that black lives mattered more. She didn't recognize the centuries of oppression, police brutality, and the institutional racist roadblocks that are laid out all over our country that could fuel a movement for racial justice and equality. After the scabs were ripped off in 2016 and White supremacy was making a fashionable comeback, there was a very obvious divide -- a political divide that I believe to be based more on race than anything else. Race isn't the only cause for this division, but race is the issue that really displays how blind the fortunate can be. Anyway, I'm not telling ya anything here that ya don't know, that ya haven't heard before. I just wanted to give ya some background on where I come from and what I've seen and heard out in the real world. I wanna let ya know how disappointment, division, and hope led me to write and record the song "F*** The Good Old Days."
I was reading a book called "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War." The book includes letters written during the Civil War, and I thought one day I may work up a song that was based on one of those letters. Handwritten letters have more weight, they are surely more meaningful than texts or emails, but I didn't really think anybody would give a sh*t about a song that goes on some obscure trip into the personal business of somebody who lived and died 150 years ago. Still, I liked the way these letters began, and so I started with the opening salutation, "My Dearest Love." I sat on that opening line for a while with no body of the letter written -- really, no song yet -- but I knew the letter would come from some battlefield, real or not.
Very shortly after George Floyd was murdered, a BLM protest was planned in the Libertyville town square. It was followed by a march down main street. The BLM rally in Libertyville was historical and certainly polarizing. The cynical might criticize folks in an upper-middle class white community of participating in a patronizing protest, but, for many of us, it was a chance to make sure we were on the right side of history, a chance to stand up for something we believed in, a chance to show empathy for George Floyd and all the other victims of these grotesque police murders. I'm aware that this protest was not a world-changing event, but nothing like it had ever taken place in Libertyville before. We were part of something bigger, and for a moment it pierced the bubble that surrounded us, that surrounds us. The protest came off peacefully, and it was uplifting to stand in the middle of Libertyville with my family and hundreds of other like-minded neighbors in support of equality and justice, even if I thought it was possibly only symbolic.
Symbolic or not, the BLM rally in Libertyville did a couple of things: it allowed people to show their support of this movement in a place that hadn't really been home to any kind of civil protest, and it also poked the snake of fear and privilege. On social media, #alllivesmatter, #Bluelivesmatter, and #whitelivesmatter hashtags were popping up from some residents, and in one instance a local business was tagged with BLM and anti-police graffiti possibly in retaliation for a pro-police social media post right after George Floyd was murdered. I lost a few friends in town during this time and I was disappointed by a few more. In one case, a person that I knew pretty well saw themselves as a victim because they had unknowingly unveiled their ignorance to the gravity of the murder, to the suffering of others, and they were targeted with grafitti; some others found George Floyd's murder and the subsequent protests to be inconvenient.
As I said, I love my town, and I have high aspirations for the whole place and for anybody who calls it home, so I found my battlefield, and not just for the song. The battle is with the mindset of privilege, complacency and exclusion, and with the blind attachment to the past. The thought of people holding on to a false memory or to an incomplete version of the truth was really what drove me to finish this song. In the volatile confines of last summer, I could feel some folks clamoring for simpler times -- clinging to what they remember as better times. The good old days are certainly relative, and you can welcome change that brings everybody up or fight it and drag everybody down. In the song, I connected the idea of a letter from the battlefield in the Civil War to the civil war we are fighting right now. It gives me hope to say "F*** The Good Old Days."
*PRODUCTION NOTE - I am surrounded by the most versatile band, and it was decided that the music for this track would be the most sh*t-kicking, country-gospel-punk mess we could muster. That's America.
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen and watch for yourself below and learn more about the album here