THE BLOG
10/15/2013 08:54 am ET

Save the Country

The French saxophone player, wearing earbuds, nods his sexy head in time to music, only he can hear, and stirs a white sugar cube into his espresso.

I like this time of day at cafes in Paris: the brief tranquility between breakfast and lunch as waiters set empty tables; and regulars linger over coffee and the newspaper.

Didier removes his earbuds, slides my iPhone across the table to me at Cafe Select. "Merveilleux... a perfect song for this moment," he says. He sips his sugary espresso. "Your country... it needs saving."

This is an appropriate response; Didier has been listening to my cover of the Laura Nyro song, "Save the Country."

"True... c'est vrai," I say. "My country needs saving."

I tear into a croissant, pulling it apart by its crispy tip, scattering buttery flakes of crust onto the newspaper, Le Figaro, and the headline -- Dette americaine: la semaine de tous les dangers.

I read aloud from the paper: "Les negotiations enterprises entre Barack Obama et les republicains n'ayant pas abouti ce week-end, le suspense demeure. I recognize the key words. I don't ask Didier to translate, but he does.

"Negotiations between Obama and the Republicans... they have failed. The suspense... it continues," he says. Then he speaks words of his own: "Your government is shut. And everyone in your country has a gun."

I think of my bus ride home, one night, from Chatelet to my swapped apartment in the 14th; people were crammed into the bus, standing cheek to cheek, faces pressed against doors that barely closed; yet a young couple had found room to kiss and embrace, leaning against the glass partition that separated them from me, as I shared a seat-for-one with a French woman who was unfazed by so many people and so little air. "Parlez-vous Anglais... un peu?" I said.

"Oui... un peu. A little bit," she said.

"It's not like this on the bus in the United States," I said.

"That is because you all have guns," the French woman said. "The passengers would shoot each other to sit."

Didier gestures to the newspaper, in disgust. "Who is to blame for the stoppage of your government?" he says.

"A small group of Republicans who answer to a small group of wealthy men," I say. "They hate Obamacare...a health plan which will help so many. And they hate Obama."

"But Obama... he was elected by your people."

"Corporate interests..." I pour warm milk into my espresso. "They've become more important than the interests of the people who elected our president."

"How can democracy exist with such circumstances?"

"We are asking ourselves this in America," I say. "It is crazy and sad. And unjust."

A waiter sets a carafe of water on our table. "Merci," I say.

"Je vous en prie," the waiter says, as he walks away checking his watch, which he wears just above the folded, white linen napkin that is draped over his wrist.

"Do you think music can help save a country?" Didier says.

"I believe music can help people feel their loving humanness," I say. "And loving humanness can save a country."

Didier thinks about that. He nods in agreement.

I glance at the bar which is empty except for a man who reads the newspaper, Liberation, with a huge magnifying glass. At a table across from us, a young French guy reads a book. I crane my neck to see the title. "Look what he is reading?" I say to Didier.

Didier squints at the book .

"The biography of Nina Simone," I say. "And because he is reading about Nina Simone... I feel as if we might have something in common."

"Je comprends," Didier says.

"The crazier things get in this world..." I say. "Les plus folles... the more sense music makes to me. The more I feel the power of music... the need for music."

"This is why you make your record," he says. "Your beautiful voice sings a message to touch hearts."

"A Japanese dj, who found me on Twitter... he suggested I record a song written by Laura Nyro, in honor of her birthday," I say. "I actually recorded it during the vitriolic frenzy of our election."

"What does it mean... vitriolic frenzy?"

I sip espresso, pondering a simple definition. "Out of control momentum... fueled by cruelty and bitterness," I say.

"Vitriolic frenzy," he says, committing the words to memory. "I like this."

Somehow, with beaucoup explanation (in French and English), I manage to communicate to Didier: My intention was to record one of Laura's moody ballads -- until I saw Rachel Maddow, on TV, talking about a particularly deplorable incident during the Romney/Ryan campaign.

"I got so pissed," I say. "You know the word... pissed?"

"Pissed? Pissed-off... yes, I know this."

"I started singing: "I've got fury... I've got fury... I've got fury." Over and over. Then I sang harmonies on my computer until I became my own gospel choir. That's when I knew I had to record "Save the Country."

"Fantastic," he says.

I remember friends saying: it was too bad that people had not been more aware of my record leading up to the election... because the timing was perfect. "This country is a mess, I told them. It's going to need saving for a long time."

Little did I know, how bad things would get within a year: mass shootings that, once again, failed to change our gun laws; the loss of women's rights; voters' rights. So many crises and during each one, a friend would say: you need to make people aware of your song -- the timing is perfect.

Now, a Frenchman is telling me the same thing. "Get your song to as many people as possible," he says. "You must put it on SoundCloud... so people will listen globally."

"I did... recently," I say. "My country... it really and truly does need saving, now," I say. "Republicans are not excused from democracy. Republicans were elected to represent the people. Not the wealthy few who fund their campaigns and hold the nation hostage to achieve their special interests."

The pace of my words has quickened and I don't care if Didier understands all that I am saying. I need to understand. "People are afraid. People are hungry. People are losing their benefits; their homes; their jobs. And if this continues -- people will lose each other; there will be families who will not survive more loss. The only people who should be deprived of benefits and jobs are the Republicans who created this disaster."

My espresso is strong. But it is not the caffeine, coursing through me, that has me so worked up. "Did you understand what I said, Dider?"

"Not each word, no. Mais je comprends. I understand your feeling."

"I've got fury!" I blurt.

"Fury is good for you."

"Especially when you can dance to it," I say.

The French saxophone player smiles.

I sing Laura's words softly to him and to myself: "Save the people... save the children... save the country."

It is cold in Paris. People wear coats and scarves as they hurry along Boulevard Montparnasse past the restaurant, La Coupole. Some rush to the metro, some to the bus stop; others walk quickly just to fend off the chill. I see people hurrying toward us, to Cafe Select, where they will drink espresso until they order lunch and, most likely, warm themselves with wine.

Didier orders another espresso. I do, too.

I brush away croissant crumbs from the French newspaper, and read about my country.

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