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My view: From better to worse

Singers Pink, Tyler Childers, Jason Aldean share their values

Beyond a few catchy, earwormy dance songs, I’d never been a fan of global pop star Pink. She was too flashy, too predictable, too something not for my taste. Seriousness of purpose isn’t a measure for pop divas and I would not have given Pink legitimate credit. Until last week.

That’s when Pink gave out 2,000 banned books at her concerts in Florida. Squeezed between the beer and pretzel stand, and the concert tour merch, PEN America, a nonprofit protecting free expression through literature and human rights, handed out bags with “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “Girls Who Code” by Reshma Saujani, Todd Parr’s “The Family Book” and “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, the first national youth poet laureate who read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

In her banned-books side act, Pink, a mother of school-age children, offered a portal into her values. She turned my head around toward the richness of the person she may very well be.

Pink said: “Books have held a special joy for me from the time I was a child, and that’s why I am unwilling to stand by and watch while books are banned by schools. It’s confusing, it’s infuriating, it is censorship. It’s especially hateful to see authorities take aim at books about race and racism, and against LGBTQ authors and those of color.”

Pink chose the Sunshine State because more books are banned there in classrooms and libraries than any other state. PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 in Texas, 333 in Missouri, 281 in Utah and 186 in Pennsylvania. A 33% spike in book bans is documented nationally.

We can make arguments for literary values in each book in Pink’s bag. But most confusing is why Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” was pulled from shelves. Note, a lone parent was the agitator who got this book banned, saying it’s “not educational” and includes “indirectly hate messages.” Alleged offensive words follow:

“We’ve braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,

And the norms and notions of what ‘just is’

Isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow, we do it.

Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed

A nation that isn’t broken, but simply


Very American values live in this poem. “’Just is’/Isn’t always justice” suggests moments that moved this country toward equity. And we are better for it. The civil rights movement in the 1960s is one example. “A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished” holds hope. We can participate in making this country better. Yet, these words fired up a mother to ban this book.

Another artist curating a belief in the shadow of something larger is Kentucky native, neo-traditional country singer/songwriter Tyler Childers in the video for “In Your Love,” released in summer. Childers matches a tender love ballad to a romance between two male coal miners in 1950s Appalachia.

Childers, married to a woman, asked Kentucky poet laureate Silas House to write the video’s storyline with Childers’ first cousin in mind. His cousin – more like a brother – is gay and had never seen a queer rural person in a country music video. The video’s characters didn’t seek safety in numbers in a city. Instead, they became farmers.

Childers, the rare phenom whose country songs also play on alternative radio, takes listeners on back roads and to rivers good for swimming after a day’s work at the mill. His lyrics’ meaning wraps around like a warm, protective blanket.

“I will work for you

‘Til my hands are tired and bleedin’

I know what it is from us I’m needin’

I will work for you.

Like a team of mules

Pulling hell off from its hinges

It’s for love that I’ll keep tendin’

I will work for you.”

Childers’ sense of caring lingers.

Shiny Nashville pop country singer Jason Aldean leaves a different kind of tribute in his music video for “Try That in a Small Town,” released in spring. Country Music Television yanked the video soon after it aired. But that wasn’t enough. Later, Aldean was shamed into removing a scene from the video, a news clip of a Black Lives Matter protest in Atlanta.

Aldean said: “I love our country. I want to see it restored to what it once was before all this bullsh** started happening to us.” Meaning before a police officer killed a man in custody by kneeling on his neck in broad daylight?

Aldean did not elaborate on said bullsh**. But the number of protest video clips in his video – at least one outside the U.S. – makes his point. Hearing the song doesn’t feel as threatening as watching the video with demonstrators breaking laws outside of protections to assemble peacefully. Lyrics imply a person would be jumped – at the very least – in parts of this country that see their own views as free speech, but not those they can’t stand.

“Try that in a small town

See how far ya make it down the road

Around here, we take care of our own

You cross that line, it won’t take long

For you to find out, I recommend you don’t

Try that in a small town.”

Our exquisite freedom allows us to mostly express whatever we want. People will do what they do. But something’s left behind. Hopefully, it’s something that makes us better.

Ann Marie Swan is Opinion Editor at The Durango Herald and The Journal. These views are her own and don’t represent the editorial board’s.