Unsettling Times

Protest songs, identity questions, and economic disparity surface in this month’s music and books.



Published:

Bloom by Megan Keely (Megan Keely Music, MeganKeely.com)

San Francisco Filipino-American singer-songwriter wrote “Stronger,” the first single from her new seven-song EP, after the Women’s March in 2017. After the announcement of the Trump Administration’s rollback of DACA, she couldn’t leave her Chicago hotel room until she finished composing “Define American,” Bloom’s heart-rending, confrontational opening track. Keely hasn’t abandoned love songs: “Love Will Find You,” inspired by a friend’s wedding, “Marcia Montgomery,” sung in honor of her grandmother, and “San Gregorio,” an ode to her family’s summer vacation spot, all thrum with deep affection. She hasn’t sunk into desperate pessimism: Keely sings, in Spanish, the classic “De Colores” — a staple of United Farm Workers rallies — and closes the album with the optimistic anthem “We Will Be Fine.” A band of studio all-stars gives Bloom’s old-school folk-protest vibe a fully modern acoustic-electric kick. —Derk Richardson 

 

Paper Sons: A Memoir by Dickson Lam (Autumn House Press, 2018, 236 pp., $17.95)

The murder of author Dickson Lam’s former student at the June Jordan School of Equity is the point of departure for this memoir. Lam frames the cultural experience of Asian-American immigrants through his development from teenage graffiti artist to high school teacher working with troubled youth. Diving into his own problematic family history, he undertakes the Herculean effort to reconcile the secrets of his origins with his perception of the truth. The book tackles problems of inequality and violence in San Francisco, the city in which Paper Sons takes place, and unpacks the unique, difficult experiences of Asian-American immigrants in the city. From these struggles, he gleans lessons and meanings and creates a book for the times in which the nation grapples with questions of race and identity. —Francesco Guerrieri

 

Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley by Cary McClelland (W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, 244 pp., $26.95)

Few conversations about the Bay Area can be had without discussing its dramatic transformation. The immense changes endured by the local community have impacted everything from the skyline of San Francisco to the complexion of its neighborhoods. Cary McClelland weaves together a narrative of a region under siege by the economic forces of tech, gentrification, and inequality. He brings out the voices of venture capitalists, artists, Uber drivers, CEOs, children, and others to let the residents of the United States’ most expensive region tell their stories. Because McClelland believes “no single voice is intended to represent a monolithic feeling of the ‘community’ from which they emerge,” he gives readers a refreshing perspective and concerned analysis of their collective home. —FG

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