You can bend but never break me
‘Cos it only serve to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
But I’ll come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cos you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul
The first time I heard this song was October 24, 1992, and I was covering a get-out-the-vote rally in Carbondale, Illinois, where Hillary Clinton was scheduled to speak. A local band called St. Stephen’s Blues warmed up the crowd, and a sense of promise swept over me. We were on the brink of hiring our first Baby Boomer president. The generation that learned from the civil-rights movement and gave us the peace movement, Second Wave feminism, and the gay-rights movement was poised to take the reins of the country, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
I may be considered Generation X (even though I’m a decade younger than the characters in the novel from which the generation’s name was derived), but I’ve always had tremendous faith in Baby Boomers. I was never one of those kids who feels the need to rebel against the grownups. Why bother? The grownups, when I was a teenager, had already done all the rebelling I’d ever need, and I couldn’t see any reason to oppose them.
Admittedly, some of my beloved Boomers have not aged well. Some have become the thing they hated. Some never fit with their own generation and balked at the progress being made around them. But many — my parents, my aunt, my friends Michael and Suzanne, my late friend Laurel, the folkies, the hippies who never forgot who they were — have disproven the “never trust anyone over 30” mantra in glorious fashion, and my enthusiasm for their generation and its professed ideals of inclusion, pacifism, and environmental responsibility has not waned in the 24 years since I gathered with hundreds of other people on the Old Main Mall, notebook in hand, and heard a song that summed up my feelings as I stood on the brink of adulthood, waiting for my own generation to take the reins.
This song was part of a trove of previously unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics, which Billy Bragg and Wilco set to music several years ago for an album called Mermaid Avenue. I can’t think of anybody it suits better than Bob Seger (although I wouldn’t complain if Bruce Springsteen or maybe Neil Diamond wanted to have a go at it).
Have I already “Helplessly Hoping” somewhere along the way? Probably. Does it matter? Probably not. I’ve been doing this feature for so long, I’ve lost track of which songs I’ve posted and which I haven’t.
This is one of my favorites. That mournful guitar and those tight harmonies are just divine.
“Amelia,” from Joni Mitchell’s brilliant Hejira album, is one of my favorite songs — and a nice tribute to a woman who has fascinated me since I was a little girl. I like this stripped-down arrangement. (The version of “Coyote” from this concert is also spectacular; I’ve posted it before.)