Twenty years ago the ska band the Mighty Mighty Bosstones released “Let’s Face It,” an album that today is having a renaissance in the summer of hate.
The title track from the record has begun to circulate on social media and emerge as an optimistic anthem against bigotry two decades and three presidents after first hitting radio waves in March 1997.
After a Dodge Charger allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters Saturday in Charlottesville, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, mourners took solace in the lyrics from “Let’s Face It” in posts on Twitter and Facebook calling to “give tolerance a try” and “try to erase” hate: “It’s so hard to face/ That in this day and age/ Somebody’s race/ Could trigger somebody’s rage/ And somebody’s preference/ Can drive a total stranger to make somebody/ Somehow feel the wrath of their anger.”
In his rumbling baritone, songwriter and bandleader Dicky Barrett confronts hate head on: “Be racist, be sexist, be bigots, be sure: We won’t stand for your hate.”
“If you told me 20 years ago,” Barrett said in an interview with The Washington Post, “that nothing will change and at some points you’re going to feel like it’s going to get worse, my head would have exploded. I would have said there’s no way.”
Barrett said that in light of recent events this summer — a shooting targeting congressional Republicans at a baseball practice, armed Ku Klux Klan leaders assembling for a rally and white nationalists marching in a torchlit parade extending the Nazi salute — “right now it feels like we’re four or five steps backward from 1997.”
Speaking about Charlottesville, Barrett said, “My heart goes out to the lives that are lost, and my support goes out to the people fighting the good fight.”
Barrett said that despite the song’s age, “Let’s Face It” remains relevant.
“Believe it or not, it’s not a tired old record with a tired old message,” Barrett said. “It feels vibrant and urgent and desperate and less hopeful because 20 years has passed.”
Barrett said the song was inspired partly by his upbringing as a child of the civil rights era and as a Boston resident as the city bused students to desegregate schools.
“I learned that different was great and that the diversity and individuality of other people was what made them special,” Barrett said. “I wanted to say we’re all human beings. . . . You’re not any better than anybody else for any reason.”
Barrett’s song ends with a call for unity. “Let’s face it,” Barrett rasps. “The time is upon us.”
In the summer of 2017, those words are resonating.