Recently, I was working on writing a “What we’re listing to” post that reflected on the life and influence of the music of Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave. I will save my thoughts about the musician for that upcoming post and – as I write this on World Refugee Day – I will just focus on what was I see as a fitting goodbye.
Chris Cornell posthumously released “The Promise” as a statement about world politics on World Refugee Day – Tuesday, June 20, 2017. According to the music video, all of the proceeds from “The Promise” will go to support refugees and children via the International Rescue Committee (for more information on where the money is going visit the International Rescue Committee). It is a striking video that features Cornell performing in a dark studio with images of his lyrics dancing along the walls interspersed with powerful documentary footage of refugees experiencing both tragedy and hope:
While some of the lyrics are particularly tragic given Cornell’s apparent suicide, the video stands as a reminder that the lines between art, popular culture, and activism do not have to be sharp distinctions. Jason Newman of Rolling Stone writes:
With “The Promise” video, the confluence of personal and global tragedy blends with philanthropy and altruism. One month before his death, Cornell and his wife Vicky toured refugee camps in Greece and focused their Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation on child refugees. While Cornell never saw the finished video, he was, according to Avis, “very involved and certainly knew where we were going.” (para. 20)
There is sometimes an idea promoted about popular culture that it can be vapid or soulless – and, to be fair, it can. There is a time and a place for that which only seeks to entertain. However, there is also work that can heighten awareness or remind us about parts of the world out of our limited line of sight.
With his last contribution to popular culture, Cornell shows us some of the power of popular culture as a distinct political statement. This song and accompanying video are a reminder to think about and care for others. They are a call to action asking us to contribute to a cause. It is a soulful song with a video that can both move us and works as a collaboration between artists trying to raise awareness about the plight of humans who need our help.
Not all popular culture has to be a direct commentary on politics, but all popular culture is political. Cornell’s last words in the song are:
Promise to survive, persevere, and thrive
Fill the world with life
As we’ve always done.
It is a worthy political message in a world where not all human beings in need are met with a helping hand. It is a reminder that we can do more.
For more about the process, creation, and decision to distribute the video on World Refugee Day, visit the Rolling Stone article about the video. The video also promotes the hashtag #KeepThePromise to connect with others talking about this.