Hold On Beautiful Dreamer is a complete re-working of the words from the old African-American spiritual Hold On (Keep Your Eyes On The Prize) or Keep Your Hand On The Plow. I was first introduced to this song through the music of Pete Seeger, the folk singer and civil rights/anti-war activist who was blacklisted by the U.S. government during the 1950s McCarthy era known as the Red Scare. Another musical influence is the American classic Beautiful Dreamer by Stephen Foster. Both of these older compositions touch upon the idea of trying to live according to a dream despite distressful and disappointing circumstances.
The immigrant story in America is one associated with crisis. It is in many ways a story about oppression, far away in countries with dysfunctional governments, at home at our U.S. borders, and in the interior of our sensitive human consciences. One of the best expressions of humanity’s dream of freedom from oppression was evoked by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his 1963 March on Washington speech (a march coordinated by Quaker Bayard Rustin). We have to be careful, however, not to leave visions like this solely in the past where they can be safely set on a pedestal only to be dusted off now and then. The spiritual challenge, as I see it, is to acknowledge a personal connection, here and now, to concerns bigger than ourselves and to strive to make them more real and relevant to our day to day living. The cultivation of such connectivity, between conscience and actions, is what John Woolman, that quietly revolutionary seventeenth-century Quaker, called the "business of our lives."
The other notion I had while writing my little version of these songs was about equality. I am beginning to see how all our dreams about human freedom live or die according to whether we acknowledge the essential equality of ourselves with other people, with those from distant lands, as well as with those with far different life experiences. Keeping such notions as these in mind allows me to find myself in relationship with all those who are now struggling at our border and at borders beyond us. Writing and singing about it helps me to get past abstractions in order to feel the human need with a more alive and challenging "felt-sense." My prayer is that this little song will resonate with friends and sympathizers that it might encourage some to join the effort to cultivate more humane and creative intervention in the face of such terrible human suffering. And so here are my words, my version for such troubled times, my words for Hold On Beautiful Dreamer.