While you read, click on one of the links and fire up the song "Badge of Norman":
By Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers)
In February 2016 I had one the weirdest work trips of my career. I had almost three weeks on the road that had me traverse a winter in Colorado, the perpetual summer of Hawaii and finally about a week in Adelaide, Australia. I had one bag with everything from a uniform and down jacket for the bitter cold to board shorts to run the beaches of O'ahu in. I remember sitting on a bench in Waikiki at 2am out front of a 7-eleven. Eating a Spam musubi from the sweatbox by the register, I was waiting for a load of laundry to finish next door and was talking to Alan about several song concepts. And by the way, if you haven't dove into one of those little gems, hit that... it's like a magic little piece of indelible edible history... where WWII rationing and Japanese sushi culture collide.
While on the island, I had spent time working at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam where infinite concrete scars lay testament to the brutality of a morning that would live in infamy (and eventually become the lyrics of another song on this album). I had spoken to Alan several times and shared concepts and experiences those few days that had me primed to write lyrics for a song about Pearl Harbor, the heroism, brutality and sacrifice that was displayed that day.
But, by the time I fumbled down the ramp to catch my flight to Australia, Alan had thrown me a curve ball of a writing assignment. He sent me an article that had touched him deeply about Australian Peter Norman standing in solidarity with Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos in defiance and protest of racism and inequality on the podium of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
The story moved me deeply as well. It's in my fabric to love the rebel, value the insurgent and idolize anyone who speaks truth against power, and this story was all of that. I am always humbled and inspired by those who sacrifice so much personally to stand on the right side of history. Frankly, in this case I was embarrassed. Here I was flying to Australia and Alan had shared with me a story of sacrifice and an act of human decency on the world stage in a time where it mattered most and I knew nothing of it. It simply seemed too important not to before I stepped foot on Australian soil. I had never even heard of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, much less the story of the small badge Peter Norman wore on the winners podium that would essentially destroy his career. So, I downloaded every shred of information I could find before the doors closed and he hummed the melody as he heard it at the moment. I filled in the blanks talking to the Quantas' stewards and stewardesses about racism in Australia and what they knew about the story through their lenses almost 50 years later. I would find that he was shamed into almost obscurity, to never race again, and that when he died in 2006, it was Tommie and Carlos that were his pallbearers.
Digging back in my notes, here's what I came up with:
1968 sprint thru Mexico City sun
200 meters in a 20 ought 6 (20.06)
written out of history
penned in 44 years late
Star Spangled banner but
black glove fists in the air
One white man Number 2
3, 4 barefoot to take a stand
Selma's Aboriginal face
On streets of injustice
hearts of unrest,
broke down promise land
truth behind the camera
Fuel lies within the lens
Quietly the fight was his
But the struggle was all of ours
Refusing to speak
Is the loudest of voices
Rightful Olympic glory
Folding gym socks and track
On the tube In the worlds freest of cities
Norman's badge a twisted reflection
the stains of apartheid,
a call for justice, subtle and pure
Written out of history
a Lamb for the slaughter
In whitewashed downunder
Norman wore the badge
To carry freedoms torch
Until the men of the badge
Tommie and John would carry him home
When I landed in Adelaide, I was excited to call Alan and share. Every song we have written together has had its own novel trajectory, this one seemed pretty cool. Alan's hummed melody on repeat in my head and the rough draft ready to send in Apple Notes. I even produced the lyrics in some semblance of iambic pentameter that the good lord knows I normally fail epically to produce on any first (second... or third) draft I share.
I gathered my bag from the overhead when my phone caught up and a text from the states finally popped up: "done brother... check it out."
As you now know... Alan's version was better... so much better.
I'm just proud to hear this song and feel its story through the miles of history and continents of shared experience.
Love to you John, Tommie and Peter. You fell on exactly the right side of history and continue to inspire. Thank you.