October 1, 2020 | Arts and Culture
let’s all “rock the side pony”
celebrating and grieving rbg through lake street dive
I have been torn up for the past week trying to figure out what to say. Who am I to write about her? Why do I get to process this publicly and put my thoughts about her to paper? I was, and still am, afraid that what I have written will minimize who she was, is, and will continue to be. But I figured that saying nothing at all would be worse.
At a loss for how to move forward, I looked to creativity to help motivate myself and ease my mind. In periods of loneliness and hopelessness—which has comprised a large portion of this year—music always helps me spark thoughts.
I started to listen to Lake Street Dive consistently last year. When I discovered that one of my friends shared my love for the band, laying on the floor of our dorms late at night and enjoying the peaceful sounds together, I realized how music can form a strong bond between people. This connection made me more interested in Lake Street Dive and more intentional about finding music that spoke to me. Scrolling through their albums the week after RBG’s death, their lyrics particularly empowered me during this time of struggle and emotional conflict. Each emotion that I felt had a Lake Street Dive song to describe it. Hate or compassion, fear or comfort, resentment or gratitude, their songs helped me move from a state of disbelief to a place of peace and drive.
Stage 1: Shock—Hello? Goodbye!
I was sitting at the table on FaceTime with my sister, when she screamed suddenly—it sounded like she was crying. My mind scrambled, thinking of all the possible things that could have happened.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg just died.”
After making her repeat herself, I echoed her scream. I Googled it for myself because something so horrendous did not compute.
It seemed that with everything going on, I could at least bank on Justice Ginsburg’s strength. The playful panic about the possibility of her dying always seemed like a joke. It felt similar to the humor in the song title Hello? Goodbye!: A hopeful “Hello?” juxtaposed with the painful permanency that the “Goodbye!” entails. I was unable to process what I was hearing—my mind clawed onto the possibility that RBG wasn’t dead.
“Hello?” was all I could say. I wasn’t ready for the Goodbye.
Stage 2: What the Hell—Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts
When I really need somebody to hold me tight
And tell me I’m strong…
Baby, don’t leave me alone with my thoughts…
And I’m just tryin’ to keep it together”
RBG never hesitated to fight for women’s rights. It was just straightforward for her. This song allowed me to compare my, and the nation’s, selfishness to her selflessness. Talking to my family about what this meant for us, feeling anger about why this had to happen to us, us, us, us. I worried about who would fight for me. Seeing her courage and fortitude had inspired me and I was suddenly scared that my standing in society would somehow regress.
This song sums up the times—hard, lonely, and fragmented. “Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts” is a cry for help. RBG was a pillar of strength for many and her passing felt like an abandonment. My mind was swirling with thoughts like “You’re leaving us behind?” and “Now who the hell is going to save us?”
But I was no longer paying attention to the person I was mourning, only my own fate. Finally, from an internal fog, I brought myself into focus. I realized how much people take from icons like Justice Ginsburg. Her dedication to achieving human rights was stocked with enemies and opposition. I wonder whether she felt she had a decision to take this path in life or if she felt a sense of obligation. I knew I needed to leave this stage of grief, turn my eyes and heart outwards, and celebrate the person she was. While it feels like she is leaving us alone, her presence permanently left a platform for people to launch from into a greater future.
Stage 3: Time to Let Go—You Are Free
Justice Ginsburg’s demeanor was one of the most striking things about her. In briefings, interviews, and aged pictures from her time in law school, there is such kindness and understanding in the way she went about her work. From being told that she took a man’s spot in her class at Harvard Law School, to receiving a lower salary than her male counterparts during her early years at law firms, Justice Ginsburg took the route of calm fierceness. She tried to spread her openness and optimism to each person she encountered.
That’s what I admired most about her. Her entire life was dedicated to her service. There are endless stories: Refusing to come home without finishing her work, her mentorship to numerous clerks. Her legacy grew and grew, yet it never went to her head. It motivated her to work even harder. Movements for women’s rights, equal marriage, and civil rights will forever be indebted to her consistent support. This song, to me, symbolizes her release from some of the weights that she bore.
“You Are Free…
You don’t need a team of lawyers looking for evidence
You don’t need a piece of paper trying to prove your intent…
You don’t need to look back…
You don’t need your heart running at a hundred percent…
You Are Free”
She showed up, she did the work, and she stuck around. While painful, her time with us came to an end and it is time to “set her free,” as Lake Street Dive says. It is time to accept this, take what she left us with, and run with it—stop discriminating on the basis of identity, create equitable opportunities for all, and question existing systems. RBG’s death is a reminder that it is never too late to try and that the time is now. Let’s not let our grief waste her golden gifts. Especially now, it is difficult to move past anger, resentment, and confusion. But in honor of Justice Ginsburg, it is time to set her free from her obligations and hold ourselves accountable to be the successors she hoped to leave behind—a community centered around gender equality, religious freedom, the continuation of DACA, and overall unity. Embrace her legacy and prove her work to change the world forever.
Stage 4: …Or Hold on Tight—Side Pony
It is heart-breaking. It is mind-boggling. It is gut-wrenching. We are allowed to grieve and I believe that it is important to lean into those dismal feelings. But what’s next? How can we continue to mobilize and prove we are the people that Justice Ginsburg felt were worth fighting for? How can we prolong Justice Ginsburg’s work and tenacity?
Lake Street Dive’s Side Pony encourages people to practice self-expression, love, and positivity.
“Against everything square and unsightly
Yes I know I look good, so don’t fight me
All I need is a clip or scrunchie
And then I’m ready
Because I rock a side pony
Baby, I’m just living my life
Because I rock a side pony…
Who doesn’t love a side pony?”
RBG’s iconic neck collars demonstrated her daring to be different. Each collar represented her feelings about her work on that particular day, and conveyed her quiet persistence and grit amongst her coworkers (her metallic, prickly collar for when a certain justice first sat on the court). The justice robes were designed for men to show their shirt collars, so she wanted to add her own flair, accentuating her boldness to sit on the court as a woman and stray from tradition.
In the spirit of Lake Street Dive, RBG was the queen of rocking the side pony. She knew her individualism was powerful, she knew how big of a statement it was, that her wardrobe wasn’t just cloth. She dared to stand out.
As a woman who has directly benefited from Justice Ginsburg’s work, I hope to take on some of her confidence. She was unapologetically herself, rocking the spirit of the side pony, and flipping it in front of the faces of anyone that stood in her way. Because of that, I will dare to strut forward with the notion that persistence is key and that any step forward, no matter how small, holds power.
Thank you, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I could never do justice to you, who has delivered justice to so many. In the words of Lake Street Dive, for the last time: “None will fill the space that you have left behind.” My hair is up, ready to flip. Just let me know who to aim for, RBG.