Fuck subtlety: A look at Hozier’s “Jack Boot Jump”

First of all, this is a jack boot.

Image result for jackboot

Second, this is a jump.

Third, this is a jack boot on your face.

(Content warning for violence/brutality)

I was privileged to see Hozier live in Washington, D.C., and to hear “Jack Boot Jump” two days before it was released. Introducing the song, he talked about Woody Guthrie, protest songs, and deciding to “fuck subtlety” and write the song that wanted to be written.

As lyrics go, “Jack Boot Jump” is about as sophisticated as a jump-rope rhyme. That doesn’t matter; “We Shall Overcome” is not a masterpiece of poetic complexity, either, but it carried people through a lot of trials during the Civil Rights Movement. I think “Jack Boot Jump” is here to carry us through our civil rights movements, our climate change protests, our resistance to oppressive governments, and I think it’ll do the job well.

The lyrics name Standing Rock here in the United States, Moscow, and Hong Kong as places of resistance, places where the jack boot jump is also taking place. It’s the stomping of capitalist and governmental forces on resistance to oppression, the increase of police and military brutality against “people standing up”. Hozier also quoted the famous and not at all outdated line from Orwell’s 1984, about the future imagined as a boot stepping on a human face. The Beijing government, the Putin regime in Russia, the Trump administration are all alike pushing back against demands for freedom, justice, equality, a response to the catastrophic climate changes taking place.

The most important verse is the last:
All around the world
You’d think that things were looking rough
But the jackboot only jumps down
On people standing up
So you know good things are happening
When the jackboot needs to jump
Here’s the good news Hozier is trying to give us: Repressive governments only crack down when there’s resistance. Cops beating up protestors means the protestors are right. It’s the same principle that there were no laws against same-sex marriage until same-sex couples began demanding marriage for themselves; it was so unimaginable to most people that there was no need to forbid it, until it became imaginable and therefore possible.

What makes this song so good is the music. Hozier looked at his influences, at the history of protest music, and made an unusual choice: He grabbed the blues. Not spirituals, not white folk, but blues, and dirty blues at that. Seen live, “Jack Boot Jump” is electrifying, a virtuoso dialogue between Hozier’s guitar (and he really does underplay his guitar skills) and Rory Doyle’s consummate drumming. It’s a song that’s not for marching in the streets so much as running, dancing, and possibly fucking, because standing up and dancing is a perfectly legit way to fight back against the jack boot jump.

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