Nearly 70 years ago, the civil rights movement began its march forward with demonstrators fighting for freedom. Eventually, all the blood, tears, chants, and songs led to the end of legalized racial segregation in the United States. It’s 2020. Black Americans are fighting another fight. In the wake of the death of George Floyd by a police officer on May 25 in Minneapolis, Quinn DeVeaux was roused by this murder, and the repeated brutality against blacks in America, to finish a song he started not too long ago.
Following the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a police officer in 2014, when the fake toy gun the child was holding was reportedly mistaken for the real thing, DeVeaux started chipping away at a melody and story around “Holiday,” then filed it away. Compelled by the death of Floyd, the lyrics started flowing, and “Holiday” finally had its missing pieces, it’s time and place.
“I had the melody and theme for ‘Holiday’ a while ago, around when Tamir Rice was murdered in 2014 by Timothy Loehmann,” DeVeaux tells American Songwriter. “Whenever I would hear about a black person being murdered by police or profiling/random/racist gunman, a little piece of the song would come to me and then a little more. When I heard about George Floyd, I finished the song and played it for friends who told me to add an instrumental bit in the middle.”
All consuming and stirring, the resounding soreness of “Holiday” rings out in DeVeaux’s delicately set lyrics and tender, breaking vocals. No full instrumentation is needed—just a guitar and his words. There’s no hiding the emotion, the fear and frustration, and the scars all lyrically strewn. Regressing back to the inception of the civil rights movement in 1954, DeVeaux offers an ode to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy in Mississippi who was brutally murdered in 1955 after allegedly “offending” a white woman, in lyrics that break open the wound through I can’t forget the face of Emmett Till / And all the faces they take from us still / The lives we lost for reasons I can’t say / I need a holiday.
Each verse of “Holiday” is sensitive and oh-so raw in the despairing revelation that so much hasn’t changed in the repeat offenses and brutality directed toward black Americans, and is all exposed in DeVeaux’s They blame the brother once they cut him down / For minding his own business in his town / Judge him fore they hear a word he say… They say the future’s bright just wait and see / But it ain’t changing fast enough for me / If we don’t bend it now it’s gonna break.
“The systemic racism people of color face is ever present and I wanted the song to be true to that fact,” says DeVeaux. “I wrote several more verses that I may add later but these are the verses I was feeling most in this moment. Unfortunately, it does feel like a song that I may be adding to, but I am greatly heartened by the conversations I have been a part of about how to move forward making communities more safe for people of color.”
Still, he’s relieved to see some of the efforts being made in Minneapolis and other parts of the country to restructure the police departments but says that the underlying problem carries on, and this repeated aggression towards black Americans by law enforcement has gone on for far too long.
DeVeaux, who just released Book of Soul is already working on a new album featuring “Holiday,” and is working on digging deeper into his personal soul, which is a big shift from previous releases.
“I am working on a new record that includes ‘Holiday’ and other songs that are a bit smaller in scope,” says DeVeaux. “I wanna tell more personal stories, and it’s surprising how hard that is to do. It seems like telling your own story would be easier, but I find getting to the truth of my own experience is a trying exercise and I get drained and have to start over constantly.”
For DeVeaux, he’s already tapped into this truth, and vulnerability, on “Holiday.”
“A song like ‘Holiday’ is pain I’ve felt for years, anger I’ve felt for years, frustration and love I’ve known for years and to wake up everyday and expect yourself to pull it all out is tough,” says DeVeaux. “But over time you get somewhere. I hope that we can keep the pressure on these lawmakers and keep having these conversations with each other. This is the best way to start making it safe for people of color in America.”