The Cowsills Hope We Avoid a “Nuclear Winter”
Presidents are usually measured and nuanced when it comes to foreign policy. But President Biden sent shivers around the world when he spoke about the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons, adding that not once the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early Sixties had we come close to facing Armageddon.
The sobering words were in reaction to the war in Ukraine and Biden’s assessment that Putin isn’t joking about unleashing nuclear weapons on his losing war.
I’m not sure if the president has a playlist like his predecessor Barack Obama. And if he does, I don’t know if he has the Cowsills on his playlist or has heard their new single “Nuclear Winter.” But the song—the band’s first new music in almost thirty years— is a fitting sign of the times and its release presaged Biden’s comments by just a few days.
The Cowsills, the singing group featuring brothers Paul and Bob Cowsill and their sister Susan, are like a blast from the last, more associated with nostalgic Sixties anthems like “Hair” and “We Can Fly” and top forty gems “I Love The Flower Girl” and “The Rain, The Park and Other Things” that get them booked in casinos and on cruises.
But here they are long past their teenage years having recast themselves as serious recording artists once more. (They also do a delightful podcast, The Cowsills Podcast.). Now with their new album Rhythm of The World (Omnivore Records) and lead single “Nuclear Winter,” the Cowsills have hung around long enough like they were in Elvis Costello parlance, waiting for the end of the world.
Layered under the beautiful harmonies and doo-wop influenced vocals is stark and sobering imagery.
Now we find ourselves humming along to the words “When it’s cold outside and the nightmare never ends,” images we thought we left behind in the Reagan years and dramatized watching Jane Alexander in Testament and the film that damaged Britain’s psyche for generations, Threads.
“I don’t want to see the day when everything I know is gone,” they harmonize in an appeal whose pop splendor and sheen might at first hook you into thinking this is a happy song about a broken relationship.
The Cowsills, whose real life family drama inspired the fictitious Partridge Family singing group and television sit-com, came of age when the world came close to nuclear war. The tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis resulted in President Kennedy’s ultimatum to Nikita Khrushchev to remove missiles targeting the United States.
Bob Dylan’s sardonic “Talking World War Three Blues” helped us get through it all. Over the years the theme of nuclear war has been explored countless times including Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” Depeche Mode’s “Two Minute Warning” and Bobbie Gentry’s “Come Away Melinda” to name a few. The new gem by the Cowsills is not to be confused with the heavy metal song of the same name by Sodom.
Are we going there again?
When he came to America to make an appeal to the full Congress this week, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cast the war on Ukraine in historic terms.
“The battle is not only for life, freedom, and security of Ukrainians or any other nation which Russia attempts to conquer,” he said. “The struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live in.”
If the world seems more united against the war, fissures remain. The cost of living has climbed in Europe as its citizens remain vulnerable to natural gas interruptions. European allies underpin a united NATO but the longer the war drags on, the harder it will be to stand together. But Zelensky’s resolute message put Ukraine’s plight in human terms that everyone can understand.
“In two days we will celebrate Christmas.” he said in front of the U.S. Congress and to the world. “Maybe candlelit. Not because it’s more romantic, no, but because there will not be – there will be no electricity.”
As the Cowsills new song gains traction, the volleys, figuratively and literally, keep flying all around the dangerous world we live in. President Xi Jinping solidifies his power in China, erasing the word reform from his address in which he became leader for life and warned his people and the world of “coming storms” as he telegraphed the one day reunification (annexation) of Taiwan.
As Russia tries to pummel the Ukrainian civilian population into submission in their losing war with Ukraine, Vladamir Putin warns that US communication satellites could be hit. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken went on record to state that Russia has been told of the consequences that would follow. Putin uses the same word now that we are sending Ukraine Patriot defense systems to deter the relentless missiles that continue to target the country’s energy grid and vital infrastructure.
Meanwhile North Korea’s Kim Jung-un does what he always does—he keeps testing new missiles and flying them into the ocean, more recently increasingly over the sovereign territory of Japan.
The calendar has just turned. Winter is officially here. Like the Cowsills, I just don’t want it to be a nuclear winter.