The singer and songwriter refuses to 'Remain Silent' and we all benefit

Micah Schnabel’s “Remain Silent” might be the first good thing to ever emerge from a relative’s racist Facebook post.

The Two Cow Garage co-frontman said the song took root after he signed on to the social media platform and discovered that his uncle had written a screed in which he considered the possibility of shooting illegal immigrants as they crossed the U.S. border from Mexico. “And everything inside of me… I got that rush, like, ‘Oh, my God. I know you. Is this what you really think?’” said Schnabel. “Even seeing that, it hit home, like, ‘This is the world. This is where we’re at now.’”

Rather than replying directly in the post, Schnabel opened a blank document on his computer and started writing: “My uncle, he hates immigrants/He talks about it on the internet….” The words arrived in a rush, filling three or four pages, most of which were trimmed away in the editing process so that each line left behind hits bone. “Every line feels like a punch: left, right, left, right,” Schnabel said. “It’s like two minutes and 20 seconds, and when the end hits, it’s like, [exhales deeply].”

This flurry of left and right hooks connects, too, with Schnabel eviscerating those who retreat into anger in response to a changing world, conjuring the grim spectacle of children stacking desks against the door during a school shooting and lampooning a Twitter-happy president who “sits alone on his throne/threatening nuclear war from every app on his phone” while never once mentioning the person by name. (It’s Trump.)

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Both the song and the stellar solo album on which it falls, The Teenage Years of the 21st Century, released in December, reveal a singer and songwriter uniquely attuned to these discordant times and working at the height of his powers. Throughout, Schnabel’s tone is conversational but urgent, his words angry but empathetic.

“When did being a decent human being become political?” he sings. “And how have we become so dark-hearted and cynical?” 

“We made that turn at some point, I think when Donald Trump got elected, where being a decent human being is now something to be mocked, where caring about somebody is something to be mocked. Caring about somebody who has less than you, wanting them to do better, means you’re a snowflake, that you’re a fool,” Schnabel said.

Musically, though, “Remain Silent”  is damn near jubilant, bouncing along with a playful gait that runs counter to Schnabel’s bleak prose. It’s also not entirely without hope, closing with a passage that feels prescriptive, in a way, with the musician stressing the need to let go of anger, to accept that there can be lessons in failure, and to remember that humans are essentially the same, despite our outward differences.

Schnabel admitted that it’s been more of a struggle to suss out that silver lining in recent times. “I feel completely defeated at the moment. I’m 37 years old. I don’t have any children. I don’t really have any skin in the game,” he said. “Caring about other people is the only thing I have.”

But he also has his pen, his voice, and an untraceable drive that won’t allow him to remain tight-lipped. “I know I have the right to remain silent,” he offers as the song draws to a close. “I just couldn’t today.”

“I get frustrated, because obviously I have a lot of friends who are songwriters, and we talk about politics constantly, but then they put out a new project and it has nothing to do with what’s going on in the world, and I’m like, ‘Where’s that separation?’” Schnabel said. “And I understand not everybody wants to write a protest [song], but how do we not talk about the state of the world we’re in right now? Because it feels pretty dire. So, yeah, I get frustrated when people talk about politics in every other aspect in their lives, but when it comes to using that loud, megaphone voice, they stay away. … Not that my voice is large, or that writing a song means anything, but it feels like the responsible thing for me to do as an adult. … I’m trying to dig in and do what I can right here and right now to make this mess a little bit better.”

Listen to "Remain Silent" below.