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Robert Cray's 'This Man' Is A Rallying Cry For Reclaiming Space

"Who is this man in our house?" Robert Cray growls as this fierce, creeping blues ensues, executing a guitar line as powerful as the current through an electric fence. Featured on his 2020 album That's What I Heardand released this month with a new video closing with the late freedom fighter and Senator John Lewis's words at the historic March on Washington — "we must say, 'Wake up, America! Wake up! For we cannot stop" — Cray's song is, as his music has been for four decades, direct and robust. "Our house," here, is America itself. "This Man" never names the menace "walking around like a big king," but the point is clear, repeated in the chorus until it becomes a banishing spell: get him out.

Claiming and protecting space has always been fundamental in anti-racist practice, from lunch counters to doxxed Twitter feeds to the front lines of group protest. Recent events have made the threat to personal space tragically palpable. Breonna Taylor was asleep in her Louisville home when police entered and shot her to death. The video of Jacob Blake trying to climb into his car — where his children sat in the back seat — before being shot seven times by police has shocked millions. Most recently, the American democratic idea of government buildings as the home of the people — all people — has been tested as the Trump re-election campaign has staged partisan events at the White House and in other ideally neutral areas. Cray's anger is palpable in "This Man," as is his determination to stand up for safe spaces — the home, the polls and the polis itself.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.