Yesterday I heard the minimalist cover of David Bowie/Queen’s “Under Pressure” by Karen O and Willie Nelson and was undone. The combination of Nelson’s guttural articulation and Karen O’s melodic coaxing manages to transform this galactically famous song into an anthem for our time. And I mean this time, right now, 2pm on Monday, November 2, 2020. We are all living with the consistent presence of varying levels of pressure everyday: from the global pandemic, the national reckoning for racial justice, economic insecurity, our broken health care system and all their daily manifestations on top of this mounting but isolated anticipation of the election. This song is something beautiful squeezed out from pressure of tectonic proportions.

I was ambushed by it yesterday afternoon, recovering from the double whammy of Halloween with a three-year-old and daylight savings time change, our family was hanging around waiting on the Sunday gravy and doing Sunday afternoon chores. We’d moved through some Bowie in the morning but out of nowhere, after the telltale intro of “Under Pressure,” comes Karen O’s calm sincere “pressure” and the acoustic accompaniment. Her simple articulation of the pressure was enough to stop in in my tracks and really listen, but it was Willie’s first reminder that “It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about” that sent me into visceral sob-laughs. That kind of immediate emotional response that is raw and uncontrolled. It gets all mixed up because I begin to laugh at this feeling’s absurd power and the laughter-choked-through-sobs sounds like a medical crisis.

Karen O and Willie Nelson have such wildly different iconic voices — one trilling but supersonic and the other gravel ridden and deeply Texas-twanged. Yet each tell it like it is. And in the version of the song I found myself sobbing through I heard each lyric anew. I heard a beautiful articulation of the pressure of this ambiguous waiting we are all navigating on so many different levels. I also heard a song that I imagined was about some 1980s scrambling on the streets on London’s business district transform into reflection of protesters taking to the streets to fight systemic injustice and upend the police state. I also hear Willie Nelson pushing against the complicity that comforts his generation, gender, and whiteness in “Turned away from it all like a blind man. I sat on a fence but it don’t work.” So if you are a good old boy or friend of Hank Hill who has been hiding on the fence listening to Nelson’s fellow travelers, the Red Headed Stranger is calling you out and telling you to open your eyes and pick a side.

This intergenerational cover is about care as well as call out. The thread of “give love one more chance” that David Bowie and Freddie Mercury pulled into the 1980s from late in Lennon’s 1960s gets tethered right into 2020 with Karen O and Willie Nelsons sustained calls of “love love love love love love.” At “insanity laughed but under pressure we break” I did too. I suddenly felt allowed to. I felt the emotions about this version of everyday that I am managing and storing indefinitely, be seen, held up, and acknowledged.

The song ends in a call for care and the reminder about the power of staying present, this is our last dance afterall. What a poignant reminder for right now, this very minute.