By Sophia Ricco
The words of Walt Whitman take new life and his poetry gets a modern adaption in a poem music video, “Walt Whitman America” by Huntington Station poet Billy Lamont.
Lamont released the music video in time for Whitman’s Bicentennial birthday on May 31, as a tribute to one of America’s greatest writers and the values he stood for.
Born and raised locally, Lamont has always had a fascination with Whitman, spending a time at the Walt Whitman Birthplace not far from his own home. When Lamont learned that Whitman’s voice reciting his poem “America” had been captured on wax cylinder by Thomas Edison, he knew it would lead to something special.
“It felt like there was such a great energy with the timing for an idea I’ve had bouncing in my head for years,” Lamont said.
Many of Whitman’s pieces speak to future generations, calling on them to carry out his values of tolerance, dignity, hope and compassion for all. In the poem “Poets To Come,” Whitman asks future creators to “justify” him and concludes with, ‘Leaving it to you to prove and define it, Expecting the main things from you.’
“He spoke to people like me, poets and musicians, in this poem,” Lamont said. “He knew America was still being defined by us. I feel that living in Huntington Station, I have almost a duty or calling.”
While working on his music CD “Beyond Babylon,” Lamont experimented with the recording, mixing and altering it to fit the modern day. He saw Whitman as an innovator who would appreciate a contemporary approach.
“I wanted to be experimental,” Lamont said. “I thought what did Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones do? They made the blues electric with electric guitars. So I decided to use electric drums. When [collaborator] Em Kruz heard it, he was inspired by it and felt it was very roots mixed with electronic.”
Kruz, a recording artist from Brentwood, went down a blues-hip hop path that inspired Lamont to recite his own message to America. “It was my intention to not be in it, I wanted to do Walt Whitman justice and put him in the modern context,” Lamont said. “But in my heart, I was so passionate to speak to America today. What came out was, ‘America we need an intelligent heart and loving mind. Intelligence of the heart will light your mind.’” These simple lines carry a powerful message of loving fellow countrymen, something Whitman advocated in his poetry as well as in his own life.
“My heart is for the community and America, but also the system of the world,” Lamont said. “It felt like I was entering the spirit of Walt Whitman.”
“Walt Whitman America” was shot on location at the Walt Whitman Birthplace and around Huntington Station. Lamont was eager to shine a light on his community.
“Living in Huntington Station, there are so many awesome people that have lived here, including Whitman,” Lamont said. “I just hope this can inspire people and their imagination. Whitman saw America as ‘we the people’, he was a humanitarian. I hope people take this in to their own lives and community.”
“Walt Whitman America” by Billy Lamont can be viewed online at youtu.be/s0lvIb_XRnc.