Given the controversy about what’s going on at the southern border of our country, is it any surprise that singer-songwriters like Roger Street Friedman are musically weighing in? The Sea Cliff resident’s contribution to the national conversation is “Sun Never Sets,” a stirring song inspired by his own grandfather’s solo overseas voyage from Eastern Europe to the United States in 1907 when he was only 13. Currently working on his third album with Bob Dylan’s guitarist Larry Campbell producing, Friedman’s inspiration for the song came from discussing the immigration policy and introducing his family’s story into the conversation.
“I’ve been going back and forth to do writing in Nashville. Last year I was working on songs for the new record, which we’re going to start recording in August. I was in a room with a couple of guys and we started talking about the immigration policy, what was going on and the family separations. I started talking about my grandfather’s story. I said that if the attitudes that exist today to this extent existed back then, I probably wouldn’t be here,” the Old Westbury native recalled. “I was on a radio show at 88.1, WCWP, with Jason Samel, who was interviewing me and a couple of other people. I played that song on the air and really didn’t have any plans to record it. Jason said I had to get it out there. I came back, went into my studio and recorded the guitar and vocal. Little by little, I had some friends come in and start playing on it. Not to toot my own horn, but it came out so good.”
Among the friends Samel helped recruit for this anthem were fellow singer-songwriters Tom Chapin, Peter Yarrow, Guy Davis and Joel Rafael. Cowritten with Elliott Blaifus and Tim Bruns, “Sun Never Sets” is an anthemic ballad paced by a melancholy mix of acoustic guitar, fiddle and harmonica setting a mood reminiscent of Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell.”
In the video, lines like “The dawn lit up on the torch that beckoned to the passengers at the railings 20 deep/God smiled on the station of immigrants and refugees/Born of the idea that all are equal and free/Keep your head high/The trials come by fire/They will try your faith/The harder it gets/The darker it seems/But the sun never sets on a dream” are punctuated by a juxtaposition of black-and-white and more contemporary footage of different immigrant groups coming to America. With both song and video, Friedman holds a mirror up to the whole history of the immigrant experience with the specific angle he’s coming from being that of his own family’s origins. His passion for this topic led him to include a link for people to donate to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center on his web page, where the video can also be found. The project is something the singer-songwriter is rightfully proud of.
“People kind of got involved as a labor of love and it turned out better than I could have ever expected,” he said.
Friedman first picked up a guitar at the age of seven because he wanted to emulate his two brothers, who were 11 and 18 years older than him. While Friedman eventually went down a career path that found him designing and marketing displays to retail stores, music wound up wooing him back. While he admits the topical nature of “Sun Never Sets” isn’t going to necessarily dictate the tone of his forthcoming project, Friedman knew it was a song he had to write.
“I certainly feel that the times we’re living in demand that artists say what they see. I think ‘Sun Never Sets’ really accomplished that in just laying the story out and getting the idea across without saying that if you feel one way about it, you’re bad and if you feel another way about it, you’re good.”