Funny thing happened last week. My thirteen-year-old drum student and her family found my weblog and discovered my not-so-secret life as a foul-mouthed commentator on the wilful destruction of the planet by the high, the mighty and the rest of us.
So this one is for the children, for those innocent people unjustly exposed to radical political views and strong language not suitable for the young. Exposed to ugly ideas. Exposed to sick concepts and vulgar vocabulary. Exposed to dirty words like "Condoleeza", "powersuits", and "AIPAC".
Honestly? I must say I am thrilled that my student and her younger brother were confronted with the unrestrained and justified outrage the writings here generally represent. The drum teacher who shows up once a week is not only the drum teacher, but a concerned human being as well. Young people must be aware of the danger in the world. If I was young it would terrify me to think others were unconcerned, that they failed to be outraged, that they were unmoved to respond to the dangerous world. So I'm perfectly happy they found these words. And of course I am fine with the fact that they know I think both Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton are assholes.
Of course, I hope they will discover a power of language that reaches beyond the cheap and vulgar . . . but kids I can't help it if the US Vice President is a total Dick.
It was funny when suddenly, in the middle of last week's lesson, my student asked if I was a communist. We were working on the drumbeat to a Coldplay song, and she seemed to guess I didn't like the band very much. I mentioned UK environmental writer George Monbiot's strong criticism of the false environmentalism of Coldplay leader Chris Martin. And I said that I thought it was important for musicians to be concerned about the state of the world in real ways, not just as a hook for their songs. She said: "so are you a communist?"
She wasn't kidding.
I thought for a moment about what "communism" meant to me in 1989, when I turned thirteen myself. The "communists", I was brought up to believe, were evil incarnate. They hated freedom and democracy and Jews and color television (sound familiar?). People forced to live under "communist" rule knew deprivation, decay, and despair, and the horrors of an enormous prison-industrial complex (sound familiar?).
I remember thinking that the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Moscow in the mid-80's was a major victory, that Ronald Reagan was fighting to liberate millions of near-starving children from leaders who incessantly threatened the peaceful West with nuclear holocaust. I thought the US was responsible for taking down the Berlin Wall, for Solidarity's triumphs in Poland, and for dismantling the Soviet Union.
Was I a stupid kid? No. Was I specially targeted for indoctrination? You bet. We all were. We all are. Which is why I think it's perfectly fine my student has read her music teacher's angry little articles about officially sanctioned and culturally encouraged political, economic, and environmental violence.
I would be a rotten teacher -- of any subject -- if I didn't encourage my students to think critically, to examine what they're taught, to challenge ideas that they find intuitively repellent.
Just as I want my student to find and develop her own way to play the drums, I hope she will find her own path through the information she is exposed to. At her age I had seen enough Time magazine covers to truly believe that deceitful, murderous Ronald Reagan was fighting against bad guys and for such vaunted concepts as equality, justice, freedom, and democracy. The magazine covers, the network news, pop culture and even the new CNN taught me this while Reagan's administration sent more and more arms and money to (non-communist) blood-thirsty psychopaths around the world.
Don't get me wrong. The bastards running the Soviet Union and its satellites were criminals too. There really was deprivation and despair. The utopian social system really did crumble while some of the same mafioso-types who are running those countries now lined their pockets, spied on people, and threw money at a bloated and unnecessary military (sound familiar?).
It's worth mentioning now that the mistake has always been to see leaders of adversarial countries as real adversaries. Remember: people like Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein belong to the same club, and club members have never been adversaries of each other so much as they have set themselves up as constant adversaries of us. In my moments of greatest optimism I believe we could, if we chose to, cease fighting their wars, cease allowing them to enrich themselves off of the blood of people and the planet. And young people have to know this.
So this is what I said when my student asked if I was a communist: I said it doesn't matter what I am -- I believe that you and I and everyone else have the same rights to food and security and housing, regardless of how we look, where we come from, and where we live. And then I said this is a drum lesson, so let's get back to the beats.
If my young student of the drums continues to search, she may find some of the ideas that I touched upon in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And if she reads it and keeps it in mind when she catches the news or sees Hollywood's latest, I have no doubt she'll become a truly radical drummer.