"The kindness of strangers" is a misnomer. When we're kind and generous and encouraging to each other we stop being strangers. I am so moved by everyone organizing and hosting my shows on the tour I am currently on through the US midwest and rust belt, people offering me meals and places to stay, saying "keep the change" when they buy tapes, saying encouraging words, which are beyond value, when they don't have cash to spare, taking time away from tough, vulnerable lives (as students, artists, parents, workers, unemployed) to listen to the words and music of a stranger with a strange name. We are cash poor but rich in community.
I am a musician who performs live. Some of my work has roots in jazz and popular music, some of it has roots in classical and avant garde composition. Some of it is decidedly experimental, in that I don't know the outcome when I start. A promise to those who take time out to be at a show: I will not sell you out. I am not here, with a famous name, to help venues sell high volumes of alcohol. I am not here, with meaningless lyrics, to be the soundtrack to meaningless liaisons. I am not here, with polite, cunning pieces, to glorify the sophisticated, high culture of an imperial, murderous culture. I am not here with slick pitches; looking out from behind my saxophone or my Farfisa, I see comrades and participants, not dollar signs.
I am in it because I love what I do and I love doing it for people. I hate that money and not love guide so many decisions and that everywhere we seem to be vulnerable to failed lives if we don't follow the dictates of money over love. Specifically because I am not in it for the money, everything that comes in -- whether guarantees, donations, door money, purchases of recordings, tips -- means as much to me as offers of a drink or a meal or a place to stay, a conversation about the city I'm in or the particulars of the local scene, a reflection on my work, an idea about where I should play next time to reach more listeners, an offer to play my work on a local radio station, an offer to release my work on an underground label.
I want to kill the culture that sets us up in client relationships, adversarial relationships, disconnected strangers temporarily, circumstantially inhabiting shared space (corporate owned, bank mortgaged, plastered with advertisements). I want us to be in it together, because I know that we are. Every show is a group show, every solo performance I give is with a huge band: people making flyers, opening up spaces, setting up equipment, sitting at the door, cleaning up, local bands playing for free to help bring their friends out to see a traveller, parents hiring babysitters or asking family to watch their children, in order to come out, late, on a weeknight.
I have had enough of the animosity with which musicians and sound engineers so often meet each other. My music, and an engineer's ability to make it sparkle and crack through their sound systems, in rooms they know, constitute the performance. We don't work in isolation from each other. When we do it well, with respect for each other, with patience, it doesn't matter if I sing about the sky falling, the night is about cooperation, not contempt, and I think the folks who come to the show receive that message.
Think about our culture for moment, its tempos, its contours, its expectations, its pressures. In this environment, taking time to give the unknown a chance, engaging in a time-based cultural interaction without the definite promise of some known, tangible, personal benefit is actually revolutionary. It's turning the culture on its head. And it's so easy! We can do so much of it. And it doesn't only have to be at shows. We go to shows, we put on shows, we can be giving about listening and performing, and then we can abstract this experience. How does it play out at the coffeeshop, the post office, the train station, the day job, in the kitchen, the classroom, the street?
You ever hear the line "Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail"? Kurt Vonnegut wrote that. I am so grateful for his writing. But maybe he was wrong. Love may fail and courtesy may prevail. But courtesy is a gateway drug: to kindness, and then to generosity. And this leads, dangerously, subversively, surely, back to love.