Monday, May 14, 2012


‎"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.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Within the narrow confines of authoritarian power and influence that define the American political arena, it is good news whenever the idea of equality receives a boost from an individual in an influential position. Despite what polls say about the US population split down the middle with regard to marriage equality, I would like to imagine that I side with a majority of people in believing that every person, absolutely and without limitation, has the right to connect and partner and love as they choose. It may be just my imagination. I think the role of government, if there must be one, should be to protect such rights, rather than impose limits on them.

Joe Biden, and then Barack Obama, who wield enormous influence, both recently made statements in support of marriage equality for traditional, conventional, state-regulated, two-partner unions, regardless of the sexual orientation of the people involved. This may go some way in eventually countering the crop of backward, hateful state laws that specifically deny two gay people the right to marry. Or it may be an election-year ploy. (You decide.)

But I am very concerned about the cognitive dissonance that seems to have erupted around the statement of Mr Obama (a man, let us never forget, who likes to order people to be killed so much he used his Nobel Peace Prize speech a few years ago as an opportunity to defend war).

I opened up the popular social networking and FBI tracking website Facebook this morning to see that a friend had posted a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr and added the quote "The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice" followed by the words "Well done Mr. President!"

This is beyond the fucking beyond. It's a kool-aid overdose. It is to conflate a fearless civil rights advocate with a spineless corporate stooge. It is to suggest that when the one indicated that he no longer was still trying to decide whether gay people should have whole rights he somehow achieves the moral stature of a man who gave his life fighting the triple evils of racism, poverty, and war.

Obama, mass-murderous, whose disdain for justice and equality trumps his predecessors in real, actual, non-kool-aid terms, has indeed offered a historically marginalized, repressed group the vague benediction of (potential, possible) justice and equality. Does he deserve praise for that? He does not. 

King once said "I have worked too long and too hard to get rid of segregation in public accommodations to turn back to the point of segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And wherever I see injustice, I’m going to take a stand against it whether it’s in Mississippi or whether it’s in Vietnam.”

Specifically and pointedly and militantly, when he declares his vague support for gay rights (or any other "good" thing), Obama ought to be taken to task for "segregating his moral concern." To fail to do this is cognitive dissonance at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst.

If crimes of aggression are the supreme crime, carrying with them all other crimes, and if Obama is at the top of the mass murderous chain of command, it is literally fucking insane to thank him for statements in support of limited authoritarian support for some equality for some people who engage in some conventional behavior. Can there even be such a thing as "some equality"?

A reminder: the man receiving the accolades and the outrageous adulation for conceding that more people should have the right to enter into conventional, state-regulated relationships than his predecessors, has also specifically ordered the killing of US citizens, including children, accused of no crime. He has declared that he walks "in lock-step" (his words) with the apartheid, war criminal regime in Israel. He has demonstrated a predilection for murdering people with flying robots, a preference for military tribunals at an offshore imperial torture & detention center over real trials in real courts of justice, an insistence on addressing only the middle class and never the poor -- who are disproportionally people of color and therefore over-policed, over-incarcerated, often disenfranchised and thus unable to vote. He has been determined, since year one of his presidency, to turn away from all climate science, drill everywhere, and thus leave society's most vulnerable to suffer most as the global climate becomes weirder. He has enthusiastically embraced every civil liberties-encroaching bill that he can sign up for, from the Patriot Act to the NDAA to the anti-protest Trespass Bill (HR 347). He has expanded war, encroached on privacy, protected corporations, continued "drug war" policies, turned his back on racial oppression, and amassed the largest campaign fund in history, again.

This is equality? This is justice? This is praiseworthy? The arc of the moral universe is long. It does, indeed, bend toward justice. And away from Mr Obama.