Music As Connecting Tissue
I'm sitting in Imua, my motorhome, somewhere in southern Illinois. All the lights are off. The generator is running and providing power for the air conditioning and appliances. Just finished a wonderful weekend at the Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival in Morris which was tainted with the news of shooting deaths in my hometown of Orlando, Florida. First, The Voice star Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by Kevin James Loibl Friday night after she performed a concert at The Plaza Theater in Orlando. She was signing autographs and this guy shot her.
Then, early this morning, another dude took the lives of what is now reported as 50 people, with 53 injured, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and the numbers appear to be growing. Both locations are very close to where we live.
I've performed at The Plaza and have seen shows there. It's right near Beefy King. Pulse used to be Dante's, an Italian restaurant where I hosted Open Mic Xtreme back in the day. It's always sickening to me when this happens anywhere around the world but, as they say, this really hits close to home. They're now calling this the worst mass shooting incident on American soil.
This follows closely on the heels of the not-as-dire-yet-still-fucked-up situation where three burglary suspects holed up in my unlocked motorhome and were forcibly extracted, via guns and dogs, by Orange County Sheriffs over the Memorial Day weekend while it was parked in our yard.
I've been a pacifist for most of my life; hating violence, guns and all that goes with it. But with the mounting intrusion of criminal movement around the globe and, particularly, in America, I changed my mindset some years back and legally acquired a concealed carry permit for firearms. I leaped through the hoops, submitted to a background check, paid my fees and have been licensed by the state of Florida to legally carry a firearm. Why? Because some people won't think twice about taking you out for whatever reason and my survival instinct, not to mention my desire to protect those I love, kicked into high alert mode long ago. Yeah, I could take the pacifist's stance and just say, "oh well, maybe it was my time to go." Bullshit. I straight-up call "bullshit" on that prior stance. You adapt. I'm in full support of background checks, mental-health checks and the like that would help keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who apparently don't know how to handle that kind of power. I am not supportive of banning guns or ammunition outright. Sure, let's ban all the guns. Then, they'll start using Sarin Gas. Or box-cutters. Or poisonous tree frogs. What are we going to do? Ban everything? That's not the fucking issue.
I kind of apologize for my strong language but the events of this weekend have left me really thinking about the state of this country, nay, the world that we live in. It's a rough and rocky slope to begin pegging the blame on that lawmaker or those people or that religion or our collective unease as a society. What it all comes down to is a simple lack of respect for the lives of others. That's no big surprise. People drive on the freeway like they're the only ones who have to be somewhere. Neighbors live in houses where they don't even know the names of the folks who occupy space directly next to them. Maybe it's always been a problem and maybe it's a product of 21st century angst. All I know is that the times, they continue to change.
There's only one thing in the world, that I know of, that breaks down barriers between people and soothes the savage beast, and I think you know where I'm going with this. It's not just the hearing of music that bridges the gaps and equalizes the differences between us; it's the making of music that flips a switch in our brains and brings us together. I studiously avoid conversations about politics, religion and sports because they are hot-button topics that create divisions rather than unity (and I kind of jest about sports, but some people...damn.) If everyone picked up an instrument and tapped into the gift of melody, harmony and rhythm that exists within us all, I wholeheartedly believe that we wouldn't have this unbelievably discordant relationship with others. Not once have I read about some shooter, killer, murderer, lyncher, crack/coke/meth-head, white-pride, black-pride, brown-pride, Allah-pride, Christian-pride, Jew-pride, prideful fuck who terminated lives and who also happened to be a musician. If I've overlooked anyone, please feel free to enlighten me. Musicians tend to get it. We are all the same. If you're one to believe in the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, you get that God basically said "you're all speaking the same language; stop that" and proceeded to place language barriers between the people in the land of Shinar.
Here's my personal theory, if you'll humor me. You may have heard the saying that where "God closes a door, he opens another." I believe that music was the solution to the language barrier and that God gave everyone the gift of music in order to encourage us to come together again. A test, if you will. And if you're an atheist or agnostic or whatever, you can't argue with the idea that twelve chromatic notes can bypass linguistic dead-ends and create bridges between people. C# in English is C# in Belorussian. Forget talking to each other. Let's just play some music. Simple-minded? Yes. What if we all put down our weapons, stopped judging one another based on what our individual gods seemed to advise, and just shared music? Am I naive in thinking that we'd find more in common with each other than that which is different?
I'm not a scholar of thought, religion or social mores. I'm just someone who answered the call of music and has seen, firsthand, how it can break down the barriers between us. Maybe this isn't even making a lot of sense, and I apologize for that, at least. I'm very far from home and looking back on my hometown where there is fear, anger, sorrow, pain and a shitload of other emotional elements all swirling around like a human hurricane and all I can do is wonder what it would take to make this all come to a peaceful end.
No answers here except for music. Am I naive? Is that a bad thing?
These two incidents are very different from each other. A 27 year-old shooting a 22-year old smacks of Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon in a weird-ass way of becoming "somebody." The world media is talking up the Pulse massacre in terms of terrorism with ties to ISIS. Our presidential candidates, and incumbent president, are spinning this in their own ways to benefit their own agendas. Sometimes, life is just too fucking complicated. Sometimes, you just need to sit down, pick up an instrument, or open your mouth and soul, and just fucking sing and play. Just embrace the universal connection and let all of this other dismal crap wash away.
Enough with hatred of others because of their skin color, sexual affiliation, political leanings, or religious pursuit. Maybe what we're really talking about here is mental illness. I honestly don't have any clue why anyone could possibly take it upon themselves to kill someone, unless they were coming after you to do the same. Killing as a self-preservation move seems coded into our DNA. Maybe the killers who pull this kind of crap think that preservation of their race, sex, politics or religious freedom (or calling) are cause enough to pull the trigger. Life is a balance and good exists side by side with the bad. Though I prefer to think of the Asian scales of worth that merit what is "skillful" or "not skillful."
I cannot understand, or abide, the killing of people based on ideology.
But, if you come at me, or someone I love, with intent to end their life, and I'm skillful enough to recognize what you're up to, I won't hesitate to put a bullet in your brain, heart or other squishy organs. It totally sucks that I even have to train for such a thing, but, well, as Jeff Goldblum says in "Jurassic Park", "ah, there it is."
I'm tired, sad, conflicted and maybe a little worried that some of you out there will read this and think ill of me. But I'm just being honest. I just want this senseless killing to end. It would be nice if we could all come together, figure it out, share a few drinks and play a few notes. Music is magic. Taking it out of the schools isn't helping anyone. Telling young children that they should "shut up" or "stop making that racket" isn't being encouraging. Please, for the love of whomever you worship, place the focus upon music as a common language and hope for the best. It may be the most effective line of defense that any of us will ever truly have.
Get rid of that common connector and we are all well and truly doomed to extinction by our own hands, if nature doesn't take us out first.