And the band played on

Last night, as I entered my usual Monday evening hang-out, there was a chill in the air.

Not the weather, in fact it had been an unusually warm day, with a high of twenty two, freakish relative to tomorrow’s predicted snow and low temperature of one degree below zero.

The normal buzz of the crowd was hushed, and rather than Monday Night Football, the televisions were tuned to CNN. The Grand Jury in St. Louis Missouri was due to return their verdict in the case of Darren Wilson, a police officer who had shot and killed Mike Brown, a teenager, in Ferguson Missouri last August.

The case had drawn a great deal of attention, Wilson and Brown were of different races, so to the smallest of minds the only motivation could have been racial hatred, because racial hatred is all those minds contain. As the prosecutor explained the case and findings, tensions were at their peak, some people traveling hundreds of miles for the opportunity to loot liquor stores and burn businesses as a reaction to the obvious legal conclusion the Grand Jury had no choice but to reach.

It was 2030 in Ferguson as the verdict was read. There was no evidence an indictable offense had taken place. Almost immediately there were police and ambulance sirens fourteen hundred kilometers and one time zone due East, in Wilmington Delaware.

The band continued setting up.

A few hundred people in Ferguson expressed their interest in justice by burning police cars and firing over one hundred and fifty gunshots (Police data indicates no shots fired by officers). Meanwhile, the Earth continued to spin on its axis, the remaining seven billion inhabitants dealt with their own lives. During the four and one half minutes of symbolic silence Mike Brown’s mother had requested before the random violence would begin, eleven hundred babies were born and four hundred fifty people died in the world. Somewhere a couple met and fell in love, somewhere else a relationship ended. People celebrated their good fortune and mourned their losses. Were you to be watching a television, you might think the world was ending, eighty people arrested in Ferguson and thousands across the country, as innocent families watched their livelihoods burn to the ground. In fact more people worldwide were making love at the moment, but that did not make the news.

In one of those moments of synchronicity, I had woken that morning with the song “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church in my head. I had suggested to my friend Buddy his band should perform the song, and Lieve mentioned as we were discussing the arrangement The Church had announced a tour. One stop is in Philadelphia, at one of my favorite venues, and I was able to get tickets, not my favorite seats but one row behind them.

As I watched Ferguson burn out of the corner of my eye, the band played on.

It was a pleasant evening, several guest musicians, a couple of conversations with a few of the other regulars, then I drove home under the clear sky, the Milky Way above me, hidden by the lights of Philadelphia but exposed as I arrived in the darkness of Princeton.

In other times, justice was local. Witch trials and lynch mobs were a horror we told ourselves could not take place in our civilised system of justice, providing more rights to the accused than any other country in the world. Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth using a pendulum, fixing the relationship of the eternal spin of the Earth and the opposing and shifting points of amplitude of the pendulum. Media attention can make a local issue a global one, uninterested professional protestors bear a great resemblance to hooligans, more interested in the fight than the cause. The concept of innocent until proven guilty has given way to trial by uninformed public opinion.

What is important to remember is while hundreds were throwing bricks in Ferguson (where do these people find bricks on city streets?) thousands were making music, hundreds of thousands were dancing, millions were laughing with a friend (a good percentage of which who were of different races).

Rather than focus on a few angry trouble makers, remember the billions of people dedicated to spreading joy and love.

 

Life Lessons

Someone said to me at work the other day “you’re a pretty smart guy,” to which I gave my usual response “Well yes, I am.” I am not conceited about my intelligence, so I softened the response with “In measurements of IQ I’m a genius, in measurements of relationships I’m stupid.”

Kurt Vonnegut said “You learn about life by the accidents you have, over and over again.” You learn when you realize they are not accidents. The choices I have made are not poor choices, they are my choices. This is just what I do, these are situations I am apparently comfortable with, and when they turn out the way they usually do I have no one to blame other than myself, because I am a pretty smart guy. I not only  see the mistakes in retrospect, I can see them on the road ahead and run towards them.

I can’t really call them mistakes when I am fully aware that I’ll do the same again.

I had dinner with a friend last night, and one of the nicer things about the evening was finding I’m not the only one who consciously embraces hopeless causes. We see the flaws in our desires, yet we chase them anyway. Another, perhaps more pragmatic woman simply slapped me on the head (a couple of times) a few weeks ago. While I greatly appreciate her opinion, I simply am not the kind of person who seeks revenge when events don’t work out as I wish, I may ignore the flaws in a situation, but I am not unaware of them. I do not become a better person by replicating the behavior of people who have hurt me.

We all work from our life experiences, my results have been mixed but the most important lesson I have learned is to be true to myself. Each of us must determine what “the right thing” is for us, I was once of the opinion that giving money to street people was wrong, it only enabled them to stay where they are, and they would probably spend the money on booze. Later I realized that giving is not about what the receiver will do with the gift, it is a measure of the giver. There is a Biblical verse about this, but I cannot recall the precise location of the verse.

It has taken a long time to find peace, and it often runs off and hides in the fog. Having found it I know it exists, I will find it again, and I know it is hardest to find when I surrender myself to depression. The easiest way to remain positive is to do the right thing, no matter how much that thing may seem to be contrary to my best interests. My best interest is being a good person, living in a state of grace, the right thing is never contrary to those goals.

 

 

Peace on Earth begins with peace in your heart.

 

День ветеранов

Today marks the cessation of hostilities (for a few decades) on the “Western Front,” between the Allies of  The Great War (later numbered as WW1) and Germany. That armistice began on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, back when we could be poetic about warfare. Hostilities continued on other fronts, this was the beginning of the end of the war.

This year we mark one hundred years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este, the trigger for the great war. It is ninety six years since the signing of the armistice bringing to an end “The war to end all wars,” and two days ago, 9 November, was the twenty fifth anniversary of the onset of physical demolition of the Berlin wall.

Pronounced "veteran"

Pronounced “veteran”

 

To be a veteran is to be misunderstood by the general public. It is nice to hear “thank you for your service,” although there is often a subtext of “thank you for selling your soul, you heartless murderer.” I would like to hear, just once, “Thank you for doing what I wanted done but didn’t have the fortitude to approach.”

There are as many different feelings about being a veteran as there are veterans, largely because veterans are just people, we’re not some special breed. We have dealt with our lives as other people deal with theirs, sometimes with grace, sometimes with terror. We carry the scars just as you carry yours, some of us are better at it than others. The Soldier (Airman, Seaman, Marine) seeks to avoid conflict. You may call this self preservation if you wish, but most have no desire to end the lives of other human beings who just have a different uniform.

History gives us a series of conflicts, one leads to another. The crushing losses of World War one led to the February Revolution in Russia, which led to the October Revolution. The terms of the armistice of Compiègne set the groundwork for World War two. Defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan  led to the rise of the Taliban. Oppressive regimes fall, and there is always another brutal dictator waiting in the wings. Good people strive for peace, and are outnumbered every time.

The veteran volunteered to play a losing hand. The veteran genuinely believed they could have a positive impact on the conflict in which they are involved, literally changing the world. The veteran risked his or her life and sanity to protect you from having to do so. The veteran respects his or her bothers and sisters in arms, regardless of uniform or victor in the conflict.

In America, there are approximately twenty one million veterans, or roughly one out of every fifteen people. For perspective, there are more than twice as many veterans than there are Jews in America. They inhabit every sector of the socioeconomic spectrum. You know veterans, you are friends with veterans, statistically ten of my American subscribers would be veterans.

Today when you think about veterans, think about how you think about veterans.

 

 

Boats against the current

Most of you recognized from the title the last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Also known as the creed of the lost cause, I have grimaced at this phrase for decades. Why? Because I don’t give up, even after I’ve lost. Mirroring the words of Isaac Asimov, “In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate,” I seek out lost causes and hang on long after a healthy person would walk away. I know I’m doing it, I know it will end in tears, and I dive in anyway.

I first read Gatsby because my girlfriend was reading it in her English class. Some fifty years after it was written, I couldn’t picture the New York and New Jersey described by Fitzgerald. I could picture Daisey though, and so could my girlfriend. They had many similarities, a lack of self awareness being the most obvious. Some forty years later I see the same flaw in myself, wrapped in the noble concept of “compassion.” I have serially become involved with damaged women, helping them to be strong enough to rip my heart out. I see it happening and I keep doing it.

committment-is-an-act

It is not just my love life, I embrace “the good fight” in several aspects of my life. It’s like a gambling addiction, losing only makes me fight harder, those rare victories spurring me on. I live at peace, with the self assured smugness I detest in others. My veneer is flawless, hiding the scarred troubled soul within. Why do I take comfort in smiling through the tears, when I could have avoided the tears altogether?

Today my wife has informed me she wants a divorce. Not a big surprise, but I’m still devastated. I had to expect I wasn’t being very endearing by pointing out her lies and inconsistencies, but there was no way to make things better without acknowledging the issues. She lacked the emotional depth required for self reflection. I can imagine that rather than embrace a growing experience, “finding herself” as she said she intended, it was much more comfortable to continue to deny any responsibility, or even concede that some things are simply the way they are. It was easier to blame me for her unhappiness, I’m not sure how she reconciles the unhappiness she has experienced for most of her life, I only met her four years ago.

I can’t be angry. Love is like that. This is one of the reasons battered wives stay with abusive husbands. A lot of it is my fault. I believed in her, I thought she was the person she told me she was. I thought she was deeper and more intelligent. I had faith, supported by nothing other than my positive opinion of her. I was at least as blind as she is.

Although I have no desire to do so, I suspect I will carry on, perhaps find someone else to break my heart. My capacity to trust, always a rare commodity, is all but gone now, but I’ll do something stupid. I always do.

I was talking with a friend today, and she said she thought I was still mourning Emma. I always will. I’ve been thinking of Emma more than usual these last few months, partially because Lieve chose to announce her intention to separate on the anniversary of Emma’s death, probably more so as contrast to my relationship with Lieve. Sharing love until the last breath as white against the marriage of convenience black.

I have known love. Perhaps cherishing the memory would be more satisfying than attempting to find it again. I need to give love, and although loving is an end within itself, it is ever so nice when it is reciprocated. Right now I would settle for a warm embrace, so I need to get past that and not mistake it for love, as I did this last time.

 

find-what-you-love

It is said writing is easy, you just open a vein and bleed. That’s how easy it was to write this.

 

Music

Music is an integral part of my life. It serves as a refuge, and it affects me in a myriad of ways. My experiences creating music began at age eight with piano lessons, then saxophone, drums, flute, and bass. I can pretty much pick up anything and make music with it, I bought a trombone because I thought it would look nice on the wall and ended up learning to play it. My first wife wanted to play the harmonica. I bought her a nice one in C major and she struggled with it for a while. One day I came home from work and “Piano Man” by Billy Joel came on the radio, her harmonica was right there so I picked it up and played along. She never touched the harmonica again.

I may not be a great dancer, but music flows through me and my body moves with it, I found a report card from first grade and the teacher had commented  “Blake doesn’t walk, he dances.” I like to use that phrase now when I have trouble walking, “I didn’t stumble, I’m dancing don’t you know.”

The most wonderful thing about music is no one owns it, anymore than they can own the air around them. Sound is a vibration, a wave traveling through the air, you cannot stop it or cage it. Sure, people control the ability to make money propagating music, but anyone can sing to themselves,  and harmonize with others. One of my wives found it annoying that my fingers trace the patterns in music, caressing her body like an instrument without any thought. Others have found it quite pleasant.

Music can tie itself to a moment, bringing a memory whenever it is heard. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was playing when Emma learned of her first husband’s death, twenty years later she was still disturbed every time it played, even though she loved the song it brought sadness.

There are people who believe they must be the only ones to enjoy a particular band, once the band becomes popular it isn’t “cool” anymore. Such people don’t comprehend music, and they don’t comprehend cool. There is no status attached to being the first to enjoy a song, and if the only enjoyment comes from some sense of superiority, it has nothing to do with the music. The waves travel through the universe, touching everyone in a unique way. Sharing is at the heart of music.

Music has no age, songs do not go stale. I listen to new music and songs from my childhood side by side. I saw a chart a few weeks ago comparing intelligence to the type of music a person prefers, suggesting some music makes you stupid. According to the chart, I was too intelligent to like any type of music. The truth is music only affects your intelligence if you’re making it, countless studies have shown that music education leads higher test scores in all subjects.

I’ve recently taken to following a group of musicians in South Eastern Pennsylvania. You’ve heard me refer to my “brother,” Buddy Cash, who plays with several different line ups, giving me the opportunity to hear an array of arrangements. One of my favorite venues is Gallucio’s, a small restaurant and bar in Wilmington Delaware. The crowd is eclectic, families and singles, young and old. This week a young fan lifted my heart.

Buddy had started the evening at Tom and Jerry’s in Millmont Park Pennsylvania, a weekly happy hour gig from 1700 to 2000. It’s a nice venue, Emma had worked there so I’ve been meaning to stop in some night. Following that was a special Halloween gig at Gallucio’s. Buddy thought I was following him to his place between shows, I thought he was going straight to Delaware, so I arrived before him, and he spent some time waiting for me back at home. George decided to get things going so he started an acoustic set, and Callan Brown, age two, who had been staring at me up to this point (okay, I was dressed like a pirate) was mesmerized by the music.

 

Buddy showed up, and joined George. Callan was enjoying every minute.

 

 

Callan reached his bedtime, but I stayed up well past mine as the band built up.

 

Music is like that, it wakes me up, it gives me life. The guy who is in bed every night at 2000 stays out until 0330 if there’s live music.

Music is not a line of work for those seeking wealth. The hours are long, the pay is minimal, the equipment is expensive. Yet there are thousands of musicians in every city. There is a currency in music far more valuable than any other, love. The love of music is felt by the musician as well as the audience. It feels good to make music, it feels good to make other people dance and sing.

The woman who didn’t like me to “play instruments on her” was a classically trained vocalist and horn player. She teaches High School music somewhere in New Jersey. She never really understood the joy in music, she approached it with a clinical precision. The woman who enjoyed my touch loved to dance, and though she had a horrible singing voice loved to belt out her favorites. She was the love of my life, carried with me in every song she loved. I can’t even remember what the other woman looked like.