Breaking a Promise to Myself

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When I started blogging, nearly a year ago, I decided to avoid politics and business. I really wanted to blog about personal stuff (computers, food, music, poker, etc.). Aside from a minor comment or two about how certain performers use the stage to share their politics, I’ve resisted (sometimes mightily) from jumping in.

I’m about to go back on that decision, and I’m none too happy it. I seriously hope that I can avoid the inevitable slippery slope, and I certainly intend to try hard to do that.

If you know me, you probably think you know my politics, but you’re also likely as wrong as you might be somewhat correct. In fact, I think 99.999% of all politics and politicians is/are corrupt. I don’t mean that so many individual politicians are corrupt, and take bribes, etc. The entire system is skewed to selling out your principles if you hope to get anything done.

The only saving grace in all of this is that most legislation stalls, and that which gets through is usually watered down (and unfortunately laden with pork), so that the sheer inertia of our government is what keeps us from spiraling into hell.

Whew. Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to the real point of this post.

While the volume and proportion hasn’t been overwhelming (so far) at the concerts that Lois and I choose to go to, it annoys the hell out of both of us whenever any performer feels compelled to share their politics with the audience. Last I checked, we didn’t pay (darn good money in most cases!) to come to a political lecture in general, nor did we specifically anoint this performer as the know-it-all keeper of political knowledge.

To be clear, I don’t want a lecture that supports my beliefs either, so this has nothing to do with not wanting to hear a dissenting opinion. Of course, it’s rare (nowadays) with the majority of the groups that we see, and the fact that the venues are in and around NYC, that the lectures are anything but anti-Bush and anti-war. Wow, how clever, as we don’t get enough of that sentiment on TV.

Some are classy about it, but guess what, I don’t appreciate that either, though I’ll quickly admit that it’s a tad less painful than a rant. An example of class is Kathy Mattea. We loved her concert (which you can read about here). I can’t even recall the exact comment she made, but she dedicated one song to a polite, but clear anti-war sentiment. Like I said, classy, no rubbing it in anyone’s face, but the dig was still unmistakable.

A different form (and much less prevalent) of political agendas was Kathy specifically promoting Al Gore’s presentations on behalf of raising awareness for Global Warming. Again, not over the top.

One more example before I get to the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I also reported that we enjoyed seeing Treble at Joe’s Pub. This is hardly a well-known group with a platform or following, where you might expect (unfortunately) to hear any political opinions. While they didn’t give any speeches, they had a generally clever song that I assume they wrote (they don’t write many of their own songs), and in two of the verses, they are just plain ugly about President Bush. Wow, they’re just so darn accomplished that their opinions about politics deserve to stand the test of time by being burned into their CDs.

I don’t begrudge them their opinions, and as I said to Lois right after we heard the song, I’d much rather hear the opinions in the form of a song than in an actual speech, but still, give me a break, please.

OK, now the ice-breaker. As I’ve mentioned a number of times, David Bromberg is one of my all-time favorite performers, in particular live, but I have many of his CDs, and love most of them as well. Clearly, he grew up in the Viet Nam era, and the strong Folk singer culture (Dylan, Baez, Seeger, Bromberg 😉 etc.), so I get that he feels the need to speak out.

So, the first time I saw him in over two decades was last September (2006) which was before I started blogging. So, there was no individual post about him, though I summarized it in my uber getting back into live music post. We saw him again solo at Joe’s Pub.

In both performances, his encore was a speech, with background guitar. It annoyed the daylights out of Lois. She would have happily got up and left if I was willing, which I wasn’t. It annoyed me too, a lot, but the first time, I pointed out to Lois that at least, he truly was trying to communicate, rather than rant. Specifically, when he started speaking against the current administration, the majority of the crowd whooped it up. He immediately asked them to be silent (in other words, he didn’t use the opportunity for self-aggrandizement). He said: “I don’t need to reach those of you who agree with me, I need to speak calmly to those that disagree.”

They quieted down and respected him. I respected him as well, because most artists in his position prefer the applause than actually making an intelligent argument. I listened, so he got what he wanted. That said, it’s not what I paid for, and I was thankful that he waited for the encore, and didn’t waste a lot of show time lecturing me.

As noted above, he repeated the exact same act at Joe’s Pub. Oh well…

Last night, we went to see him again, at the Paramount Theater in Peekskill, NY. I will blog separately about the concert, and give all of the appropriate links in that post. As in the first show at BB King, Angel Band (his wife’s group, that David’s band backs up) opened the show.

We were (unfortunately) fully prepared to hear the same speech again at the end of the show. Most gratefully, we didn’t. But, we didn’t, because he didn’t need to. Instead, his wife, Nancy Josephson, used her microphone time when Angel Band was in the spotlight to tell a story about how she came to write an anti-war song. The speech came complete with her acting out the head banging on her kitchen counter that occurred (to her) and therefore inspired the song, when she first heard the term “the surge” on the radio.

The song itself is gorgeous (melodically, and harmony-wise). The words are interesting, if not quite as inspiring as Nancy would like us to believe. If there was no explanation at all, I would have appreciated the song, and the universality of the message. Essentially, the song is about mothers uniting against war, refusing to let their children participate. A nice message (if ultimately naive beyond description, though I’ll try anyway down below 😉 ). For me, by tying it specifically to “the surge”, it became embroiled in the current divisive politics that are destroying this amazing country!

My point is that as an ideal it’s fine to wish for a world that never saw another war. But, to shape the argument in a way that claims that no war is ever worth fighting, quickly loses me.

Since I can’t resist, I’ll point out two issues with the “can’t we all just love each other and resist all wars” messages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m adamantly anti-war (I even demonstrated at the age of 13 at Bryant Park against the Viet Nam war). That said, anti-war, at all costs, is too high a cost, and there’s ample proof of that.

First, let’s look at the brilliant Sally Field, who at the Emmys, made the astoundingly insightful claim (quoted exactly, as I just watched the clip again a second ago) “If mothers ruled the world, there would be no god-damned wars”. Ah, of course. It reminds me of watching 60 Minutes interviewing Palestinian mothers, who lamented (while crying to the cameras!) that they had only lost three sons as suicide bombers, and that their remaining two sons hadn’t yet given themselves to the glory of becoming a suicide bomber. Thanks Mom!

Second, let’s look at Nancy Josephson’s view that no mother should give up any child to war. I think there were a lot of Jews that behaved all-too-passively while being politely marched to the death camps. Surely (they thought), it can’t be worth fighting, we’re only giving up material things. Surely (they thought), there is not so great an evil in the world that could conceive of the final solution, so we don’t have to resort to violence.

The point is, there are things that are worth fighting for, as appalling as that notion is. It may very well be true that Iraq is not. For sure, both Lois and I strongly wish we had never gotten involved there, and we wish there was a way to get out that wouldn’t leave us worse off than we already are. But, to confuse and conflate a legitimate distaste for the current specific situation in Iraq, and try to push a naive message that no war is ever necessary, and our kids should all be flower children, is equally appalling to me, if not actually more so…

I’m done, except to beg all performers who are being paid by their audience to entertain, to stop pretending that your opinion is more important than mine. If your music itself is known to be political, that’s great, as I can easily self-select whether I want to hear it. But, if your music is inherently not political, then I shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of being lectured.

P.S. Note that this message isn’t being forced on you, you didn’t have to read it. It wasn’t presented to you as part of another activity that you chose to participate in, and therefore couldn’t avoid this little insert. Also, you weren’t charged for the privilege of reading my opinion, nor did I attempt to profit from you in any way, by running an Ad on this page, etc. This is a major difference from what we are subjected to as an audience in the above matters!