Friday, November 25, 2016

The Political Sphere

This past October I did a very nice tour of the UK with Chris Sharkey and Matthew Bourne which was organized by the Orpheus Project.  There is to be a BBC radio broadcast of one of our concerts in December.  I’ll keep you posted.

It was great to spend a couple of weeks getting to know folks and get a little deeper into the scene, comparing cultural notes.  Of course, the recent Brexit vote was a topic of conversation.  What was not widely expected to happen, happened.  Or perhaps we should say, it was much closer than many of us would like to have thought possible.  This was before our U.S. presidential election and so I certainly didn't want a similar "not widely expected" result to occur here. Which leads me to the following…

I think that most people who are deeply into music would agree that this “playing / listening” thing often feels like a freeing of the spirit, if you will. Seeing and feeling a bigger picture, bigger than our sense of self, bigger than time and events. At this fundamental level, there are no divisions. And yet music exists on a very functional level as well, in this very world of divisions, distinctions and conflicts. In times of crisis we tend to revisit the discussion of art and it’s role in society. Whether you, the reader, feel this past election represents a crisis may well depend upon how you voted. But given the fundamental issues at play and the very real risks involved I hope that we can agree on the need to see this bigger picture. No divisions means that we are not as separate from each other as we may sometimes feel. It’s realizing that this very feeling of separateness creates so many of our problems.  At the same time, we do need to see and respect the very real dynamics of difference (based upon politics, culture, race, religion, gender, sexuality) that we experience in this life in order to fully experience that bigger picture of no divisions.

So how (and why) do we make music in this problematic and often violent world? Do we keep our heads down and hope that the healing power of music does it’s job?  Or do we become activists, connecting our art to the causes we believe in and taking concrete steps to address real issues? Both approaches contain truths, both carry risks.  Too “hands off” and we risk being aloof and ineffectual, in essence denying the suffering going on all around us. Too “hands on” and we risk generating self righteousness and anger, an intoxicating combination especially when we think we are “right”. We can be “right” and still fuck up.  It’s important to acknowledge these feelings but in action I want to be careful.  Careful not to disengage out of anxiety and helplessness. And careful not to create further division and harm out of self-righteousness and aggression. Personally I find that acting from these feelings can become a form of self-violence if I don’t recognize that what I do to myself I do to others and what I do to others I do to myself. So rather than pose any answers I think it best to keep asking the questions (over and over) all the while trying to see more clearly and act more compassionately.  I sense that it’s never going to be “enough” but I don’t want that to stop me either.

So I hold no judgements about what you or anyone else may feel the need to do with respect to art and politics.  These are challenging circumstances. Do what you need to do. I simply share this as a way to articulate and clarify my own intent.  During the lead up towards the Iraq War I actively engaged in protests and wrote strongly worded opinion pieces about what I saw happening. It felt very necessary. As a result I was invited to play at a political gathering and found myself asking some very difficult questions about the role of music in this arena.  There seemed a dilemma in associating my music with a particular political stance. I don’t like the idea that this music that has served to reveal greater truths throughout my life could be used to limit or distance myself from other people who may hold differing political views. So I drew a line and decided not to accept that invitation.  I don’t hold this as a “rule” and maybe I’ll change that stance, I don’t know. I certainly do support and love many musicians who make political music or otherwise contribute their art towards political expression.  But there is no argument that I can make with respect to politics and music, one way or the other.  I’m not trying to defend a position or to negate one.  It’s just that if I am to honor the music in the ways I often espouse in this blog I must especially honor the humanity of all people in doing so.  Especially when it’s difficult.  And I do realize that this does not negate being political with music. So when speaking out I want to constantly strive to be aware of the need to speak from the same place of humanity and compassion that the music comes from.  Not to divide, but to hopefully bring together all people, including those with whom I may disagree or feel challenged by.  I used to bristle at the idea that music and art are inherently political.  But we do pursue this spiritual quest (above politics) within the very circumstances of our daily lives as we create them. Both of those realities are true.  And they are not necessarily in conflict unless we make them to be so.

One thing I am already doing after this election is spending less time on-line.  And more time face to face with you all…see you out there…

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