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Music in a Time of Terror

This column was going to be something different originally. It was going to be a glowing review of Phish’s cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. but instead something unexpected happened. Due to tight victories in a few states, Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton. While having your preferred candidate lose is never enjoyable, this time feels different. Everyone I know who has ever studied the rise of totalitarian states [1], has pointed out that all of the warning signs are there, especially the blaming of minorities. While warning signs are obviously not the same thing as it actually coming true, and there still are checks and balances that should stop anything truly awful happening, the additional threats that are being reported is keeping everyone on edge. That raises a question: how can you keep interest in a silly hobby like traveling to see music when it seems like there are real issues happening.

For the first few days after the election, my reaction was that you just couldn’t. When changes are coming that seem so awful, when real people’s lives start being affected and you don’t know how to stop the damage, the frustration is overwhelming. Then some time passed. The news kept getting bad but I found myself going back to music and thinking about that. Maybe it’s just proof that I’m sheltered from the worst of it or am too willing to go back to a familiar crutch instead of fighting to change things, but I do think that music would still be important in a worst case scenario.

Now to be clear, I never really have been a fan of protest songs. Lyrics are best when they can be somewhat universal and a protest song – unless it’s expressing general convictions like giving peace a chance or hoping that we shall overcome some obstacle – has to be hyper specific. So when I say that music has a role to play, I’m not picturing the form of a well written counter to some issue, especially when the hallmark of Trump’s candidacy is to move from one offensive thing to another so quickly that no complaint can stick. By the time any song were to be written, it’s liable to be superseded by something worse. What musicians can provide now more than anything is the energy to go on.

I saw it a few days after the election. I was planning to go to Rabbit Wilde/Shook Twins in Bellingham as a celebration of dodging the bullet. Instead, still in shock mode (especially as that coincided with the wave of attacking minorities as a way of gloating from the victors), I almost blew it off. It turned out that seeing music, especially music made by ridiculously positive people, was a crucial reminder that there are better people out there than just who get reported on in the news. It’s easy to see the people who are promoting dangerous changes solely because they think it’s funny when other people get upset [2] and want to give up. Now more than ever, we need to see the positivity of our scene and use that to make us want to work to improve the world.

That is the role I would give musicians, especially those who are scared and appalled. While it’s good to see artists like Jon Fishman and Fruition’s Mimi Naja using their popularity to raise issues of importance to them – although I might wish Jon would do a better vetting job before he posts – those would have much smaller audiences if the artists didn’t have their initial power. Music can be healing; the More Project is a great example of how one fan used a song to try to inspire others to do better.

While I think bands should just do what they’ve been doing – trying to use their skills to help us make it through bad days – from the fan perspective, things might become different. With real issues on the table, I find I can’t support the negative side of fandom anymore. I use the Seahawks to distract me for a few hours but a loss can’t upset me the way it did before [3]. The current rumors for 2017 Phish that focus mainly on Madison Square Garden were frustrating when I thought that we were just going to have a normal political period. Now all of that energy is focused on helping people and causes. If an interest or obsession is helping me, I’ll keep it, but there’s no time for ones that cause frustration.

The life as an artist can be frustrating. Everyone wants to hang out with you. The money bites these days. People are willing to jump on the first misstep and proclaim you to be a sellout. However, it’s at times like this where you can earn your mettle. There are scared and depressed people and you have the ability to give the inspiration to wake up again and fight for another day. It may be more pressure than you wanted, but it’s in times like these that art can make a real difference. Rise to the occasion and there’s no telling how far your influence might spread.

[1] Oddly enough I know quite a few. Perhaps it’s just that it tends to be something that Jews think about a little more.

[2] An important distinction to be made here is between those who support policies because they really believe that they are the best solution to problems, and those who do so because they like “libtard tears.” The former group may or may not be wrong, but I never have any issue with someone looking at the world, trying their best, and coming to different conclusions. I’d try to provide evidence for my case, listen to theirs, and go from there. It’s how much of this movement is driven by the trolls that scares me. It’s one thing to argue that a different health care policy would be better or worse for the country. It’s another to say, “LOL poors! They should die anyway!”

[3] Or at least I sure hope not. The playoffs are coming and that gives me a chance to embarrassingly overreact to a close loss.

*****

David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He now tweets and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page

His book This Has All Been Wonderful is available on Amazon, the Kindle Store, and his Create Space store.

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