The year is almost over. It was a long & tricky one for nearly everyone I know. My year certainly didn’t go according to anything even vaguely resembling a “plan.”
Like a lot of (American) people, I’ve been troubled by our current political situation. The constant stream of bad news and shady “leadership” has made it difficult to be “creative.” When Democracy itself is hanging in the balance, it is tough to free the mind, climb to that creative place and try to be “funny” or “dramatic” or anything else. The news has been that bad, and constant. Like everyone else, this time around I felt like just voting, signing online petitions and posting angry tweets wasn’t going to be nearly enough to make a difference and, equally important: make me feel like I was doing all I could to effect change.
So what do you do? A couple of things:
- If you’re an old punk rocker and wannabe Billy Bragg -esque troubadour, you plug your guitar back in and take your outrage to the people. For the first time in about 15 years.
- If you’re a professional writer, you offer your services, for free, to anyone who is running against the current administration and needs your skills.
I spent the past year doing both.
This former punk rocker started playing his guitar in front of audiences again (for the first time in probably a decade and a half,) because I am once again feeling the need to be active and have my say in the world. So I wrote an anti-trump song and loaded it with all the humor and bile I could. Then I posted it on youtube under the slightly assumed name of “Tom Patrick” (two death threats so far) and started playing anywhere that would have me. It was weird playing guitar in front of people again – and without having a ‘band’ to hide behind either. Since anger doesn’t really sell all by itself, the song is a Bob Dylan-y “talking blues” that saved me from the embarrassment of trying (and likely failing) to sing on-key, and it gave me the room to vamp, improvise and connect with the audience. I’ve done a million improv comedy shows, I’ve done stand-up, I’ve done theater… but nothing makes a person (me anyway) feel more exposed, exhilarated and terrified than making noise with guitars in public. Adding music is always a good way to connect with an audience in a way that is different from stand-up or ‘essay reading’ etc. Music carries an energy all its own that people can tune in to… even a simple, “borrowed” G-C-D chord progression helps to carry your message.
I also mentioned that I spent the year volunteering my writing skills. It took some doing, but I got connected with the Dems on a National level and through that connection spent most of the past year helping Blue candidates for state offices in very Red states with their websites, “meet the candidate” videos and even a few stump speeches. I had done some of this kind of thing back in Boston, but that was a long time ago. Working with candidates was actually very exciting and I learned a lot in the process. I wouldn’t run for office myself in a million years, but I now know I am an effective political/media writer.
Of course, doing all this writing work and these shows for free means it was a challenging year cash-wise, but really, for a “creative” what year isn’t challenging? Doing the right thing is always worth it. I slept better knowing that I was doing all I could and using whatever skills I possess to get involved and try to do my best for the country.
…and sometimes, amazingly fun stuff happens. Like the show on November 3rd, just a few days before the election. Sometimes you arrive at a gig assuming you’ll just be playing guitar in a half-empty 60 seat theater with a funny ol’ tuba player, but when you get there you find it is a sold-out 60 seat theater AND you’re told that another guy will be sitting in and playing your song too. No big deal, just Laurence Juber – lead guitarist in Paul McCartney’s band, and former lead guitarist in Wings. That’s all. That is a pretty intense and intimidating situation for an old 1-4-5 punk rocker who hasn’t played any chords in public for a decade and a half, but Mr. Juber could not have been nicer and kinder. Obviously, he is used to playing with lefties. lol. If you want to see how that particular show went, click here.
Changes are coming in 2019. Hopefully that will be good news for America.
Me, Laurence Juber and Mark Beltzman