These Things Happen

My cold got worse this past week and landed me on the couch for a couple days (not COVID-19, I got a negative test). On Monday I mostly slept, and when my daughter came home from school she told me there was a 7 pm curfew in effect.

That’s how I learned that Daunte Wright, a Black man only three years older than my 17-year-old daughter, had been killed by police in the Minneapolis suburbs. More protests. One thousand National Guard troops called in by the governor.

As the trial of George Floyd’s killer continues here in these Twin Cities.

As we keep tearing each other apart with guns across this country. (Yesterday I wrote this song. Today I recorded it. Between those two moments, eight people were killed in a mass shooting in Indianapolis.)

As the virus we’ve grown sick of fights to keep its place in the world.

This is a ragged haunted open wound of a song because that’s what I have this week. I am grateful that the sun came out today, the first sunny day in too long. And that I finally felt well enough to get out of the house. I filled bird feeders and poked around in my gardens. I still believe. In spite of everything.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

So another man dies at the public servants’ hands 
At the point of the weapons of the so-called protectors
And another mother cries on the screens in our hands
And weary voices rage at the racist military-industrial-congressional war machine

Yeah these things happen
But these things don’t just happen

We’re under a cloud here down in the muck
April is the cruelest month except for all the others
Maybe our hearts are in the right place
But our lungs keep breathing in these toxic fumes 
And we spew them out knowing not what we do
And pointing our fingers and shifting the blame
And the world’s on fire with a deadly virus
And our country’s the sickest cause we deny it

Yeah these things happen
But these things don’t just happen

These lumps of metal they make us hard
Steel our nerves and rob us of compassion
Our original sin keeps us weak
Exposes our skin and lies about what it means
Till we want to scratch it off

And the government tries and the government fails
And the people go mad and the people go numb
And we try to believe and we try to behave
And the truth eludes us and we lose our way

These things do happen
These things happen
These things happen
And these things don’t just happen

Impotent Citizens With Fancy Guns

I started writing week 8’s song for #songaweek2018 while standing in front of my son’s middle school as school let out and crowds of vibrant young people walked past me, just days after the latest mass shooting, which once again happened at a school. I thought, “let all these children be healed.”

That line morphed into “let all these children believe . . .” and you can hear the rest of it below.

Often (unless I’m writing a fun/goofy song) I try to spread my words in layers, make things subtle, pack the lines with depth so everything isn’t right there on the surface for an easy takeaway from the first listen. But this time I found myself bucking that habit and writing something more straightforward.

Creating art inspired by or expressing a political or controversial idea is a challenge. I want to make music, not propaganda. I want to appeal to common humanity and shared experience/empathy, not set up false dichotomies or overly sentimentalize. I want to make a case for what I see as important, but not be preachy. All of that was in my mind as I wrote this song.

Ultimately, my hope is that we as a culture will listen to our youth, and that they can be confident that we are listening, that we care, that we aren’t brushing aside their descriptions of their lived experience – and that we are willing to reconsider some things, including gun regulations, in light of what they say to us.

In the days even since I wrote this song, I’ve been encouraged by what I’m seeing and hearing in our country – a rising tide of concern from people of varying political stripes, companies breaking ties with the NRA, politicians’ feet held to the fire – and much of it driven by young people who aren’t even old enough to vote yet. Maybe these children are turning my first lyric idea for this song on its head, and by their activism, helping us all to be healed.

Let all these children believe
that when we lose them we grieve
and that we care more than we’ve been letting on

Let all their sad hearts be cheered
that love is stronger than fear
and no amusement’s too dear to be let go

But we’ll lower the flag have a moment of silence
Discuss mental illness and virtual violence
And when all has been dutifully said and done
We’ll get right back on out there and play with our guns

Let these courageous young minds
teach us to change with the times
and not be willfully blind to what they show

Let these new voices be heard
Let’s hear their hearts and their words
and not be hard and unstirred by what they say

If we just lower the flag have a moment of silence
Discuss mental illness and virtual violence
And blithely decide that our work here is done
We’re just impotent citizens with fancy guns

Let all these beautiful ones
be treasured more than our guns