Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Send A Message

[Ed. Note: I published this on my Facebook page tonight. I’ve heard too many cable-TV-news pundits gleefully point to polls which suggest that only a small percentage of young Americans will actually vote in the midterm elections tomorrow. I’d like to hope – after Parkland, after Kavanaugh, after children in cages, after a host of awful current events that seemed to awaken a great many American high-school and college students, over the last two years – that there are indeed a great wave of new voters who will end-run the corporate media’s bleatings and the various pollsters that only contact landline-based Americans, and give American representative government a well-deserved kick in the rear. May it be so.

[So here’s that Facebook piece, which I wrote while thinking of all the fine folks who have been students at the public schools and colleges and drum major clinics where I’ve taught, all of whom I’ve been able to watch, via social media, turn into people whom I’d trust to run this country.]


All right, my fine FB younger friends — a legion of wonderful people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a music classroom, or a rehearsal stage, or a high school or college football field, or a DMA parking lot: pull up a chair while I do my Wise Old Sage Of The Desert act.

I beg you. I mean it: I beg you — prove the pundits wrong tomorrow. There are people who go on the TV and pontificate because they’re paid to convince you that they know something about the world, who say that only a handful of young voters will actually engage in the political process. MAKE THEM EAT THEIR WORDS.

Forgive me, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that tomorrow’s election — at the all levels, federal, state and local — boils down to a very simple idea:

Empathy vs. selfishness.

Regarding virtually every important issue facing our country right now — climate change, health care, gun violence, public education, women’s health and rights, rights of people of color, LGBTQ and transgender rights, freedom of (or from) religion, immigration (CHILDREN ARE STILL IN CAGES), the Supreme Court, simple human decency, and oh by the way Congressional oversight of this corrupt bunch of pirates masquerading as an executive branch …

… the current Congressional majority and many Republican-held state legislatures have consistently and repeatedly demonstrated BY THEIR ACTIONS an utter lack of human decency and empathy.

So vote them out tomorrow (if you haven’t early-voted already). Vote in such overwhelming numbers that Russian meddlers won’t matter, that voter-suppression schemes won’t matter, that the corporate media’s obsession with pretending that “both sides are equally horrible” … JUST WON’T MATTER.

And at this moment in history, I’m sorry, but it’s more important to vote within the context of the political system as it is, rather than as we wish it were. Which means, I’m sorry again, that independent candidates can’t help us in this election. Down the road, perhaps; but not tomorrow.

Mark Twain once said, not without cause, “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

BUT … this time around, Democratic Party majorities in the US House and Senate are the only way to throw the brakes on this miserable Republican-Party-led executive branch (yeah, That Guy). The current Republican Party majorities in the House and Senate have, through their actions, proven themselves willfully incompetent at governmental oversight, and indeed at representative government at all.

So go to the polls. Stand in the lines when you have to. Send a message … to our elected officials, and to the rest of the world (most of which has quite honestly been watching us for the last two years with horror) — that we’re not going to just sit here and take it. That we’re not going to let selfishness win out over empathy.

If you ask me: vote blue. Vote Democratic. But in any case: vote.

My young friends, all of whom I’ve held in very high regard whenever I’ve had the privilege of enjoying your company … this is your golden opportunity, TOMORROW: to take this country back from the (mostly) rich old white guys who have used their control of the government to gather all the riches to themselves, right now — AND to work diligently to make life harder for everybody but themselves, both now and into the future.

Make the Women’s March and the Science March and the March For Our Lives and the Families Belong Together March seem like mere whispering tiny preludes.



November 5, 2018 Posted by | civil rights, current events, Facebook, government, news, politics, social media, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strange New World

I wonder … what would Gene Roddenberry think?

A little context here:

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of “Star Trek”, the television series that went where no man — where no one — had gone before.

Meaning out into the stars, yes … but in the context of the mid-1960s and what was considered okay to put on television, this series went to a few places and did a few things that were just about unheard of, at the time – beyond doing what science fiction does best, namely under-the-radar commentary on current events.

On the bridge of our fair starship Enterprise: well, yes, a white fellow in the commander’s seat, and a white fellow in charge of keeping everybody well and healthy … but look at the folks who are helping them out:

An African-American woman in charge of keeping the Enterprise in touch with the outside world.

A Russian fellow — at the time, you’ll recall, Soviet Russia wasn’t exactly considered your warmest fuzziest neighbor — in charge of figuring out how to navigate the ship from place to place.

An Asian man in charge of steering the darn truck! (And firing the phasers, when sadly necessary.)

Yes, a white fellow in charge of keeping the ship propelled properly, but sporting an accent that was darn near impenetrable.

And a green — green! — alien. Not an illegal alien. And not an alien that is here to menace our heroes. And not a “little green man”, as early science-fiction writers imagined. A tall, dark (greenish) and handsome native of another planet entirely. And, um, friendly. If a bit bemused by the humans surrounding him.

As opposed to hell-bent on conquering our world. Or taking our jobs.

The crew of the starship Enterprise was meant (overtly or not) to be a microcosm of the sort of world that Gene Roddenberry believed was possible, some day in the future. His vision has been derided by some as full of Pollyanna BS in its utopian glee; but honestly, who wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone was judged by their character and not by what they looked like?

Who, indeed.

Fast-forward fifty years from the first appearance of Captain Kirk and his merry band of genuine friends, and … well, politically, we’re not exactly in a happy-clappy utopian mist of bliss, out here.

This morning, I was listening to a segment of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, an interview with a Florida resident who is likely to vote for Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. He didn’t see himself as a hardcore, rally-attending, rally-protester-punching, campaign-press-corps-threatening Trump supporter. No indeed. Rather, he saw himself as a person who, after much consideration, really did think that voting for Trump was his best option “in a weak [election] field.”

And to wrap up his self-assessment, he said a most curious thing.

This is not one [vote] that I’m gonna be bragging about in the future. This is the first presidential election cycle in my lifetime [in which] I have not had a yard sign, a bumper sticker, a pin, a shirt, a hat … there is nothing on my property that would tell you who I’m going to vote for. I told somebody, you know, I like ‘Star Trek’, but I am not dressing up like a Klingon and going to the convention, okay? I’m going to vote for Donald Trump, but his yard sign is not going in my front yard.”

Setting aside the fact that, well, in this case, as in many others throughout history, at least one voter is glad that American elections are done by secret ballot, so no one has to know that you actually voted for Candidate X … and also setting aside the inescapable impression that he held beliefs for which he really didn’t want to have to stand up and be counted …

Here we have a self-professed fan of “Star Trek”, a program whose underlying point was that the wonderful thing about the people that is going out and exploring the wonders of outer space is that they represent race full of human beings who have figured out how to live peaceably and productively with themselves, and have matured to the point that they have begun to appreciate and value people and things and aliens that are different, rather than continuing to be spooked and scared by “strange new worlds”, and probably to be violent toward “new life and new civilizations”.

And this Florida man is supporting a candidate who has managed to awaken many Americans’ latent hatreds, by way of behavior and policies that espouse exactly the opposite philosophy from that “Star Trek” show.

I wonder what Gene Roddenberry would think.

I can’t speak for him … but as for me, at the very least I think that Florida man fundamentally misunderstands “Star Trek”.

Either that or he just likes it for the phaser guns, and spaceships, and fistfights wherein William Shatner rips his own shirt, again.

What really makes me nervous is that, according to the original Star Trek canon, Earth and its humans had to endure a Third World War before they could come out the other side and start to rebuild their civilization into something that would one day become the Roddenberry vision.

Here’s hoping Mr. Roddenberry was wrong, at least in this one detail.

Twenty days.

October 19, 2016 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, news, npr, politics, radio, science fiction, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Causes That?

I inspect the subject of politics with a certain amount of caution, most of the time, in this space. Partly this is because the header of this blog identifies me as a lot of things, but as a politician it does not.

And, well, politics is a topic that is so full of potential land mines that I step carefully. Also, I do have perfectly wonderful friends and colleagues whose politics don’t line up with mine. Most times, we agree to disagree by talking about other things, like the latest Red Sox bullpen blowup, or the latest cool choir anthem, or something.

Nonetheless, I feel fairly safe in addressing today’s topic, as I can force it into Not Being About Politics.

Here is what the Texas senator said on “CBS This Morning” [last] Tuesday:

I grew up listening to classic rock, and I’ll tell you sort of an odd story: My music taste changed on 9/11. And it’s very strange. I actually intellectually find this very curious. But on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. And country music collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me. And I have to say, it just is a gut-level. I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘these are my people.’ So ever since 2001, I listen to country music. But I’m an odd country music fan, because I didn’t listen to it prior to 2001.” [http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/416114/ted-cruz-country-boy-ian-tuttle]

Tell me, Mr. Gershwin, what causes that?

I shall leave aside the faint possibility that Sen. Ted Cruz (R.-Tex.) made this statement in the effort to reassure a certain group of potential Republican presidential primary voters that he speaketh their language. Which is to say, an example of shameless pandering. Because this is Not About Politics.

I am tempted to examine briefly the idea of the crisis conversion. There is much documentation in the professional psychology community about what emotional and psychological conditions may contribute to someone’s ability to suddenly adopt one set of views or values over another, in the wake of a sudden event.

The classic religious paradigm for conversion is highly dependent on the idea of sudden conversion. … Sudden conversions are highly emotional but not necessarily rational. In these instances the convert is a passive agent being acted upon by external forces, and the conversion entails a dramatic transformation of self. Emotion dominates this dramatic, irrational transformation leading to a shift in self and belief, with behavior change to follow. For sudden converts conversion is not a back and forth drawn out process, but rather happens in one single instance and is permanent thereafter. Typically sudden conversions occur in childhood and are exceptionally emotional experiences. [Adapted from Spilka, B. et al. (2003). The psychology of religion, an empirical approach. (3 ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Pub.]

Much of the published research dealing with this topic similarly emphasizes the greater effects of emotion over those of reason, in these moments of conversion. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with emotion; and as long as we’re not talking about making decisions about activating a nuclear arsenal, it may be safe to suggest that emotion is not necessarily the worst motivation for changing one’s mind about something.

And assuredly, the immediate aftermath (say, the first week or two) of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an emotional and psychologically delicate time. (For those of us who heard about them but were not actually present, at least. I can only assume that witnessing them live and in person would change the conditions of this test dramatically – and almost certainly would lengthen that “aftermath” timeframe to anywhere between several months and the rest of one’s life. I can hardly speak to that point.)

But the majority of the sudden conversions that I’m personally aware of tend to be much more on the order of someone witnessing a performance of, say, the pop group “One Direction” and instantly developing a fixation on those lads. Again, I’m not dumping on those particular fans. (So for heaven’s sake, please, devoted One Direction fans, don’t go down the same road that the Absurdly Young Operatic Classical-Crossover Singing Sensation Appreciation Society did, when they got all defensive about the blog entry I wrote, nearly four years ago, that looked faintly askance at their Musical Idol. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may wish either [a] to go look up my previous blog posts called “Children and Animals” and “Zing!” … or [b] to be just as happy that you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

But, if we adopt that generic example as the model for this examination of the Sudden Conversion, well, consider all the footage you may ever have seen of American pop-music fans reacting to the arrival in the US of the Beatles, fifty or so years ago. What do all those, um, faintly emotional fans have in common?

They’re all pretty young.

And it was okay.

They were appreciating many things about the Beatles; probably not all of them to do with musicology … or guitar-playing technique … or the fact that John and Paul had no business being as truly great musical composers as they were, considering Paul didn’t (and still doesn’t) read music much, and they were neither of them far removed from their own teenage years.

The fans were appreciating the cut of their suits, and the cut of their hair, and about a zillion other things that didn’t have much to do with music. But also, on some very gut level that had nothing to do with what in the world is that opening “Hard Day’s Night” chord made up of?, the Beatles’ music or performances or public images spoke to them.

And so, we return to Sen. Ted Cruz, and the extent to which American country music – specifically, how its purveyors reacted musically to the 9/11 attacks (compared, reportedly, to the ways in which rock musicians did) – spoke to him.

Again presuming that this is About Music, and not instead About Anything Else.

I admit that I had to do a little research about this, since the only two specific things I had remembered about the aftermath of the attacks, musically, are Lee Greenwood’s (in my humble opinion otherwise execrable) song “God Bless the USA”, and the fact that more major- and minor-league baseball spectators have been made to sing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch, than are made to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, since then.

As I did this research, I noted a curious thing: the various lists of original songs written about the September 11 attacks, released in 2001 (presumably within the three months afterward), seemed about evenly divided between country artists and rock artists.

The Charlie Daniels Band, with “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag”. Paul McCartney, with “Freedom”, from his “Driving Rain” album. The country band Lonestar, with “I’m Already There”, from their similarly-titled album. Neil Young, with “Let’s Roll”, from his “Are You Passionate?” album. Tori Amos, with “I Can’t See New York”, from her “Scarlet’s Walk” album. Toby Keith, with the delicately-drawn “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)”, from his “Unleashed” album.

What did all these songs (and more besides) have in common? Seemingly, they all express sympathy for the victims, and outrage at the atrocity … and, as music very often does, they strive to comfort the afflicted.

Country and rock, each.

There are hardly any examples that I can find of music that begins to, conversely, afflict the comfortable, until well into 2003, let’s just say eighteen months later. My purpose here is not to wonder why that could be; to wonder what would bring on a gradual turn away from dogged patriotism, or at least care for the victims and their losses.

Yes, the rapper Paris released a song called “What Would You Do?” which dealt with 9/11 conspiracy theories. And a Japanese singer called Misia, in collaboration with American singer Erykah Badu, released an anti-war song called “Akai Inochi (Red Destiny)”, which spoke of how the events of 9/11 turned the “seemingly distant existence of war into the reality of now”.

Ah ha! These songs didn’t come directly after the attacks, but they came! And they were done by people other than country artists! …Is what some supporters of Sen. Cruz may be saying, if they’re doing similar research to mine.

Okay; but then, there was that controversy surrounding that pesky group of uppity women called the Dixie Chicks, and how they (as members of the country music community that Sen. Cruz admires, with such a broad brush, as being “his people”) kinda stirred up the waters a bit, bein’ all critical and anti-war ‘n’ stuff.

Harder to jam that round peg in that square hole, I think.

Now, I am loathe to assume I can read people’s minds and know what they’re thinking and feeling all the time. I would be arrogant to suggest that I know, know for a fact that Sen. Cruz is full of it when he suggests that directly after 9/11, he perceived differences in how country and rock musicians were responding to the attacks that were sufficient to generate in him a Sudden Conversion – an adjustment in his musical tastes immediate and passionate enough to rival a 13-year-old’s sudden obsession with the Backstreet Boys or the Jackson Five or the Beatles.

I might be treading Hypocrite Territory, in that case.

After all, recently (well into my fifth decade on Earth) I figured out that all those silly Marvel Studios superhero movies were pretty cool stuff. When it’s Tuesday afternoon, I get a little jazzed thinking, “hey, it’s an ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ night!” And at some point I will probably blog cheerfully about how great that little eight-episode “Agent Carter” show was. But it took me stumbling onto a cable-TV rerun of the “Iron Man” movie, followed by a similarly-located rerun of “Marvel’s The Avengers”, followed by a little research into the comic-book heritage of the Avengers’ roster – now what’s all this about Thor, and Black Widow, and Captain-America-who-I-always-thought-was-fairly-lame? – although, yes, I perfectly well know all about the Incredible Hulk – to get me to be a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But it took a while.

Because I’m not 13 anymore.

And neither is Sen. Cruz. And you don’t get as far into representative government as he has by doing things, making adjustments to your core beliefs, that would get you labeled as a Flip-Flopper. Stand firm in your beliefs!

So, it does beg the question that Mr. Gershwin posed, again: “tell me what causes that?”

But let’s only talk about it in terms of music and psychology, please. Because it is, of course, Not About Politics.

March 30, 2015 Posted by | arts, current events, Famous Persons, music, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment