Background Story: 30 Years in the Making
The album’s background story begins outside an Ohio dance club. As the large crowd exits at closing time, two people begin to argue. Someone shouts a racial slur. Within seconds, the parking lot divides into black and white. Before we can get to the car, fights erupt. Two black friends courageously break up a major fight, rescuing a white friend before more blood is shed.
I compose an unreleased song about the event, entitled “Brother to Brother.” It illustrates many elements of human nature, ranging from reactivity to heroism. (Lyrics from that earlier song are in this blog post about various forms of prejudice.)
Fast forward 30 years, to the present.
Multiple violent outbreaks between political groups occur in my city, gathering national media attention.
Someone near my home accosts me with a gun drawn, simply because I was walking by his house at night on the Fourth of July. I learn that he’s very fearful of the world around him.
On my diverse social media feed, I frequently see messages expressing anger, hate, and condescension toward groups that other people I care about belong to. The source and targets of the messages are not limited to any one political party or demographic group. At the same time, I see many people simply trying to figure out what is true and what is right.
I pour my heart into a written project that earns praise from a diverse group of readers and experts. But in attempting to speak candidly to some people’s pain, I trigger others’ pain. A small online mob forms, with some people attacking me and others defending me.
Through all of this, I become even more aware of how easy it is to spark “us versus them” dynamics, especially in environments where people are already hurting, distrustful, and fearful of one another. While such dynamics are sometimes valid and justified, we can survive only so much division. When we’re under constant pressure to determine quickly whether someone is friend or foe, good or evil, we’re going to make errors and cause harm.
Fortunately, we also have the capacity to step back and build bridges.
Overwhelmed and saddened, I withdraw from some of my regular routines, and do my best to channel energy I’m experiencing into constructive things–like music.
The above is the foundation and backdrop of the album’s opening track, “Common Ground.” Borrowing a bass line from “Brother to Brother,” it expands upon its themes 30 years later.
How can we address differences and problems while also remembering our similarities and common needs? How can we continue to move toward a better future?
“Come Together Now” and “Last Chance for Love” are urgent wake-up calls. We face major global challenges, including environmental shifts that already affect countless people and other animals.
To overcome these threats, we must work together across the boundaries of race, religion, sex, political party, age, and so on.
This may be our last chance.
“This Is What My God Sounds Like” gives voice to those whose spiritual beliefs don’t fit into a neat box. It’s a celebration of the spirituality that is unique to each of us, whatever our beliefs.
It expresses my personal sense of a higher power that embodies and connects all things, including sex, music, and nature, without attachment to a specific organized religion. And without attachment to what form that higher power takes.
“Praying to the Same God” is a call for peace among the extremist factions of religions, and among those who manipulate their fervor for political and economic gain. This is obviously a very complex problem with no overnight solution, but it’s a problem that affects everyone. This includes those who practice religion peacefully, those who consider themselves spiritual but non-religious, those who have no belief in a higher power or afterlife, and so on.
It’s also important to remember that religions are not the only forms of ideology that can breed fundamentalism. I’ve been guilty of such thinking and behavior. Perhaps it’s a natural human tendency that needs to be kept in check.
“Love More Visibly” was a theme of a friend’s (Eecole Copen’s) New Year’s Eve party several years ago. The phrase really resonated with me, because it seems like a very important thing to practice, and a very important message to spread.
I’ve been inspired by the way that Eecole and other friends have put such energy into action in the world, through their day-to-day lives. This includes those who have participated in the Happiness Sprinkling events (shown in the picture) created by Laura Lavigne.
So “Love More Visibly” became the title of one of the songs, and of the album.
“The Frequency of Love” is a reminder that love is an integral part of who we are. It is an energy we can usually choose to access, even if that is difficult to do at times.
“Sentimental” is about life’s most difficult goodbyes. It is a tribute to people we love who are no longer a part of our daily lives, due to death or changes in life circumstances.
One of the first deaths I deeply mourned was that of my great grandmother. When I was a child, she helped my family purchase a musical keyboard that I really wanted. I created one of the main instruments in “Sentimental” by sampling that little Casio keyboard. So on some level, she lives on through this song.
I hold a special place in my heart for my ancestors, for friends who have lost children, for those who have lost loved ones in war and conflict, and many others.
“Your Groovy Soul” and “Everlasting” are reminders to maintain a larger perspective.
Even though our lives here are brief and often confusing, and each person is just a tiny part of the puzzle, we’re part of something larger.
The closing piece, “Familiar Warmth,” is sonically very different from the rest of the album. I’d like to leave you in a place of self-reflection.
As you end this musical journey, consider the familiar people, places, ideas, and things that provide warmth, groundedness, and connection for you.
I hope the album speaks to you. We’re all in this together.