Hello Stranger from Issue #67
Occasionally my wife Lisa helps me update the logs I keep of all the music that arrives in the mail day after day, sometimes piling up until it’s hard to find a clear pathway to my desk. This weekend she was going through the most recent stack of discs and press releases, and she made an interesting observation. Compared to the last time she’d logged stuff in, many months or perhaps a year ago, there were now a noticeable amount of records being sent our way that were making a specific point to speak out about the war in Iraq.
I was reminded of an exchange with my father a few weeks back. He’d e-mailed and phoned quite enthusiastically about an article he had read in the Austin daily paper about Butch Hancock’s new album War And Peace. Dad and I spent a long weekend on the Rio Grande with Butch back in the fall of 2000 (some may recall my account of that journey in these pages). My father, who normally listens to classical music, developed an appreciation for Hancock on that trip, enough that he and my mother have since gone to see Butch play at the Cactus Cafe a couple of times.
When Dad learned about the War And Peace disc, he was moved to send Butch a note, which read in part: “I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for us to get to the stage in the Iraq war reached in the Viet Nam war when Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, and all the others raised their choruses in protest. Thank God you’ve done what you’ve done. I hope it’s the beginning of a flood.”
While I’m not sure what’s happening now is quite like the 1960s all over again musically, there’s no doubt we’ve seen an increase in musicians making waves about the war, whether it’s Neil Young’s all-out album assault (which placed in our critics’ poll in this issue) or just a small rootsy record label that calls itself Banjos For Peace. What exactly it all means is harder to say; my hope, I suppose, is that it’s simply a first step toward a better understanding of the world we now live in.
I must admit feeling disenchanted lately about the present status of our country and our planet. Those on the right might be under the impression that those on the left are in a celebratory mood on the heels of significant Democratic victories in the midterm elections, but an aura of hopelessness still hangs over the entirety of the situation in Iraq. New leadership cannot alter the fundamental reality that there seem to be no good solutions to this quandary we’ve created, only bad ones and worse ones. I’m reminded of an evening news reporter’s comment a couple nights ago that Iraqis are beginning to voice a sentiment that’s essentially along the lines of, “However bad today was, tomorrow will be worse.”
That’s a hard lesson if, like me, you generally tend toward the bright side of the road in your worldview. Not that I’m oblivious to the darkness that travels in the other direction; I like to think that I’m an optimist by nature, but a pragmatist by necessity. There’s no doubting the difficulty of the challenge ahead of us in Iraq, and the certainty of more death and destruction to Iraqis and Americans, each and every day for the foreseeable future.
But it is possible for the generations to sway in different directions, over the long haul. It is possible to learn from costly mistakes, to refrain from repeating them in the future. Part of that process is raising the level of awareness, reaffirming the necessity of dialogue, cultivating a public consciousness. This, I believe, is the flame that many artists are finally fanning.
As to how we get out of Iraq with the least possible further damage to their country, and ours, I’m still struggling with that one. Looking forward, though, I do believe we have it in our power to keep this from happening again. And I think that is what this chorus of voices is ultimately all about.