SPOTLIGHT: Chris Masterson on Connecting with Kindness
Photo by Curtis Wayne Millard
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mastersons are No Depression‘s Spotlight band for March 2020. Read our feature story on them and their new album, No Time for Love Songs, here.
As touring musicians, we travel a lot and consequently spend a fair amount of time in airports. As I type this, we’re traveling from Charleston, West Virginia, to Los Angeles. We interact with all sorts of folks and do whatever we can to not only minimize the stress of travel, but actually try to enjoy it. As we were flying home to LA a few months ago, I had an interesting conversation with a guy that I’ve thought about often since it occurred.
We were in San Francisco for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. It’s a great festival in a great city and one of our favorite weekends of the year. While in San Francisco we also got to see our friend Chuck Prophet play an evening show (I even jumped onstage with him). As we left his gig we treated ourselves to a copy of his album ¡Let Freedom Ring! as we try to buy vinyl anytime we go to a show.
Fast forward to a couple of days later. I’m standing in the Delta terminal at LAX as we’re traveling home to make our new album No Time for Love Songs. I’m waiting on Eleanor and her immensely talented sister Bonnie Whitmore to meet me when I hear a guy say, “Chuck Prophet, who’s that?” in a thick Southern accent. I was taken off guard until I realized that he was indeed talking to me while looking at the LP hanging out of my old Filson bag. Slightly taken aback, I said, “You know, he’s a great singer/songwriter/guitar player … from the bay area … he was in Green On Red,” but the guy showed no noticeable response. He then said, “Let Freedom Ring … Is he a patriot?” to which I cautiously replied, “Maybe?” Changing to a slightly more snarky tone, the guy then asked, “Well, is he on the left or the right?”
Now, normally I’d have taken his tone and raised him one with something equally or more sideways. The restraint of tongue and pen hasn’t always been my strong suit. That said, I usually feel better when I take that approach, so I calmly asked him, “When does being on the left or the right determine whether you love your country or not?” The guy paused and after a moment said, “Well, some people are too far to the left, some are too far to the right. I’m in the middle.” I don’t know if I really believe this guy to be in the middle, but alas we were now having a civil, pleasant conversation. I found out he was flying home to Meridian, Mississippi, and been visiting Seattle. We talked about the weather and travel until Eleanor and Bonnie returned and we headed home.
What I keep coming back to is how two strangers with seemingly different viewpoints can easily fall into a nice tête-à-tête. We live in such a polarized society these days and you can’t get on social media without seeing people hurl insults at one another. I really hope we can figure out how to reverse this trend. I believe that we all have far more similarities than we do differences, similar desires but just very different ideas on how to attain them.
I don’t know if I see an end in sight or if there is an easy fix for any of this. But empathy is sure a good start. Regardless of our individual beliefs we need to take a step back and be kind to one another. Life is difficult enough without having to navigate strained family relations or worry about getting into it with friends online. Fear is what divides us and love is what will keep us together. I think there is a way for us to move forward in our own beliefs, yet still remain civil and decent to one another.
We are certainly living through interesting and chaotic times, and there is no shortage of things to keep us up at night worrying. Whether that be dealing with the looming election, a global pandemic, attacks on the 1st amendment and journalism, or a multitude of other things, we are facing some serious decisions, but I think there are many ways to trudge ahead without succumbing to fear.
As we wrote and released this album out into the world we thought about all of this a lot. How do we speak our truth yet not make someone with differing beliefs too mad at us? Our aim would be to bring people together with song. Woody Guthrie said, “It’s a folk singer’s job to comfort disturbed people and to disturb comfortable people.” We have to agree with this sentiment though we worked very hard to make sure our words were kind. We hope the listener gets this in the end.
As I’m finishing this up, I’m now sitting at my friend’s kitchen table in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We’ve traveled many more miles sharing this record and have many more to go. It is our goal to be kind to everyone we come into contact with. We hope to make new friends at the shows on this tour and hope they enjoy the new music. Until we see you, be nice, wash your hands, and don’t let the bastards get you down.
Peace, Love, & Loud Guitars