THE BIG PS …

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“Would you ever go play a private show for a president?” my wife asked, already knowing the answer. She knows how I feel about royalty and power and government and entitlement and pomp and all that business. I’m not a fan. She was just goading me.

“Nope …he can buy a ticket like everybody else,” was my cavalier reply.

She pressed, “So what if he or she DOES buy a ticket? Now you’ve got an audience with the most powerful person on earth. Would you say something?”

I thought about it for a long time. In fact …I’m still thinking about it. I’m DEEPLY dedicated to several causes. I’m very outspoken about adoption and the issues that surround “chosen families.” I’m a veterans’ advocate and work with PTSD patients. I am a strong supporter (almost tragically so) of songwriters and creators. I believe their (OUR) story is an American tragedy that hasn’t yet been properly written about. And finally, I would do almost anything on earth to get a huge chunk of NIH funding for Angelman Syndrome research (Angelman Syndrome being the chromosomal disorder that afflicts my 14-year-old daughter).

Yeah …there’s A LOT I’d like to say to a president.

Then, I think about the show and the setting and why we’re all there. I look in the mirror, before I go on (every time) and remind myself of who I am and what I do. I think about all the things my parents taught me about performing: nobody came from a hard day to watch YOU have one. Don’t punish the people who showed up because of the people who didn’t …stuff like that. And I remember that anyone coming to see a show or hear some music, needs a good time. They need to laugh and cry and dance and feel good for a minute. That’s why you’re there as the performer. That’s your job. And they didn’t come to see you be an amateur …they can see that anywhere. They came because somebody told them you were a cut above amateur. And the minute they lay their hard earned money down and surrender their time to you …you both share a sacred trust.

They are purchasing something they do not need and can live without. Your job is to convince them otherwise and make them leave wondering how they ever lived their life without you in it.

Given that foundation, I tend to steer clear of big statements in a show unless they are statements EVERYONE can get behind. I tell my story and I sing my songs. And I want you, no matter what you had for breakfast, how you feel about trade deficits, and no matter who you voted for, to be on my side by the end of the night. I want you to leave my show feeling like you’re loved and valued …not just wowed. Wowed is a given. Wowing is the performer’s basic job. Pouring yourself into the listener and giving your entire self away, is the higher level of the job.

Having said that, I do embrace the tradition of speaking truth to power through art. Social critique is a must for any real artist. If you never point out the absurd, you might not be looking hard enough. And so, believe it or not, I kind of support this Hamilton actor in his flipping the bird to the vice president elect. But there are some rules of the road for being a TRUE badass, art rebel …

1. AMERICA DOESN’T COUNT.

No one speaking out in America is really doing anything brave. Because you won’t be jailed in America for your opinion. Nobody rounded up Sinead O’Conor and arrested her after she ripped up a picture of the Pope on SNL. We all just shrugged and prayed to almighty God for her song to be over …so we could get back to the Church Lady.

Charlie Hebdo has done the bravest satire of this century. Because they’re actually attacking REAL absurdity that has REAL consequence. Amy Shumer wouldn’t do it. SNL wouldn’t do it. John Stewart wouldn’t do it. Key and Peele wouldn’t do it. All of them are funny people …but NONE of them are really brave artists. Why? Because …

2. THE STAKES ARE THE THING.

When Mohamed Ali refused to go to Vietnam …he went to jail for 3 years. Those are real protest stakes.

The real rebel artists right now are the ones tackling the absurdity of a religion that still beheads people. Charlie Hebdo put their LIVES on the line to lampoon it. And some of them paid the ultimate price. The only time I’ve ever done anything like that was when I sang an unapproved song (about America) in China, at a hotel. I was pretty certain they wouldn’t arrest me …but I wasn’t completely sure. And that raised the stakes to an acceptable level.

If there are no real stakes, then you’re just doing an advertising campaign. But you don’t get “brave” status.

3. YOU GO TO THEM.

Johnny Cash didn’t wait till he had an audience with someone powerful, to speak out about prison reform. He went to the damn prison he wrote about and looked it in the eye. THAT’S how you do it.

4. IF YOU FEEL STRONGLY ENOUGH …DON’T SHOW UP.

If I were contracted to do a show for Hitler or Assad or some dime store oil sheik, who murders innocents and flies around in a customized 747, I probably wouldn’t accept the contract in the first place. You can’t vet everyone you play for, but if you know and dislike enough about them to yell at them after show …maybe just exercise your right to not participate in their life.

5. MAKE SURE NO ONE’S STANDING BEHIND YOU.

If I were going to make some grandiose statement to a political figure, I wouldn’t do it on a Ghost Town Troubadours stage …unless we had all discussed it prior to the show. My stuff is my stuff and their stuff is their stuff and when we share the stage …it’s entertainment …FOR EVERYBODY. If you want to make your statement  …do it solo. Your co-stars aren’t on the same journey you’re on. They might want this gig for a while.

Finally, I would simply say that admonishing the vice president elect, in an unprecedented manor, probably didn’t give the man anything new to think about …except how much he hated the ending of that show.

For the rest of his life, “Hamilton” will not mean something artful and transcendent and moving and special and life affirming for him. It will mean yet another brow beating and lecture …in what has no doubt been a series of brow beatings and lectures, directed at him over the last weeks.

Let the art speak for itself. Allow it to settle and sink in to the listener. Let the man leave with some questions. Maybe Mike Pence leaves Hamilton saying to himself, “My God that was spectacular. The diversity and texture in it has given me a fresh look at something I may have been missing. As vice president, I want to make sure THIS continues in America. THIS is what we should aspire to.”

Who knows if he would think that way. But he definitely won’t, now. Now, he leaves the show with his daughter embarrassed and his position impugned. He leaves with a bad taste in his mouth. He leaves at odds with the artist, instead of sympathetic to the artist’s plight.

Art is supposed to draw you in …not push you away.

So, would I metaphorically spit in the face of a newly elected Kanye West, or someone else I can’t believe is in that office? I don’t know. But I would hope that everything I want to say to the world is wrapped up in the songs themselves. I would hope I wouldn’t have to say another thing when I’m done and taking the final bow. I would hope that whatever it is I want and need you to know …whether you’re a president or a plumber …is in the DNA of the art itself.

And I would hope you wouldn’t need a “PS …Just to be clear …THIS is what I meant” …after the applause.

R

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7 thoughts on “THE BIG PS …

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I just read this from a FB friend and, right now, after what we’ve all been through during the campaign and the behavior of this president-elect, I think this statement overrides your well meaning post. Keep writing I enjoy your perspective:
    Dan Rather
    9 hrs ·
    Bullies are often thin-skinned, quick to overreact when challenged, and undone when people are no longer afraid to speak truth to their face. Great presidents are almost always the opposite in all those categories.

    Reflecting on Donald Trump’s complete overreaction to a statement made at the end of a performance of Broadway’s Hamilton: An American Musical, I couldn’t help but think – doesn’t this man have more important things to worry about? Hasn’t the theater long been a stage for political art? And isn’t this a man who broke so many norms as a candidate, insulted so many people – individually and as groups – that he now has the nerve to demand an apology when he never gave one himself?

    I know there are many who say that this incident shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. Yes, when compared to cabinet posts or paying out $25 million in a fraud case against “Trump University,” a Tweet maybe might not seem that important. But being president is to have every word you utter scrutinized. And these words are intimidating and unfitting of the office of the presidency. But more importantly, they show a real weakness of vanity and small-mindedness that our enemies abroad will likely look to exploit. I can also imagine that Trump’s political foes at home are noticing – once again – how easily he can be rattled.

    I imagine this is not the last we will see of these kinds of incidents.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for your post. I too felt that this was wrong to do. I like your point that everyone deserves to just enjoy the entertainment. I for one would never see this play now because of the way they acted out. I am not a fan of Trump or some of his appointments but I most certainly was not a fan of the other side either. That being said I am more optimistic and I am taking my time to learn the facts and not read just the headline of an article and then get on my soapbox. I am reading various points of view and then seeking out the other side that has decent points and not rhetoric and making my own decisions. Your heart rendering views are very much appreciated.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I would have hated to have been there Friday night, it would have ruined my experience too. I feel bad for anyone who is singled out and shamed, especially his kids. But I can see the logic behind taking your shot while you have one (Hamilton pun intended).

    Also, while he was very brave, strong, caring and talented, MUHAMMAD Ali didn’t go to prison (or jail) for 3 years or even ANY years for refusing to go to Vietnam. He was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He STAYED OUT OF PRISON as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in the third round. On June 28 of 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.

    Like

  4. I think you are my (new) favorite writer. (and I don’t seek “new favorites” often but I do love to read and write and I do that, often). So much to think about in this. Thank you. And to his credit, “I did hear what was said from the stage. I can tell you I wasn’t offended by what was said. I will leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it,”. Not too shabby.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I feel like it was a “cheap shot” and agree with all of your points about ruining the experience for VP-Elect Pence and also, I think, the rest of the audience. I read another story on this that likened what the “Hamilton” actor did to bullying. He was on stage and in a position of power to, literally look down on, and pick on another person and try to make that person feel small and embarrassed. Bullying, in any form, is not something to applaud, not even from a great performer in a great Broadway play.

    Liked by 1 person

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