THE SHACK …

It is said that harmony was illegal. That’s the essence of the iconic, Gregorian chant.

Pope Gregory the first was compiling music in a time that had some presumptions about harmony and tri-tones and how all those sound waves related to God. Apparently, certain collisions of forced air produced either goodness …or evil. Who knew?

Some people in those days would’ve never approved of the harmony I was raised singing, in church. Finding the third and the fifth and singing along would be tantamount to sorcery or witchcraft in that world.

Centuries later, I sat in a Sunday School class and listened to someone tell me about the evils of rock-and-roll drums and guitars (two things I still love, by the way). Someone actually taught a class (I was forced to sit through, in high school) on something called “the masturbation beat.” If you’re rolling your eyes right now, so was I.

I hate to break it to everyone, but when you’re in high school …any beat is the masturbation beat. But I digress …

Every generation of the faithful has new pieces of artistic expression they consider to be “heresy.” And it makes me wonder why art and faith always seem to be so at odds.

Christian movie making is a relatively new phenomenon. And it’s trying to find its way. And like every other art form before it, it’s getting the once-over from the spiritual score keepers.

I’ve been reading posts about “why you should NOT go see The Shack” and I’ve been thinking to myself, “are we still doing this? Really???”

I honestly thought we were beyond all this nonsense. But apparently not.

I suppose there are some who feel the need to censor for everyone else, in the name of holiness. Only this time, instead of harmony or a backbeat, we’re censoring allegory and metaphor. Those things are a little trickier and nuanced than a four-on-the-floor kick pattern or a Marshal stack turned up to eleven. But they are in the current crosshairs.

A friend and I sat in Brad Cummings’ home about three years ago, while he was in the throes of making The Shack. He regaled us with stories about how hard it had been to get the film made, how many directors, producers and writers it had gone through and how many stars had signed on then backed out …then signed on again. He was pulling his hair out at the process. And he just wanted to tell the story as purely as he possibly could. But he knew, even then, he was going to ruffle feathers somewhere, no matter how it was done.

Film is such a collaborative thing. It’s amazing to me any film ever gets made in the first place. And films that are trying to represent faith on the screen usually end up being one dimensional, artless and predicable. Because, among people of faith, there is often so much fear in portraying wonder. Orthodoxy is always standing there like a beat cop, scolding, “you can’t say it or show it that way. Here are three scriptures that will tell you why.”

Well, orthodoxy told some people 1500 years ago they couldn’t sing harmony. It told ME I shouldn’t listen to the Rolling Stones or Prince. No thanks, orthodoxy. Jesus turned water into wine …not wine into purified, reverse osmosis water.

I’ve never read The Shack and I don’t intend on seeing it. But not because I’m trying to guard my precious, fragile faith. It’s just not on my list of things to read or see. But I do know this …

The Shack got made for the same reason 50 Shades of Gray got made. Because the book sold millions and millions of copies. And NOBODY in Hollywood is going to overlook that. Those are guaranteed eye balls. That’s money in the bank.

But what happens to films like The Shack without the popularity? Actually …I kinda know.

The film based on my book has been making the rounds for its 6th year, now. And I can tell you without hesitation that if my story included a scene where the Regie and Yolanda characters joined hands in prayer and rededicated themselves to Christ in a broken down little-old country church somewhere, THEN went on to become one of America’s foremost praise and worship leader couples, at one of America’s largest churches …there are 43 millionaires in Texas who would’ve funded it already. And it would be considered “a great testimony.”

If there were a prominent gay character in my film, who challenged the orthodoxy of American faith, there are 43 millionaires in Hollywood who would’ve funded it already. And it would be a 17 part mini-series on ABC …re-aired on Bravo in an unprecedented deal.

If it were some sort of conservative manifesto, there are 43 millionaires (who would remain anonymous) who would’ve funded it in secret.

If it were an indictment of the American healthcare system PRE Obamacare, and basically allowed HIM to be the hero of the film …thus torpedoing the current, pending legislation …Harvey Weinstein would’ve personally life-flighted my family to Mount Olympus to strike a deal.

The problem is none of that is true. It’s just a redemptive love story that is essentially a miracle. And it takes place in some epic places and through some epic events. And God is in it …if you’re looking for him. But there is no ulterior motive other than telling a great story. And these days …that’s not enough.

I say, if you want to go see The Shack …go see it. I know some of the people who made it and they’re just human beings. That’s all. And if you do see it, take from it what you want and leave the rest. Or take nothing from it at all.

But know that it is still okay for the film to exist.

As I age, I am less and less interested in the hard, cold facts about God. I am more and more interested in the wonder of life and love.

I say sing harmony. Play loud guitars. Listen to sick beats. Watch movies that challenge your beliefs.

I bet you’ll be okay.

R

HEALTHCARE IDEAS FROM A SONGWRITER …

I wrote a philosophical piece last week on health care. Here are some details:

To understand the repeal of the ACA, you have to remember what healthcare delivery was like BEFORE it. Americans have a difficult time remembering yesterday …much less five years ago.

The first thing you have to put in perspective is that INSURANCE isn’t the same thing as health CARE. Insurance is there for catastrophic things. But we have been using insurance as the payer of all things medical in this country. To me, that’s our first mistake. We NEED to pay something for care. Otherwise, it starts losing it’s value.

I like mini clinics. I think they are a great innovation in medicine. They’re generally inexpensive, quick and easy for things like a cold or the flu or a strep test or some weird bump or bruise that isn’t going away. These guys aren’t going to diagnose a brain tumor. And they’re not there for that. But they are a pretty darn good first line of defense for basic stuff. And you can usually walk out of there for less than a hundred bucks …about the price of nice dinner out. To me, that’s worth it. And it keeps big, monolithic 3rd payers out of the process.

I was on a flight with a dental supply salesman, once. He was already drunk at 10 in the morning and dropping all kinds of secrets (to anyone who would listen) about the world of medical and dental. He asserted that dentists have figured it out by getting OUT of the insurance game and accepting cash only. He said they’re making WAY more money than their general practitioner doctor counter parts. And if doctors were smart they would stop taking ALL insurance completely.

Pretty soon after that, MY doctor stopped taking insurance altogether. He is now VERY expensive and we don’t always spring for his services. But that leads me back to those clinics. If there’s something only he can deal with, we pay the money. Otherwise, we make good use of walk in clinics. And so far …it has worked.

Then, you get into insurance …

Monthly payments to ANYONE are revenue streams …nothing more. And they are bought and sold on the open market. Gym memberships, car loans, online subscriptions …they are all revenue streams that are bought and sold. This is what has happened with health insurance. And the only mechanism to keep them honest is to make them compete fiercely for those streams. They must get creative with their products and get their companies lean and skinny. Because once they become public utilities, propped up by the government, they will have NO incentive to innovate or evolve.

The basic gist of health insurance used to be this: you could buy an individual insurance plan on the open market (IN YOUR STATE ONLY). But it probably had lots of loopholes in it. The best healthcare plans (meaning INSURANCE plans) came through group insurance plans provided through employers. Those plans were better because insurance companies could dilute their costs with high numbers of people paying in.

THAT’S why one of the main keys to getting insurance rates to drop is to open their potential business to bigger pools of people i.e. erasing state lines in the sale of health insurance.

I would like to see a few simple things happen:

1. Purchase health INSURANCE anywhere in the country.

Opening the pools of insurance plans up to the pools of potential buyers cannot be understated. It would start a conversation inside states about being attractive to those product providers, probably lowering state taxes and regulations. This one move alone could market correct several other industries. Without THIS, all the other moves are almost a moot point.

2. If there’s going to be a mandate, let it be on anyone who wants to get in the health insurance business.

NOT on individuals or other types of business. The mandate should say that you have to keep a certain percentage of your actuaries as high risk patients (say 5 to 7%). And FOR that you will receive a dollar-for-dollar tax break for all payouts in those pools.

I told this to Bob Corker once. He loved it but said he would never be able to get it passed (this was 2009). Because it would look like a tax break on the rich. Sure enough …as I scroll through social media, any tax cut on anyone looks suspect to a certain group of people.

3. ALL health care costs should be COMPLETELY tax deductible.

Not a percentage …but dollar-for-dollar. If I had been able to offset my IRS bill with my medical bills early in my daughter’s life, things would’ve been dramatically better for my family. Offsetting taxes with medical bills might mean less revenue into the government. But it’s basically taking the place of a government subsidy. The biggest difference is YOU’RE in control and no bureaucracy is required to process the taking in of taxes and turning them into subsidy money. That saves money.

4. Tax breaks for doctors who do pro-bono work.

Make it worth someone’s time to volunteer their services. If doctors could offset THEIR tax bills with pro-bono work (again, DOLLAR-FOR-DOLLAR) it might be worth it to my doctor to do a month of free well-visits a year. And again, the only thing the government has to do is …NOT COLLECT MONEY.

5. Keep S-CHIP programs and Medicaid solid. But funded mostly through the states.

My children are both considered “at risk” and are on S-CHIP programs provided by our state. That wasn’t always the case and it’s one of the good by-products of the ACA.

Someone like my daughter is always going to be a wild card when it comes to writing an insurance policy. My daughter cannot speak, bathe herself, feed herself or take care of herself in any way. She is a danger to herself and others. I do believe the state has a responsibility to people like her. It has a responsibility to Veterans. And it has a responsibility to the aged.

It DOES NOT have a responsibility to people like me. I do. And if my daughter can be cared for (at least in part) by the collective, my wife, son and I can take care of ourselves. I think that’s how it should work.

But once you introduce a (seemingly) free solution to someone, you can never take it back.

My belief is that eventually we will have single-payer healthcare in the United States of America. Because it will seem easy and sensible to everyone. And the government will have complicated it to the point of just throwing up their hands and saying, “Screw it. Let’s just throw the money in a pot and give everybody a card.”

But always remember that single PAYER also means single BUYER. That means some calm, bureaucratic, disaffected board will eventually make a well-informed budget decision on how many mammograms a woman needs in a 5-year span. And even if a certain woman has circumstances that transcend those guidelines, she will have no other choices in where she can go get that much needed mammogram.

In a free market system, she might go broke but she’ll be alive. In a state-run bureaucratic system, she won’t go broke for the care she needs. Because the amount of care she gets will be pre-determined …even if it kills her. These are the trade-offs you make when you turn all of your health care over to some monolithic machine.

My fear of a single payer system is that choices will go away, innovation will wane, the best and brightest will go into other more lucrative fields, scientific research (something my daughter desperately needs to stay robust) will taper off and decisions will be made that benefit the monolith, rather than the individual. Those things all happen NOW with insurance companies. But insurance companies don’t have the final say …not like the government will. This is why we need more competition …so we can say, “screw you, insurance company A. Insurance company B will do what we need for less money.”

THAT is the only way we retain ANY control over the price of anything …including healthcare. By being able to walk away from it to a different option.

Whatever healthcare system we build must include the individual having a voice and a say in their own care …through the coercion and power of their dollar. Otherwise, we might as well go ahead give it all over to the government now. And let them start telling us how long we’re allowed to live.

R

Bandaids …

October 1st, 2014.

I know this day well because it was the first day of enrollment for the ACA (I don’t call it Obamacare because that’s not its name …anyway). The perky, young lady on the other end of the phone (yes, PHONE because no one could access the website) was sorry that the system was down (on the first day) and she couldn’t help me. But she told me to send a written inquiry as to what plan I was interested in, and I would be sent all the information I needed, in the mail …in 10-12 business days. GUARANTEED!

I literally stared at the phone. Then I said (direct quote), “you DO realize it’s not 1983. Right?”

She laughed nervously.

“So, let me get this straight,” I huffed, “I can hang up this call and book airline tickets to Brazil, have food delivered – hell, have a CAR delivered – to my house, map my way across any continent, transfer money, send music or books, take a picture, film a movie or start a company …ALL on my phone. But the government – that has just spent four years and six hundred million dollars to build a WEB SITE – can’t send me written information (simple text) in any other form but the US postal service?!”

There was silence on the other end. Finally, she said, “yessir …b …but I could kind of go over the three basic plans with you.”

I said, “I would LOVE to hear them. Please …go on.”

She introduced me to the Platinum, Gold and Bronze packages. When she got to the Bronze, she said, “I think this will be the most popular and probably perfect for your family. It’s not a big monthly payment. Now …you DO have to cover 40% of the medical costs out of pocket. But, it’s a great plan.”

I butted in, “Wait …you’re saying that if I go to the hospital, 40% of the bill is MY responsibility?”

“Yessir,” she answered, sheepishly. She could feel my snark rise up.

I waded in, “Young lady, do you realize I can make a 40% cash deal with any hospital in the country? I don’t need a ‘bronze’ healthcare plan to do that. I can literally go to their billing department and tell them I’ll pay cash if they’ll do the procedure for 40% of the original quote. And they’ll do it …almost every time. So what will I be getting for the other 60% I pay in to your plan?”

She, again, had no answer. But re-assured me that there was a perfect plan for me and if I could afford THIS, then THIS would drop off HERE and if I couldn’t afford THAT then THIS would kick in THERE, and so on and so forth. Then she reiterated that all my questions would be answered …in 10-12 business days.

And THAT was my introduction to the Affordable Care Act.

This is how the government manages things.

In fairness, however, my family was right in the crosshairs of the way healthcare had been delivered BEFORE the ACA was passed. And it was a big contributor in bankrupting us (second only to the IRS and the music business …don’t get me started). So I know first hand that there were cracks in the system that absolutely needed to be addressed. I lived it. And I was FOR reform. But I would’ve taken reform in the opposite direction.

Years earlier, when I knew absolutely nothing about healthcare and my daughter (with special needs) was losing her coverage due to a loophole in our policy, I asked the Tennessee insurance commissioner why I couldn’t buy coverage in a different state. He literally laughed at me. I didn’t understand. I said, “dude, I can buy car insurance all over the map. This all seems like state run monopolies to me.”

He got more serious and said, “you’re a very perceptive young man.” That didn’t make me feel better.

For the next seven years my daughter got dropped from and picked up again by seven different insurance companies …that were ALL named Blue Cross Blue Shield. I have literally filed paper work into the same insurance company on the day AFTER she was dropped by THAT company …only to have her re-instated …by THAT company …the next day. It was a stupid shell game.

But at least that didn’t happen with the ACA …if you count having it happen THREE times not happening.

You’d think maybe I’d be a drum beater for single payer, government run healthcare. Get rid of all this greed and corporatism messing with our health. Well …not so fast.

The only business in American history that has been completely managed and controlled by the federal government is mine …SONGWRITING. Songwriter royalty rates have been set BY the government since 1909 (pretty much the beginning of the profession). And while other aspects of the music business have started later and catapulted faster, songwriting has been a steady drip of trying to keep up with technology and constantly trying to get paid a decent rate for the work done.

You see, the government has basically established a MAXIMUM wage for us all these years. And now, the rates they’ve set for us don’t apply to anything. Because the market has left the governing bodies, taking care of us …in the dust. The government, while initially trying to protect us from being ripped off, has driven us into near extinction. It is always well intentioned. But it doesn’t realize it’s inadvertently standing on your throat until you’re turning blue and have lost most of your brain function. And that gets me back to healthcare …

We need to define some terms in this country. Is healthcare a RIGHT? Well, I suppose in an existential way it is. You have the right to life – and that includes the care of your health. But nutrition is a part of health care too and you’re not allowed to just take food from a business …even if you’re starving.

Proper sleep is part of health care. But you have to pay market value for mattresses.

And even if you’re bleeding, you can’t go into a Wal Greens and just take bandaids.

If healthcare is a right, then bandaids are a right. Aren’t they? But wait …you have to pay for them. And they are remarkably affordable and accessible. How can that be? Could it be that the market did that? All on its own? Without some politician deciding how much people SHOULD pay for a bandaid?

I wonder …

I haven’t read this new iteration of how healthcare will be delivered. But I hope it gets me closer to my doctor and further away from the government. Because the larger a bureaucracy, the more cumbersome and unwieldy it becomes. And while technology and the private sector are inventing the self-setting broken leg through the iPhone, government will still be filling out paper work in triplicate …on a typewriter.

I don’t know what our new healthcare delivery system will be. I just hope I don’t have to have it mailed to me …in 10-12 business days.

R

THE WRECKING BALL …

Would you have known if you were living through the American Revolution? A lot of people didn’t. There were plenty of colonial farmers who simply tended their crops for a few years and then woke up one morning to realize that the world had changed while they were growing corn.

They probably had opinions on people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. I’ll bet there were those who thought those guys were all overrated and fool hearty. And if you told them that “those guys” would be revered and quoted for centuries to come, would’ve probably replied, “Seriously? Thomas Jefferson? That HACK?!?! I went to middle school with him.”

People often don’t recognize what’s happening around them …while it’s happening.

I was in a slick, pop band in the early 90’s. We were concentrated on precision and tightness …clever lyrics …soaring melodies. We were all cute and smiley. JUST what the world wanted …right? Let me answer that question with one word: NIRVANA.

While we were practicing and preening, the exact OPPOSITE of what we were was about to take the world by storm. Not one of us had greasy hair or wore flannel shirts. I think history speaks for itself.

For better or worse, we are currently in the middle of a new American revolution. And a lot of people don’t see it.

During the pressing days of the 2016 election, I had a heated exchange with someone very close to me, whom I respect and love very much. I was railing against Donald Trump (I NEVER supported his candidacy). This person listened to me and my well-crafted arguments, then smiled and said, “I don’t care. I will never vote for another politician for the rest of my life.”

That was the first moment I got a small glimpse into what was actually going on.

People are protesting and losing their grip on reality and gaining weight (this was an actual Barbara Streisand tweet) over the Donald Trump presidency, that is only a month and a half in. I have never in my life lived through this much sustained turmoil for this long. And I lived through the Nixon and Carter presidencies!

I keep reserving judgement and examining further before I jump to conclusions.

Why did PRESIDENT Trump tweet about being wire tapped? His position gives him access to ALL of that information. He could get to the bottom of it in about 20 minutes. And he would never have to leave his desk. Why is he putting it out for the world to read? What is going on here?

There are a couple of options. He might be legitimately, mentally challenged. Just so you know …I don’t rule that out. But then again, he has run an eight-figure global enterprise for three decades. You simply cannot ignore that. Success on his scale is a factor. It just is.

The other option is that he didn’t go to Washington for any other reason than to sledge hammer its very foundations.

When we see George W Bush and Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton hugging and yukking it up, I kinda think to myself, “why do they like each other? Didn’t they both call each other’s camps ‘threats’ to America or something? Was all that just for show?”

Who knows? I’m the first to acknowledge that the political class is human too. And they probably punch in like Sam and Ralph in the old Merry Melodies cartoons; friends on the elevator …fierce enemies on the clock.

But Trump is busting up that foundation. He’s literally calling EVERYONE out …including his own Attorney General. Jeff Sessions represents the weak, flimsy legacy of modern Republicans: admitting to something he didn’t do, in order to “appear” on the up-and-up. If I were Trump I would fire him.

The facts are this: the Russians successfully phished a DNC email. That’s it. Then they took the information they got, public. How that influenced an election is anybody’s guess.

Jeff Sessions was a US senator who talked to an Ambassador. That’s his freaking job. Why he is recusing himself from anything is beyond me. And I think Trump is asking the same thing.

But instead of dealing with all this internally and quietly, Trump is going to Twitter. Why not let the really good speech he gave last week just settle? Why not just let everyone catch their breath and rest easy for a minute? I mean, that’s what I would do.

But then again, I was in the wrong band at the wrong time.

Trump is throwing bombs at the whole thing …MAINLY the press. He’s a jackhammer on the foundations of where we’ve been standing for decades. If you still think this is about Republicans and Democrats, you have simply GOT to catch up. This is not Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin or Mao. This is something we’ve never seen. This is you or me …as a teenager …suddenly becoming the leader of the free world. And instead of accepting the job and becoming part of the “program,” we refuse the money and keep talking to our friends about how screwed up the whole thing is.

That’s what I think is happening with the Trump presidency. I think he’s blowing the whistle on the whole ball of wax.

How long can he keep this up? Well …I’m not sure how long we can live in a state of societal inflammation. He may not last his entire four years. People HAVE to find some terra firma at some point. I mean, can we count on you to at least pardon a turkey and let us enjoy Thanksgiving without controversy, Mr President? I’m not asking for much, here.

Ironically, the grievances I personally have with the government at the moment might be better served by someone like him. His lack of allegiance to any special interest groups give my community (the songwriting community) a rare opportunity for the profound change we’ve needed for years.

But the country needs some calm and quiet. Moms and dads need a complete soccer game without breaking news that affects the world. If you’re listening Mr Trump, give us a breather …just for a week or so.

On the other hand, this might have been a long time coming. Throw out what you know about presidents and how they’re supposed to act.

I’m not comparing Donald Trump to Thomas Jefferson. But there is a new game being played here. And if you’re waiting on a “statesman” to show up and make you feel better …you’re not in it.

 

R

PREACH …

As we continue to hurl insults and political mud at each other. And as we make snap judgements on what our opponents’ motivations are, my mind goes back to a Sunday morning …

We had small televisions and three channels when I was a kid. Sunday mornings were always filled with the worst programming of the week. Overly dramatic TV preachers and amateur church programs peppered the airwaves.

I don’t know why we always kept it on in the background, while getting ready for church …but we did.

I was eating cereal and zoning out on the couch (I was probably around fourteen or so). Jimmy Swaggart was wafting through the air, railing against whore mongers and sexual deviants. As a fourteen-year-old boy, I was silently checking all the boxes in my head (“me, me, me …and me. I am going to hell!)

Suddenly, my mother came walking through the room. And without missing a beat, she quipped, “THAT man has a problem.” This was serious scoop! I needed more info. So, I put down the cereal bowl and inquired further, “what do you mean, mom? What problem?”

She stopped, turned around and taught me a lesson (in one power-packed sentence) I have never forgotten. “When someone preaches about something too much, they’re preaching to THEMSELVES.”

Mom always had a way of bottom-lining it.

Years later, my mother’s intuition was proven correct. And Mr Swaggart was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that this was his main vice. And all those times I thought he was railing against my raging hormones, he was actually railing against his own “issues.” Moms know stuff.

Throughout my life, I have silently watched people. As a writer, it’s the biggest part of my job. For me to find any human truth I have to be an observer of humanity. And I have to make those observations without judgement.

But my mother’s keen sense of psychology has proven to be true over and over again. When I hear someone assign motivations to someone else, my curiosity always piques. Mainly because I’ve found that rule of thumb to be true for me as well.

I’ve written about mercy all of my adult life. And I’ve found that it’s probably because I have such a hard time showing it. And that I SO need it …all the time.

I’m obsessed with writing about unconditional love. I’m pretty sure that obsession is me working through the complication of having been a child performer …where love is almost always attached to performance.

And I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I have been placed in the special needs community because of my life-long elitism. I NOW preach about everyone being equal in their gifts …because there was a time when I didn’t really believe that.

For me, the list goes on and on. I have NO right to judge anyone. But they leave clues. We all do …

If you talk about race ALL THE TIME, you might find that you, yourself have a problem with it. If your soap box is social justice, you might just find that you’re masking some guilt in that regard. If you’re constantly calling people “idiots” and “stupid” it’s probably a defense mechanism for hiding your own feelings of intellectual inadequacy.

I’m fascinated by conspiracy theories because I’m not really interested in conspiring against anyone or anything. But I’ve been the subject of huge, elaborate conspiracy theories; theories that threatened huge, international companies. NONE of them were ever true. But whenever I read them I instantly wondered if the people coming up with them weren’t simply telling on themselves about how THEY might operate …given the chance. I guess you could say, conspiracy theories are most likely formed by people most prone to be a part of one.

The biggest and most damning “tell” of all is when people assign motivations of greed to rich people. “He’s doing it so he can make more money” is the standard line, when judging a rich person. Usually, that greed is something the person doing the judging is wrestling with, themselves. Some rich people are greedy. Some are not. Some poor people are greedy. Some are not.

Assigning the motivation …let’s us know YOURS.

Human nature is what it is. We all run from danger because we are programmed toward self-interest and survival. We buy sale items because we want to save money …hence surviving another day. We move to better neighborhoods so our children will be safe. Again …self-interest and survival. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We all get that. But the assignment of dark motivation is often a window into someone’s own dark point of view.

My dad used to say, “when someone tells you who they are …believe them the first time.” And you can learn a lot about who someone is just by listening to what riles them up or what makes them raise their voice …or what makes them post IN ALL CAPS. Chances are that very thing is lurking deep down in their own soul.

Jimmy Swaggart taught me that in a sermon …he didn’t even know he was preaching.

R

GOVERNMENT CHEESE …

Most political arguments can actually be broken down into two categories: those who want government fixes for everything, and those who want organic, private fixes.

A lot of people believe that if the government isn’t doing something, it isn’t getting done.

The minute the government tries to shut down a program, there are those who wail and fret and think something is getting taken away from them. I always think something better might be on the verge of getting created in its place …by the private sector. And it’ll probably be something more affordable and efficient; cooler and more creative in design.

I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

The government has never made a piano. And yet pianos get made. I play one every day. The government tries to fund art (which has always been weird to me). But it has never funded a Bruce Springsteen record. Yet Born To Run got made. Amazing.

The government didn’t design or build the smart phone. And yet it continues to change the world.

The government DID build the American interstate (and I love it). But it did NOT build the gas stations, hotels and restaurants along the routes from New York to LA. You can get in your car and drive the length of the country and never worry about not having enough places to sleep, eat or get gas. Why? Because humans, left unfettered, will find answers. The government should keep everyone safe and do what private companies can’t do for the greater good. But the free market has an ingenious way of taking care of a lot of things …if we let it.

Governments – even great ones (which I believe ours IS) – are passionless, bureaucratic machines. They have no inherent incentive to do the right thing or the wrong thing. There is no good or bad in government. There just IS. For this reason, I get nervous when I hear people trying to make government aspirational. I prefer it pragmatic and slow …and the last resort. Why? Well …

I work in a trade (the songwriting trade) that is becoming extinct. Of the three ways songwriters get paid, two of them are completely and totally regulated and controlled by the government. And the regulations and rates have NOT gotten close to the general vicinity of keeping up with technology and how people currently consume music.

The one place the government DOES NOT oversee our rates is the one place we absolutely compete dollar-for-dollar with all other aspects of the business. In THIS area, the MARKET has deemed songwriters as equals. And it’s about the last place where we can still earn a decent living. That place is in licenses for film and TV.

That’s why you hear artists and records (you never thought you’d hear) selling soap and grills and cars and banks. Rock stars used to be precious about “not selling out.” But watch one full week of network television and you’ll hear actual master recordings from everyone from the Rolling Stones to James Brown pitching you a product. Give any hot, pop song a year …and it will be a major TV commercial. Why? Because from a copyright perspective, advertising is the Alamo for getting paid for a song.

Trust me …if and when I can do it …I will, too. One day you’ll hear Time Of My Life selling lovely, beach vacations or spiffy, assisted-living centers. It will be sappy and pathetic …and I won’t be sorry! I’ve got kids to feed!

As a songwriter, I live and breathe with the government in my business every second of every hour of every day. I can multiply anything by 9.1 cents. Why? That’s how much the “mechanical” royalty rate is for a song. Every time someone buys a record, each song on that record earns 9.1 cents. Same with digital singles. But these rates apply to a price-per-unit sold.

The mechanical rate was started as a protection for songwriters, back in 1909. You see, player pianos were all the rage. People were buying rolls of sheet music to play on those fancy, new contraptions. And someone needed to step in and create a uniform pay structure for those sweet, lovable songwriters. Thanks, government. Women couldn’t vote then, either …just an FYI. And antibiotics were only a few decades away. But I digress …

That rate – for player piano rolls – was then arbitrarily used for the sale of vinyl recordings …then 8-tracks …then cassettes …then CDs …then mp3s. And it would only go up when some songwriter would show up before congress and yell and scream until congress, in their austere magnanimity, agreed to to raise the rate (thank you, Hoyt Axton).

Now …nobody buys one unit of music anymore. They buy it in bulk. It’s called streaming. But the government, according to its own laws, is stuck in the last decade …which means I, (as a songwriter) have to be stuck there as well. But my family isn’t. My mortgage isn’t. My car payments aren’t. Hey, don’t sweat it, congress. You only control my entire existence.

At no point has anyone in government ever said, “Hey …maybe we’re valuing the wrong things when it comes to the sale of music and the use of music technology? Maybe the people who write songs should be the billionaires and the people who invent Google should have THEIR rates strictly governed AND CAPPED by US.”

Which one leaves you humming a tune? Again, I digress …

When I was a teenager my dad brought home some government surplus cheese. They were giving it away someplace he happened to be. It was actually pretty good cheese. And we made all kinds of sandwiches with it.

I still don’t know why the government had cheese or why it was giving it away. But it was a thing for a while. A lot of people would go get free cheese as long as they were handing it out. And why wouldn’t they? Free cheese.

But the truth is we didn’t really need the government involved in the getting and giving of cheese. That’s just not what the government is supposed to be doing.

As I write this, I have five different kinds of cheese in my home (six, if you count my songs).

I’m a smoked gouda man. My wife likes sharp cheddar and my daughter is a mozzarella stick girl. My son likes some fancy, high-brow coastal something or other. And we keep a shredded blend on hand for omelets and chili and such.

I’m sure there are governing bodies that monitor and regulate the creation, packaging and transport of cheese. But there is no governing body PROVIDING it or telling one sector of the cheese industry what it can charge for this or that. The market decides all those things. And it does a pretty damn good job. Instead of one standard, block cheese, all kinds of delicious, creative cheeses get made and consumed. And we’re all happy about it. Because everybody loves cheese! And they should …because cheese is awesome!

Cheese seems to be better when cheese MAKERS are free …than it is when CHEESE is free.

The government doesn’t need to be in the music business anymore than it needs to be in the cheese business. The biggest favor congress could do songwriters, at this moment in history, is to pass a two-line law that simply says, “you guys go figure it out …we’ll enforce the contracts.”

We might not do a better job of managing our rates and careers than the government has done. But I’ll guarantee you we won’t do a worse job.

We make pretty damn good cheese. And if we’re going to keep making it, the government either needs to keep up …or get out of the way.

 

R

FULL COURT PRESS …

I once watched an American president stand on a press conference stage and say (with a straight face) that American surgeons were cutting out people’s tonsils based on pay charts. AND NO ONE QUESTIONED IT! I was like, “WHAT?!?! They’re doing what?!?! Is that true!?!?” I’d actually still like to know.

If what (then) president Barack Obama said in that press conference was true, it would’ve been the biggest medical scandal in American history.

But instead of someone standing up and asking what I was yelling at the the TV screen, “Mr president, are you asserting that there is a systematic and concerted effort by American surgeons to mutilate people for money?” it was just taken for granted to be true and everyone went about their business. Really?

This was part of President Obama’s pitch to the American people for the ACA. And instead of journalistic curiosity, we got compliance and even complicity. And Mr Obama got press questions like, “what has been the most enchanting part of the presidency for you, so far?” Again …really?

If you watched (NOW) president Donald Trump’s recent press conference and got clammy hands and heart palpitations, fearing the free world is in jeopardy, I understand. But if you couldn’t see how someone would be standing up cheering it on …then you have no idea what’s happening right now. And what’s BEEN happening for a while. Clearly, a lot of people don’t.

The press hasn’t done its job. We all know which side everyone is on. It’s just that one side refuses to be honest with us. George Stephanopoulos is a Democrat operative. We all know this. He has talked openly about being on strategy calls with Democrats right before going to air. That’s fine, George. But just admit it. Don’t try to sell me on your “objectivity.” Sean Hannity may be a tool, but he is at least being honest about who he is.

When George inserted a “war on women” narrative (that did not exist) into the 2012 campaign, a lot of us rolled our eyes, knowing what was going on. And what was going on had nothing to do with journalism. But instead of Mitt Romney looking at him and saying, “Dude …what on earth are you talking about? That’s the stupidest crap I’ve ever heard,” he tried to prove a negative …which you cannot do.

Republicans fall for this over and over again. It’s one of the reasons I dislike them so much. They often can’t make their own case and they constantly allow themselves to be presumed guilty of something.

And so we trudged on, listening to pretty faces and well-trained voices tell us things that are at best, spin and at worst …false.

But now, there’s this brash New Yorker facing them down and calling them out. And even though I find it to be the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in American politics, I somehow find myself rooting for Trump …and I don’t even know why. I NEVER supported his campaign. But I support dressing down pompous hypocrites …even if it plays like a reality show.

He’s not doing it the way I would do it. It’s all ham-fisted and inarticulate. But at least he’s barking back at an institution that literally NOBODY trusts anymore.

An old, sage manager told me once, “the world needs music …but that doesn’t mean it needs YOUR music.”

And that’s where we are with the free press. The institution itself is sacred. But that doesn’t mean David Miur or Katie Couric or Bill O’Reily are sacred. They’re just personalities. And you can’t confuse personalities with “the free press.” Donald Trump isn’t afraid to see them as just people. And they hate that.

Now …to be fair …Trump DID start all the fights with them. But they’ve taken the bait in a way I honestly can’t believe. Maybe it’s from years and years of not doing your job.

People knew the country wasn’t headed in the right direction. And they wanted a change. They saw their health care premiums skyrocket and the whole system get weird. They saw American cities burning after every new grand jury verdict. They saw business regulation stagnating growth. They saw “red lines” get ignored and beheadings get dismissed and stupid, eye-rolling “re-set” buttons get pushed.

They saw marches and boycotts and laws being passed over things like transgender bathroom issues that they didn’t even understand.

This is where our politics and news narratives have been leading us. Instead of soaring concepts that spur us to greatness …we’re talking about toilets.

I’ve heard of full-grown adults in California who actually believed that state would never get rain again. Because drought was a permanent state of normal …due to climate change …that was making the earth’s water evaporate. Seriously …I …whatever. Well, guess what? There’s rain now. Lots of it. And somehow, the three quarters of a TRILLION dollars spent on the American Recovery and Re-investment Act didn’t shore up the dams needed to stop it.

Sometimes it feels like angry children have been running things and journalists have been reporting it in such a way as to not get wished into the corn field.

NOW, they apparently want to be brave.

My 10-year-old son recently took a tour of the Nissan plant with his 4th grade class. He told me later he wanted to own a Nissan Leaf when he grew up, because it was the most “earth friendly.” I said that was awesome. He should buy what he wants. But he pressed, “no, dad …seriously it doesn’t use ANY gas. It’s all electric, so there’s no damage to the environment. You just plug it in.”

I very gently reminded him that when you plug something in, you’re most likely using coal generated electricity. So he might just be trading one fossil fuel for another. Still, totally cool to buy whatever he wanted. But he insisted, “dad …the electricity THIS car uses is from the sun only. No coal!” I just shook my head and smiled. No matter how much reality I try to introduce into his life …he prefers fantasy. Because he’s 10.

If you want to understand what’s happening between Donald J Trump, the press and the nation, it basically comes down to this: reasonable people have gotten tired of arguing with, and being treated like, 10-year-olds …so they elected one.

Have a nice four years of news.

R

MY TEACHER …

I’m not as angry as I used to be. I listen more. I have empathy where I used to have contempt. It’s a lot easier for me to imagine myself in someone else’s shoes. Almost too easy. I want good things for people I don’t always like. I’m patient. I need less. I’m more thankful for every small kindness shown to me. And music …sweet, mysterious music …means more to me than it ever has.

I’m tired all the time. My body is a wreck from years of interrupted sleep, causing schizophrenic cortisol levels. I can’t verbally formulate sentences as fluidly as I once could. Prolonged periods of extreme stress do weird things to a person’s brain. I make a living with mine. And some of it has been sacrificed and compromised.

I can’t remember the last time I bought new clothes …or cared. My hair must stay utilitarian and easily managed. I don’t know what it looks like most of the time …or care. My work schedule is sporadic at best and most of the time an afterthought. I am a slave to a maddeningly regimented schedule. And if I miss one beat of it, someone could get injured …or even die.

All of the above can be said of and about my wife …and probably more. We share all of it.

All of these things we share are the result of something called Angelman Syndrome, a disorder my 14-year-old daughter has. It is a deletion or mutation of the 15th maternal chromosome. It was named after doctor Harry Angelman, who was the first physician to catalog symptoms and treat people with this disorder. People afflicted with it are sometimes referred to as “Angels.” And I think that’s just about right. Because, despite the round-the-clock caregiving they require, they bring something angelic into the world.

I don’t write about my daughter as much as I used to because she’s a young woman now and I want to respect her privacy. She faces incredible challenges every day. And as I watch her struggle to perform basic tasks like holding a fork or brushing her hair, I realize that it’s not my place to embarrass her for the sake of “awareness.” The prevailing wisdom is that she knows she is like she is …and that breaks my heart …every. single. day.

This morning at 6 am, she was frustrated with what I had on TV. She used every sign she knows (which are only a couple) to tell me what she wanted to watch but I couldn’t get it. And it brought tears to her eyes. My JOB is to “communicate” …and I can’t talk to my own daughter about something as simple as the TV channel. This happens a dozen times a day, in almost every facet of life.

In a little more than 3 years my wife and I have to go to court and get legal guardianship of her again …when she turns 18. And we will begin the process of setting up a life for someone who requires assistance for everything from eating to going to the bathroom; bathing to going to bed. She also requires someone to be watching her every waking moment, so that she doesn’t play with knives or touch hot stoves or rip up mail or smash a TV screen with a blunt object …or a hundred other things that could injure her or someone else.

Friends and colleagues don’t always understand why I’m not more available to them – why I can’t just jump in the car and go meet for a beer without it being scheduled days in advance. And then when we ARE having a beer, they continually ask me “how I do it” or say things like “I could never handle what you handle.”

I get very uncomfortable in those conversations. And I don’t like having them. I’m not a hero. I’m not a super dad. I’m a man trying to raise a daughter. Nothing more. My wife and I are trying raise her with dignity and honesty as best we can. And while we’re trying to teach her how to choose between two colors …she’s teaching us more than we could’ve ever imagined.

She’s teaching us that lots and LOTS of things don’t actually matter. She’s teaching us that an honest smile means more than a fake Saturday night. And that if you’re going to love …love all the way. Anything short of that is not love at all. It’s something …but it isn’t love. She’s teaching us that life is too short and sweet to get angry at Facebook memes and politics with which we disagree.

My daughter wants everyone to meet and hug. She wants everyone to speak politely. And if a conversation gets heated around her, she gets upset. She smiles at everyone …the less attractive the better. She is prone to positivity and wants to laugh more than she wants to cry. She’s content with enough. She’s grateful for anything you give her and excited about it. She doesn’t have the luxury of a refined political point of view. So, if you play some cool tunes and dance with her, she will find something about you to like …even if she might disagree with you in some theoretical political universe. We could all take lessons from her. I do. Every day.

Angelman Syndrome is a horrible thing in and of itself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And the fact that my precious innocent has to live with it makes me keep my fists up to the world. And I will fight for her until my death …literally. And then I can only hope and pray that someone will step in and take my place.

Maybe there will be a cure someday for her condition. They say it’s theoretically possible. And I would love nothing more than to have a conversation with her before I die. I’m sure the first words out of her mouth will be, “Dad, if people only knew how much you cuss around me in private, they’d be appalled.”

But who knows …a cure might mean she has to re-learn to do everything. Or learn to do it the first time.

All I know is while we’re fighting to make our children whole, they might just be making us whole in the process. At least that’s the case at my house.

And in my life I can honestly say that I learned more from a “damaged” chinese orphan than I leaned in 35 years of life before her.

People are always looking for angels. Well, I live with one. So if there’s a heaven, I’ll know exactly what to look for when I get there.

R

A GAME OF CHANCE …

“Dad I when I grow up I want everything in the world to be free. Nobody charges for anything.” This was how the morning-drive-to-school started with my 10-year-old son.

“So, how do you get paid for anything if everything is free?”

He kind of halted. I don’t think he’d thought it all the way through. But he never misses an opportunity to argue with the wall …

“Well …if NOBODY gets paid for anything, then nobody NEEDS to get paid for anything. We all just do what we love for free and so does everybody else and it’s all just there for whoever needs it.”

At 10, he is already more dialed in to socialism than most socialists …but I digress.

Then I asked the tough question: “What if someone we REALLY need in our society doesn’t actually LOVE what they do? Can we force them to do it for free anyway? Isn’t that slavery?”

That’s where he decided to think more about it. I’m sure he’ll have an answer soon enough. Trust me …he will.

My 10-year-old has the luxury of thinking everything should be free because in his world, everything IS free. He was riding to school in a car he didn’t pay for, full of gasoline he didn’t have to buy or produce or refine. He was wearing clothes that just magically appeared in his closet …a closet that has always been there in his room …that he doesn’t pay the mortgage on. He didn’t build it or pay for the construction.

But I did. I bought, built and supervised every stick of wood that went into it. I made the trips to Home Depot. I know what it cost …and why.

We live in a world that doesn’t SEE the money anymore. Money is not paper. It’s ones and zeros that show up through direct deposit. Our lives do not require physical currency. We can literally go through entire weeks, months or years without ever needing any “cash” on our person. It’s all FROM an account TO an account. Keystrokes. Swipes. Pin numbers. It’s all so easy …it almost seems free.

But I believe this newfound transactional commerce has lulled us into a civil war over the very thing my son was talking about in the car. Because we don’t actually “pay” for things in the traditional sense anymore, we place a different value on everything.

All of my entertainment is piped into my house. I send a few digits to an account and …BOOM …Netflix is there for me. It’s the same with all my utilities, services and luxuries. In fact, I can do ALL my Christmas shopping on my iPhone or computer if I want. The only reason I left the house this year was because I still like being around people …sort of …in small doses.

Music is at the forefront of this new swipe-and-serve economy. In fact, it was the first canary in the coal mine. And guess what? Whether you know it or not, the canary got black lung and is still recovering.

I’ve spent the better part of a year making a documentary with three friends about the dying industry of content (particularly song) creation.

It’s all very complicated but put simply: When you stream a song, the streamer gets paid, the record label gets paid and the recording artist gets paid. The only one they forgot to put in that equation was the person who created the underlying work. And so, as the masses change how they consume music, an entire profession disappears from the American landscape. Families lose houses. Kids’ college funds get raided. Middle aged men and women have to start their lives from scratch.

But don’t worry …it’s not that many people. Just the ones who write your favorite songs.

Enter Chance the Rapper …

This uber talented young man just went home with some Grammy hardware for his mantle, this week. HIS new music model is not much different than my 10-year-old’s idea. He gives his music away for free. He says he doesn’t want to be limited by commerce. And he will make his money touring and selling merchandise.

He’s not alone in this. A lot of youngsters his age are joining the ranks of the “free music” movement. And I totally get it. You can pull down the very pillars and foundations of the music-business-controls-you machine if suddenly they can’t make money on your back. YOU control what you do. They don’t. And no one has to wait to get what you have to say. It’s all there for the taking …as it should be …in the world of 10-year-old economics.

As an aging man in this business, I would simply offer a few words to keep in mind, if you are young and staring at the genesis of your career …

Chance is 23. And his career is red hot …at the moment. Money and offers are everywhere for him right now. It’s raining opportunity in his life. But one day …not that long from now …he will be 33 and someone will be ten years younger and ten years hotter (and cooler) than he is. He might have a misstep with a project or (God forbid) injure himself in a way that keeps him off the road. His intellectual property (on its own merit) has literally NO value. Because he has given it no value …from the beginning.

I’ll bet he doesn’t give the t-shirts and hats away for free. He certainly doesn’t do free concerts. He has told you – the public – that everything in his orbit has value …except the music itself.

I’m 49. I was once the hot, upcoming artist who was going to tour year-round, have multiple income streams and look good on a product cover forever. But my story got halted by a chinese orphan and a radio programmer in the northeast. And just like that …I was ushered out of the spotlight.

But it’s cool because they tell you (while putting you out to pasture), “you’re a great writer, man. You can ALWAYS write!” So …I write.

But if the thing you’ve written has no value, then CAN you write? And what difference does it make if you do?

As hot as Chance the Rapper is right now, if he called me to collaborate on something with him, I’m not sure I would do it. Because I can’t for the life of me figure out how I would get paid from it. If he’s giving the music away for free …what’s in it for someone who doesn’t tour with him or who isn’t making his t-shirts?

Every society decides what it values. We’re in the middle of deciding the value of music right now …in real time.

My Ghost Town Troubadour buddies and I just shot more of our documentary in New York City. And, while there, we played a free show at The Bitter End. The girl who sang right before us was very excited that she had just beed added to Pandora (or Spotify …they’re all the same to me).

My weathered colleagues and I just smiled at each other. There’s no way she could see, from her 20-something stage view, the future of car payments and house payments and weddings and kids and medical bills and unexpected disasters and taking care of an ailing parent and all the things that life might and will throw at her.

If she’s lucky she will have created some music that people will want to sing or dance to or get married to or graduate to or get buried to. And THAT should always be worth something …whether she can be there personally to sing it or not.

As a creative, I’m learning to navigate a new economy. I do a lot of things for free. I’m do this thing you’re reading for free. And people always say, “learn to monetize.” That’s a big, popular word, “monetize.” They say you have to do a dozen things for free to find that one thing someone will pay you for. It’s all bait for something else …down the road. But at some point we have to decide what we actually value.

And right now, music – one of humanity’s greatest natural resources – is being used as bait for something else …somewhere else. Music is just a loss leader for t-shirts and concert tickets. That’s because people who make music will do it for the love of it. But people who make t-shirts don’t do it for the love. They do it for the money. If they don’t get paid …t-shirts don’t get made.

And that leads us back to my 10-year-old son’s utopian dream.

These days, for those who earn a living from intellectual property and royalty based income …that dream is starting to look more and more like a nightmare.

R