I was driving back from Dubuque after playing 28 shows during two weeks on the road. We had just finished an outreach program for the Arts Council in Dubuque, presenting our music to thousands of children, and it was a great feeling to watch how it had affected them in such a positive manner. We only had a day and half of rest before another week out on the road. Brian had driven back home to Lansing, so Joey and I were heading back to Chicago in the Golden Eagle.
I had turned on the radio to catch up on the news, and all of a sudden NPR was broadcasting about Paris. With family and friends living in that beautiful city and with happy memories of playing in Paris, it was horrifying and deeply saddening to hear the news. And all the more surreal as we drove through the beauty of the Driftless Region of Northwest Illinois.
The fact that the terrorists chose to attack the Bataclan, a music venue, was especially jarring. Joey remarked that it was the first time in music history where people were mass murdered for attending a concert. And it was true. People have been killed for religion, for race and country, but at a music venue, listening to music?
For about a year or so now, I have made it a point to mention at the end of our concerts that you, our fans, are doing more than just “attending a show.” Our gatherings, in my opinion, are what create and sustain the fabric of community, our “WayGood World” as we like to call it. “You may think you were being entertained, but you actually are doing your civic duty,” I like to joke. But I am quite serious about the power of music. And I am not surprised that a musical venue, a place for joy, was targeted by such people.
When the musician Pharrell came out with his song “Happy,” it inspired a rash of home videos of various young people around the world dancing and lip syncing the song. They would post them on Facebook and other social sites for everyone around the world to watch. A group of young people did so in Iran and subsequently were rounded up and arrested by the authorities. For a song about being happy. Such is the power of music, and that is why it is feared by those who wish to control us all.
Music is the one common transcendent art form that needs no creed, knows no language, and obliterates boundaries. It is joy itself and is capable of bringing together people of all walks of life. Music asks for no gender, asks no sexual orientation, asks for no color, asks for no country.
No one at a concert is looking around to see who is who or who believes what. We are in the moment, we are sharing the moment, and we are in union with, as Lincoln said, “the angels of our better nature.”
Over the ages, those who wish to control society have tried to use music to serve their purposes. Ultimately though, such attempts fail. Songs of hate have never lasted as long as “All You Need Is Love” or “We Shall Overcome.” It is no surprise that these people ban music. For music is the freedom of humanity, all humanity. That is something those who wish to control cannot control.
If anything, the violence that has taken place in Paris and around the world as of late demands that we all, in our own ways, answer to it. Extra kindness, exceptional patience, and especially at this time of Thanksgiving, extra gratitude for our blessings and freedom. And the continued need of coming together through music.
As the old hymn says:
No storm shall shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging
Since Love is Lord of Heaven and Earth,
How Can I Keep From Singing?
~ Martin McCormack