In October 2009, I was sharing an apartment with my best friend of 24 years. A monster musician, and allegedly, a conservative, though I didn’t think it was very conservative when I found out he’d been sleeping with my then-girlfriend, who was too young for either one of us. He’d been telling me he’d reconnected with an old flame on Match.com and asked me at least once a week to go out, visit a friend, or my parents, which I dutifully did. Bros come first right?
Thanks to a real friend, I was fully moved out and pulling away from the place in a U-Haul less than five hours after finding out. In the time since, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with real, professional, working musicians in South Carolina, I honed and vastly improved my performances, and I’ve upped my production skills significantly. Best of all, I got married to a wonderful woman who doesn’t hate me because Jon Stewart tells her to. To say my former friend, by extension, got the leftovers, is an understatement.
To meet my wife-to-be, I had to come home. My family is in upstate New York, and as the passing of my 96-year-old grandmother in May illustrated, I was needed here anyway. So I am back on the old stomping ground. Fortunately I have made some better friends, among them some of the New York State Republicans, and especially John Brodigan, who has helped me immensely.
Guess who’s still here, and still together? To be honest, I have been so blessed since that awful October that I didn’t give him (or her) as much as a passing thought, until this June.
I got asked to play a show at a small local theatre called the “KNOW Theatre” in Binghamton, NY, a day after my birthday. It’s a modest little 30-seat place with a stage in the bad part of town, where they allegedly provide a forum for things that don’t get performed other places. The show was set up by a mutual friend of mine and my former friend’s, and my former friend was also booked to play there that night. Despite this, I knew that I could be an adult and do my set without causing any trouble. I also had the worst cold in recent memory, but my wife and I packed up all the stuff and headed out. Despite not feeling well, and despite being afraid my former friend would try to start something with me or my wife, we were calm, gracious, and friendly to everyone who interacted with us. They, of course, kept their distance. I don’t know if it’s an upstate New York thing, but apparently a 35-year-old man pretending you don’t exist is the “adult” thing to do.
The whole thing was really grassroots, with a lot of people lending a hand when needed. In this spirit, I even helped when the theatre’s sound guy had a problem getting my former friend’s mix right.
I was scheduled to play last, and immediately after my former friend. My wife and I calmly and graciously sat through prose and play readings, one of which included depictions of cops as “pigs” despite the characters resisting arrest and breaking the law. A previous performance I had attended included a play where the characters discuss the need to homeschool their children because they don’t want them exposed to concepts like “capitalism” – which is funny, because I didn’t think they still taught capitalism in schools. We pretended to laugh and didn’t intend to ever bring it up again, because this is who the theater demographic is, and our attempts to hold them accountable for their bigotry wouldn’t change anything.
My wife and I also calmly and graciously sat through my former friend’s performance, applauding when he finished.
When it came time to go up to the stage, he kept his distance, and spoke to me only once, when I mistakenly thought he’d left some of his equipment in my spot – in actuality, he had just not had a chance to take it off the stage yet. I backed off immediately and gave him his space, and he removed it.
I performed a six-song set that was not overtly political. I did not play my conservative protest song “Free,” purposely to extend my thanks to a theatre that was obviously very liberal allowing me to play there. I performed the Jimmy Webb song “The Highwayman,” which is one of my all-time favorite songs. I then played “I Will Love You If You Let Me,” which is a self-assertive but not purposefully misogynistic love song. I then performed my latest release, “Her God,” which is about my struggles growing up in a world that expected you to be Catholic – something I assumed they’d had some experience with, except at the end of the song I choose not to reject God. Because it’s upbeat and funny (to me, at least), I played “Moving To Silence,” a tongue-in-cheek breakup song which is based on a true story, even if it does sound a bit chauvanistic on the surface. I closed with an entirely apolitical song written by a friend of mine with whom I used to perform, but not before I played a song I wrote for my wife called “I Want To Be With You,” which has no political overtones, just a paean for two good people who’ve had their hearts broken a good number of times.
The entire set is on YouTube. Apart from my voice being ravaged by a bad summer cold, I think I gave them a good, professional, polished performance, and the applause was generous and seemed honest.
As I’m performing, I’m looking around, and I notice that my former friend and his girlfriend are not in the theater. Considering I was the last performer, I assumed they packed up and headed home. I wouldn’t have blamed them. It was already past 10:00 on a Sunday night.
I really thought nothing of it until my set was over, and my wife and I were tearing down my gear. I notice both of them are back. They’d left their gear in the theatre and apparently left – I don’t know, in protest? – during my set.
Everybody there was really nice, very gracious, and thanked us for coming and performing. We left and went home.
A few weeks ago I sent my buddy there an e-mail, saying I’d love to play there again anytime they’d have me. I did enjoy the intimacy of the theatre, and the fact that the audience listened, which I’m not used to as most of the performance opportunities up here are in crowded bars where if you’re not playing “Piano Man” or “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” they’ll ignore you – loudly. I did not get a reply.
This past Sunday I received an e-mail from Facebook saying that my buddy had invited me to a show at the KNOW Theatre on Friday, August 6. I went to the event page and he’d posted a status asking interested performers to contact him, because there was still room for a few more. I replied, reminding him I’d already sent him an e-mail regarding performing there again.
He initiated a Facebook chat with me, where he said he read the e-mail but forgot to get back to me. Then it said he was typing for a long time. When he was done, I saw his reply:
“well the thing is, im being pressured by a few different parties not to invite you back… it seem you were ‘self-indulgent’, overbearing, and too politically charged… also the ultra right wing facebook posts don’t help… I dont know man.. dont get me wrong, I think youre a good guy, and your music is obviously well produced, people just dont seem to think you gel with the ideology of the theatre.”
Give me a minute while I bask in the irony.
We hear all the time that the other side is so “open minded,” so “tolerant,” so “open to new ideas,” so “accepting.” You differ from their worldview one inch and they’ll find a way to screw you. Most of the time I just get outed – and let me tell you, being “outed” by someone who prescribes to the political ideology that invented the term is one of the strangest things you’ll ever experience. They imagine in their head the terrible things that will happen, the awful things that would be said, if a homosexual was “outed” in, say a Southern Baptist church. They manipulate everyone around them into thinking that hurting people because they’re “different” is a crime worse than rape. Then they do it to anyone who is different from them.
I am without a doubt, unrepentantly conservative. One of the reasons I am so open and unashamed about my political ideology, is because as a lifelong music fan I have had to be “tolerant” of practically every musician I have ever met, or liked, or supported. I didn’t say anything when the Indigo Girls appeared on Conan O’Brien with t-shirts that loudly proclaimed, “BUCK FUSH.” I swallowed it when the Dixie Chicks went overseas and said they were ashamed of Texas because George W. Bush lived there. I stuck it out through “Rock Against Bush” CDs, the “Vote For Change” tour presented by MoveOn.org (now there’s an absurdly named liberal organization), I threw away CD after CD from acts I tried to like – Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, Tori Amos, Jimmy Eat World. I cringed when one of my biggest influences, Rush’s Neil Peart, wrote in one of his books that he saw a “God Bless America” sticker on a tractor-trailer and wondered how intolerant we would be if a Muslim has a pro-Islam bumper sticker on her vehicle. (Hey Neil, the answer is, less intolerant than you.)
Rock and pop music has consistently been revoltingly far-left-wing for more than forty years. Popular music is supposed to be about revolution, rejection of the mainstream, rebellion. There is nothing revolutionary about liberal rock. Music that is supposed to stand up against the mainstream is the mainstream. A band called “Rage Against the Machine” saw wild success on a major label, despite the major label being “the machine.” In order to keep the aforementioned “machine” in place, they have to change the narrative about music and the world around it. Younger music consumers associate rock and pop with the mainstream, yet at the same time they are told that conservatism is the mainstream, and they have to fight it off with “alternative” thought. What alternative thought – buying the same album as all your friends?
I am about to release a song that I performed at the KNOW Theatre, called “I Will Love You If You Let Me.” It’s about romantic relationships but it could also be applied to political ones as well. I am the reactionary type of politico, I really only strike when threatened. I try to be a “live and let live” sort of guy but everywhere I go I am attacked for who I am. If someone doesn’t know who I am, they routinely trash conservatives while making small talk because they assume I am just like them. Except for protecting myself against known enemies, I have never uttered the words “I won’t help you because you’re a liberal,” or “I won’t listen to you because you’re a liberal.” The left seems to get talking points from somewhere that construct a detailed profile of who conservatives are. Without ever even meeting us, interacting with us, or giving us a chance to interact with them as human beings, they wage war, forcing our hand in defense, which they interpret as unprovoked hatred. Even when I stand up straight, act professional, bring my A-game to a performance, and play an apolitical show, they are so terrified of what they have been told we are that they lash out, and now I can’t play my music for the people who may come through their doors in the future. Unless you’re attacking me, I’m going to try to like you, but I can only do that if you let me. But the Left is so used to tilting at windmills it’s getting pointless to even try to make them open their minds.
Little theaters like the KNOW Theatre like to act as if they’re an outlet for “the little guy” whose voice is being silenced by the mainstream. They’re always going on about how it’s important for all voices to be heard. And they actively blackball anybody who doesn’t think exactly as they do.
Do I believe that this particular situation had something to do with my former friend feeling he’d gotten one-upped because I played a good show? Probably. Did he probably tell some people there that I tried to steal his girlfriend? I wouldn’t put it past him. But I’ll never know for sure because people like that are too weak to ever tell you the truth. Regardless, I am ashamed of the KNOW Theatre but not surprised, and if you’re ever in this part of upstate New York, I’d strongly suggest you don’t go anywhere near them.
There’s an old saying, “when God closes one door He opens another.” As my wife and I were sitting having dinner, half-disgusted and half-amused by the response we got from KNOW, we got a phone call from Giovanni Scaringi, the chairman of the New York State Young Republicans. He asked me to perform at their fall conference, in Rockland County. Coincidentally, it’s in October. In two short years my life has changed so much for the better, I have learned who my real friends are, and I feel so blessed to have them in my life.
And to the haters: keep hating. Not only is it funny, but you keep our ideological weapons loaded with the most awesome ammo we could ever hope for: your own bigotry.