Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians" (Scene) February 2009

Update: This entry is from my column that originally appeared in the Northern Colorado entertainment magazine The Scene. While I'm not doing this column anymore, I'm still as involved as I can be in the Fort Collins area music scene in general.

This edition’s topic: Ambassadors of the U.S.A.: My Minority Neighbor and Me

I have a “minority” neighbor that I have nothing but contempt for. He represents everything I can’t stand about his kind. They feel threatened when anyone outside of their minority group seems to be advancing socially, financially or politically. Throughout history these people have been known to resort to violence to quell said advancements when propaganda and fear mongering do not do the trick. I’m talking of course about the last holdouts of thinly cloaked racists that disguise themselves as patriots and good God-fearing folk. They organize into hate groups, hiding in basements and back rooms to wallow in their stagnant fear of change. They wave the flag and blindly assume that every military action our nation takes is right and just, be it the battle with Hitler or backing blood thirsty dictators like General Pinochet or Saddam Hussien (Yes, before we killed him, we were Saddam’s ally). On Election Day, my obviously frustrated and hateful neighbor adorned his camper with an obscene sticker defaming our handsome and dignified president. His vehicles are already covered with bumper stickers that read “Can’t feed ‘em, don’t breed ‘em” and “Real Americans don’t press two.” Gee, I wonder how he really feels about immigrants. You know, those people who built the entire nation? What he seems to have forgotten is that the quintessential “real” American can barely be defined, given our diverse population made up of so many proud “foreigners.” Really, it’s only those a**holes like him that I’d rather not claim as my fellow Americans.

As traveling musicians, my band mates and I see a great deal of this country. We meet fantastic people of every age, race, and political persuasion. We also have the opportunity to get a firsthand perspective on how the rest of the world sees us. It’s been a rough last few years, touring internationally. Constantly having to defeat the image of the rude “ugly American” tourist who demands “Texas sized” portions and starts every sentence with “Well back in the STATES,…(they just GIVE you ice water / we don’t PUT up with riff-raff / we just take the FREEWAY / whatever...doesn’t anyone speak ENGLISH here?)” Unfortunately, foreigners I’ve chatted with seem to believe that folks like my neighbor ARE the common citizens over here. How did this guy’s small-minded set become the mental image of “American” for so many people? I don’t get it. Maybe the press, maybe the internet have magnified their presence. Most foreigners I met on the last couple of tours didn’t like our government either, so I would often find myself on the defensive end of a polite but opinionated set of questions. As a musician, you go on tour wanting to just do your job, share your music, meet people. You want to be proud of America’s artists, thinkers, and humanitarians, our frequent acts of aid to others in need throughout the last decades which are more than most other nations combined. But, again, the last few years have been tough for selling the assets of America to worldly folks who are usually much more aware of world politics than we are. All I could ever do was try to set a good example, be polite and unassuming, as another individual ambassador for my country.

May the next four or eight years see the global opinion of us change, as the haters here continue to slowly fade into the sunset and the “real” America continues on its path to healing and accepting responsibility for our actions. In my opinion, our new president perfectly represents the best of his constituency. Though his presidential track record remains to be set, he at least seems passionately devoted to working toward the common good of all people. Which is certainly more than I can say about my “minority” neighbor. (May he and his kind go the way of the dinosaurs.) Next time I tour overseas, I’d like to just do my job—entertaining—without feeling the need to apologize on every street corner.

Uncle Johnny, over and out.