2020: ” I will not let silence win”

  “A Beautiful Noise” by Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile   listen to my 2020 playlist

January 1, 2021

Family, friends, health, home. These concepts become buzz words that traditionally get thrown around during the holiday season as the things we appreciate most of all. This year, these four words have taken on far more meaning than I could ever have anticipated one year ago today. Without my family and friends, I would no longer have health insurance or a home today. Just a few weeks into the March shutdown, I was scheduled to dj a gig in my hometown, that we had to cancel. The owners of that venue, good friends from high school, had an inkling that my newly owned business might not operate in 2020, and insisted on paying me for a future gig, when we can all gather and dance and celebrate music together. I cannot wait for that time to come, when I will gladly dj multiple dance parties in their establishment to repay that kindness. Then in late summer, when the very last of my savings had been extinguished, I needed some car repairs. Completely unexpectedly, a check arrived in the mail from my aunt and uncle. Out of the blue, my dad offered me temporary employment in the fall. Then, last month, just as I had come to terms with the fact that I would have to part with the home I have owned for nearly 18 years, a call came from dear friends who also own a small local business, asking if I’d like to work for them during the holiday season. Kind neighbors and friends have voluntarily provided the funds needed in order for me to pay my healthcare premiums for the past few months. Grocery store gift cards and other items of necessity, and some fun gifts too, showed up at my doorstep this Christmas. Our neighbors and family members made sure my daughter and I had gifts under our tree and food on our table this Christmas. These random but incredibly generous acts of kindness, provided us with a Christmas morning and meal that felt somewhat like a normal year for us. So here we are, on January 1, 2021, we are still in our cozy little home and remain in good health, due to the exceptional kindness of family and friends. On March 30, 2020, we lost one of my favorite musicians, Bill Withers. Today as I woke, and as I write, his most well-known anthem plays in my head: Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrows, but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow...I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.

Lean on Me” Bill Withers, 1972

Since 2017, I have made diligent efforts toward turning my life around. Rather than being the former eternal optimist, real life hardships and heartache have necessitated my mindset to the cautious pragmatist. So many times, I had been assigned the task of finding the strategies for others’ bold and risky visions. I commend the creative minds of the folks I’ve worked for and with during the past thirty years, and for entrusting me with their visions. Nonetheless, being their first mate, doing the heavy lifting on behalf of the many captains of the many ships of enterprise I’ve steered in my life, but never experiencing the full satisfaction of doing this work in support of my own vision, was something I was determined to change by the time I reached the age of 50. In 2019, I obsessively budgeted and researched and planned and considered every risk (well, almost every risk) before investing my life in ownership of a concert production company. I believed that in 2020, I would have the ability to control my own destiny and to see my own creative vision come to life for my community. Finally, I would be the instigator, the motivator, the one encouraging my brilliant colleagues and employees whom I would most assuredly give full recognition to, for their talent and time, so that they might move forward on a path with far less detours than the path I had taken to get to this point in my career. 2020 was going to be my time to become the catalyst between my community and the compelling art and artists of my choosing, and in the medium that makes my heart soar, causes my entire body to shiver in sheer awe, and puts my mind at ease like nothing else can. I was going to give that glorious gift of live music to my community. I was going to feel the benefit of the decades of 18-hour workdays I dutifully contributed to the success of so many other people’s businesses throughout the past 30 years. In 2019, I invested my life and livelihood in a concert production company, just months before COVID 19 was introduced to the world. The entire industry of live entertainment has been shut down for nearly a year and will continue to be inoperable until this pandemic is controlled, a timeline which doctors and scientists with cautious optimism suggest as “hopefully, the summer of 2021”.

I commend the public health professionals who have done everything they possibly can to protect us from an even more catastrophic spread of illness and death. As I write today, over 345,000 Americans and counting have died. The President says this virus affects “practically no one”. It is incredibly distressing to know that these 345,000+ souls are “no one” to him. I condemn the President and those legislators who have done little to nothing, to address the industries that cannot operate in this crisis, much less, the health crisis itself. I have 12 million colleagues who have not worked and cannot work until the pandemic is controlled. The President claims that he won the battle against the pandemic. Many of us have already lost our businesses, our healthcare, our homes, and our livelihoods and in 345,000+ cases, our lives. A few days ago, the Save Our Stages legislation for which my colleagues and I have lobbied in support of our industry, was finally passed. Hopefully, we have been told, funding will be available to us by the end of next quarter, an entire year after our businesses were first shuttered.

While I am immensely anxiety-ridden these days, I have not lost hope, because my daughter and her generation are beacons of hope. I’ve raised her on my conviction that as long as we have hope, we have everything we need. I hear great wisdom from my daughter, her partner, and her friends, and from my brilliant young business partner in our conversations about politics and social justice and climate change. In October, a 14-year-old girl from Texas was awarded the 2020 Young Scientist Challenge for her work on a potential COVID-19 therapy. Young people have hopeful ideas about every aspect of 21st century life, and we need to pause and listen and learn from them. Young people believe in science, they understand that public health protections do not violate their Constitutional freedoms. They also know climate change is real, they respect the planet, and genuinely desire to save it for their children. Human rights seem to be fundamental to most of their generation, and that is incredibly encouraging to me. They believe freedom of religion means exactly that, rather than the freedom to practice only Christianity. They know that love is love, period. They are not interested in controlling their fellow citizen’s body or gender or sexual identity. I believe the great majority of Americans under 30 have zero tolerance for sexist, racist, or homophobic ideologies. They believe the time has come for the tenets of the Constitution to apply to everyone–a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

In my introductory note written nearly two years ago, I questioned whether this generation would create anthems that would represent the current movements, and in 2020, they certainly have. Young and fearless artists are demanding justice and truth throughout our multi-hued tapestry of American music. Beyonce, Demi Lovato, Black Pumas, Maren Morris, and H.E.R. are just a few of the young voices that have released exceptionally moving anthems of hope throughout 2020. My daughter says the ingenues of the young band, The New Respects, give her strength and courage every day with their 2020 infectious anthem, “Say What You Want.” Janelle Monae’s ultra groove of “Turntables” with her honest and empowering lyrics, I don’t need permission, I got my intuition has strengthened my courage every day since its release on September 8, 2020. Sheryl Crow collaborated this year with several brilliant young artists including some of my recent favorite artists, Yola, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, and Brandi Carlile, for Yola’s emotive “Hold On”. Rhiannon Giddens recently released “It’s a Fire” a moving collaboration with Amanda Palmer. Public Enemy collaborated on a 21st century take on their 1990 hit, with “Fight the Power 2020” featuring Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots, along with a new generation of young male and female rappers including Nas, Jahi, YG, and Rapsody, contributing to a modern message in response to an enduring problem. The Flaming Lips, the 1990s indie rock darlings, collaborated with 21st century country songstress, Kacey Musgraves to address that same problem. Stevie Wonder has contributed his voice to address the systemic issues of injustice in our country throughout my entire lifetime. His decades-long inspiring expression of hope has been reborn again in 2020, on two new tracks with young collaborators Gary Clark Jr., Rapsody, Cordae, CHIKA, and Busta Rhymes. In the past few months, Stevie Nicks and Rosanne Cash have each released songs of unity and hope. Another favorite from my early childhood, Jackson Browne, was one of the first to release a song expressing the uncertainties of 2020 in his “A Little too Soon to Say”. In April, 81-year-old musical icon, Mavis Staples released “We’re all in it Together” and donated the proceeds from the downloads of this song to provide COVID-19 relief to aging residents in her hometown of Chicago. Her words of hope continue to pierce through the veils of racism and classism, after six decades of sharing her voice in the name of “We the People”. This is the woman who boldly sang: take the sheet off your face in 1972, and 48 years later, she gently and graciously sings: I gave up on hating you just for hating me a long time ago.  The collaboration between Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile released in October, is an arresting auditory illustration of every word I have written throughout the past three years. You have a voice. It’s stronger than your fear. It’s believing you belong. It’s for calling out the wrong. From the mouths of our mothers to the lips of our daughters....from the silence of our sisters, to the violence of our brothers. I also wrote in my first Note, on January 6, 2019: “Regardless of every possible difference between us, I believe music is truly the tie that binds us.” My conviction to this statement has been strengthened a thousand-fold by the music created in 2020. In response to both the unprecedented and the recurring challenges of 2020, musicians are making bold moves to erase genre, race, gender, and generational divides.

In the late summer of 2020, we lost Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Helen Reddy (neither to COVID-19) within a ten-day period. In the mid-way point between mourning the deaths of these two feminist icons, Kentucky’s Attorney General announced that a grand jury found no justifiable evidence to bring criminal charges against the three white male police officers who stormed the home of Breonna Taylor in a botched drug raid on March 13, 2020. Officers broke down her door as she slept, fired multiple rounds into the darkness, and murdered her in her bed. Taylor was a young Black woman who was working as an EMT on the front lines of the pandemic, doing her part to save American lives. She had no criminal history. It seems quite obvious to me that the President and his administration also regard her as no one. Instead, of addressing this travesty, he and the majority of his Republican colleagues focused their attention at that time on pushing through a conservative Supreme Court Justice who opposes the entire body of Justice Ginsberg’s nearly sixty years of work. I’ve spent a great deal of time this year listening to women’s voices, in song and in literature and on film. Together with my daughter, we watched the ten part series, Mrs. America, the story of the fight for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which occurred throughout the first decade of my life, and died at the hands of Ronald Reagan during the year I became a teenager. Together with my mother we watched the biopic of Helen Reddy, and learned that her experience of the late 1960s and early 1970s with her young daughter Tracy, in many ways, reflected our lives at that same time. Her experiences as a young single mother led to her anthem, which became the anthem of the ERA movement, “I Am Woman”. Although I heard it played on our turntable countless times throughout the 1970s, I heard this song with remarkable clarity this year. In 2020, “I am Woman” became a call to action for me.

My mom spent her younger years reading and thinking about how wonderful it would be if her daughter could one day live in a world where women’s thoughts and feelings and actions would be regarded as equal to those of men, although she never imagined this would be her own reality. I spent most of my life acting as if I were living in a world where these ideals were realized, even as I was knocked down and dragged backward again and again.  Throughout 2020, I have read the biographies of Tina Turner, Janet Mock, Olivia Newton-John, Josephine Baker, and Gloria Steinem. Tina Turner and Josephine Baker are both former residents of my home state who chose not only to leave Missouri, but America, in order to live authentic and courageous lives. Although all of these women have lived through vastly different periods and experiences of the 20th and 21st centuries than I, many of their challenges are achingly familiar to me. The gaslighting, the threats, and the sometimes violent aggression against us prevails, despite the diligent work of so many brave women who have risked their lives to take a bold and public stand against these cultural norms. Reading the honest accounts of these women’s lives has given me the courage to write my whole truth and to find new purpose for the remainder of my days. I want to leave this world knowing I have done what I could with the skills I possess, to make this country a more equitable place than I found it for my daughters and for the young woman I have worked alongside for the past two and half years and for all women.

Me and my girls, 2010.

2020 has allowed me the ample time needed to take my starter Notes from this blog, and convert and complete them into a full, fifty-year, 400-page story. of music and memory. Upon the completion of my Notes, I have realized that the messages in the music of the past half-century have both hindered and bolstered my reality far more so than I realized when I began this project in 2017. I’ve spent more time in the listening gallery during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 than perhaps in the past 18 years altogether. I was also able to spend some long days alone in rural Missouri, surrounded by soybeans and sunshine while listening to the soundtrack of my life. I took the time to walk down Gracia Street from the house that was my first home, to the building that was once Topp Cats Roller Rink, while listening to my 1972 playlist. I needed to get lost inside the head of my younger self in order to contemplate where to go from here, since 2020 did not turn out at all as I had planned. I have just begun the process of sending my manuscript to literary agents. I am now more determined than ever to contribute to real change. Many of my greatest setbacks have resulted from a lack of trust in myself, from not listening to my own voice, and instead allowing others to control the narrative, even when I knew they were using alternative facts. I am responding to Brandi’s and Alicia’s call to action, to stop living a lie and stand up. This year, I’ve realized that being an agent of change requires not just thinking, but speaking my truth, and not just acting, but living my truth. I’ll end this new year Note of hope with the words of another favorite artist of my childhood years that we lost in 2020, Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.” Indeed, I can.

One thought on “2020: ” I will not let silence win”

  1. I’m so proud of you, my dear cousin. You are a beacon of hope, strength, and inspiration…I look up to you in every single way, and look forward to reading your notes.


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