“Be the change” has been my mantra for years. In fact, when I was teaching in Michigan, I said it so often that students would sometimes attribute the quote to me (as an English instructor I used it as a “teachable moment” to discourage plagiarism by properly attributing it to its rightful owner – Gandhi).
Attribution issues aside, I was gratified to realize that the message was getting through because my students felt like the best hope for change, and when I left the classroom in 2012, I worried that I wouldn’t feel that hope anymore.
I need not have worried. Thanks to technology and social media, I’m finding small pockets of people who are doing things they love and being the change in their own corner of the world.
A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet from the Baltimore band, Blind Man Leading. I followed the link, and watched one of the most uplifting band videos I’ve seen in a long time – maybe ever. As I listened to the music and the band members (drummer/producer Paul Mercer, bass player/vocalist Tyler Wheeler, and guitarist/lead singer Dave Wentz) talk about what inspires them to make music, what struck me was their gratitude for their fans and their desire to build a community by making music that draws listeners together.
Dave explained, “Swords is a thank you to all of the people who listen,” Tyler followed, saying, “The purpose of this album is to get people to come out and listen,” and when Paul chimed in, “We appreciate all of the people who come to see us so much. How do you capture that in a recording – that sense of community?” I was hooked. These guys make music because they love both the creative process of making the music and the experience of gifting it to their listeners in their performances.
So, I tweeted back and told them they should come to Chicago, and to my surprise they responded! As we engaged in a short exchange about a tour budget and how fan lottery winnings might be the way to fund it, I was amazed at their genuine interaction with fans via what can be such an impersonal medium.
I did a little research and listened to more of their music on their Bandcamp page, then bought the album, and listened to it for a few days. The Bandcamp description of them as crafting and playing “…melodic, expressive songs that feature bright chords and upbeat, jazz-influenced rhythms” is absolutely accurate. There’s something very honest and real about their music, and I felt uplifted hearing them sing, “You have choices.”
So, being the rookie fan I am, I found the band’s email address and wrote them asking if they’d mind me blogging about them and their positive message. They responded much more quickly than I’d imagined they would, and were incredibly open to being part of my blog and generous about answering questions.
I wrote, “I’ll tell you that what really inspired me to want to write about you guys (beside the fact that I enjoyed your music) were two things in particular: the YouTube video where you talked about how you feel about your fans and the link on your page to the International Justice Mission. In a world full of slickly packaged, commercialized music (which has its own place/value), I think music lovers are searching for (and often desperately craving) “real” experiences and it appears to me that this is something you guys strive to provide.”
To which Paul responded, “…we’re pretty fed up with the “slickly packaged, commercialized” part of the industry you’re alluding to, so we’ve made it a point to just write the best music we can and share it with people in an honest and genuine way. We seriously appreciate people who listen to the tunes and come to see us…we mean it when we say it means the world to us. So instead of complaining about the Modern Music Industry, or trying to be part of it, we simply try to connect with people through the music.”
It’s bands like this that give me hope. They aren’t out to hit the top 40 (although, I’m sure they wouldn’t object to occupying a spot) or make a million dollars (though, again, I’m sure there would be few objections), they’re dedicated to making music that they love and music that they can share with audiences who appreciate their musical ability to create and fuel a community.
I don’t live close enough to make it to this performance, so I’m going to buy a lottery ticket with the hope that perhaps I can win the change that might make a tour possible!