Saturday, December 25, 2010


The soundtrack to my Christmas shopping this year was El Compa Chuy’s new album “Con Estilo.” The title is almost ironic in that this Sinaloan homeboy delivers his corridos with precious little flair. These 10 songs fly by with buoyant energy to be sure, but no excess, not even the sort of gunshot percussion today’s narcocorridos seem to have inherited from their gangsta kin in hip hop. This is plainspoken music, straight out of the Sierras like Compa Chuy himself, with roots in Mexican folk music that date back to the corridos of the 19th Century, that date back to the songs of Joaquin Murieta, who “defended with fierceness…the humble and the poor.”

And this is the music of my friend Eduardo Loredo, which is why I'm listening....

“What is going on here is homicide. This is a blatant crime against humanity. The only difference between what’s going on here and a murder is that we are watching him die, slowly, every day.”
These words—roaring out of the small frame of Kansas City writer/artist/musician Monique Maes—went off like a bomb at a benefit last winter for 14-year-old Eduardo Loredo, a young man (uninsured and undocumented) in need of a heart transplant. The corporate-style banquet room that the, relatively affluent, Johnson County Community College had provided for the event was somewhat sparsely filled with a mix of people who wanted to help the young man. Maes forced the crowd to face the crime of Loredo’s plight.

Loredo had been receiving treatment from a local hospital that cared for the uninsured since the summer before, when the once strong soccer player was struck down by a mysterious illness and diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. For a period of three months, he believed he was receiving a necessary heart transplant from a Saint Louis hospital, the closest facility able to perform such a procedure on a child. Everything came to a halt in October, when Loredo was informed he could only be placed on a waiting list if his family made a $100,000 down payment on the $500,000 procedure, which would also involve incalculable follow-up expenses. Though the hospital would continue to receive essential medications from the hospital, he was told he had less than two years to live.

Since that time, family and friends have organized, along with area students and artists, to try to raise the money for Loredo’s heart transplant, but knowing the futility of raising that kind of money, they have reached out to others to raise awareness so that the system might take responsibility for a boy in an impossible situation. The JCCC student club LUNA found few in the local community willing to help and wound up reaching out to the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and Health Care Now for help--organizations that helped the students plan strategy and sent statements to the benefit and declared a national day of solidarity with Eduardo Loredo on December 20th, 2009. Status aside, everyone recognized this case was about the value of a human life in America.

Maes threw her great big rock and roll heart into the struggle the moment she learned of the community college Latino club’s efforts to raise awareness about Loredo’s situation. She met with Loredo before the event, and, instinctively, she took him some comic books. She found Loredo loved comics, and then she asked him if he liked music. He told her, “corridos.” Since then, Maes has not only tirelessly worked to maintain a team of volunteers focused on addressing the changing issues in Loredo’s case, she makes regular trips to Eduardo’s KCK home to talk about progress with the family and to deliver comic books and CDs to the always appreciative Eduardo.

Since last winter, the case has only grown more confusing. Eduardo has managed to cut back on his meds and looks and feels stronger than he did last year, but the family has received conflicting advice over whether or not a heart transplant is even necessary to resolve his health concerns, and there is consistent pressure for him to get help from a hospital in Mexico that has not guaranteed him anything. The family is currently seeking a second opinion (from doctors inside and outside of the country) and, after the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, working with youth and health care fighters nationwide on a variety of new efforts.

Meanwhile, Eduardo Loredo keeps fighting, listening to his music. He recently talked his way into an El Compa Chuy show in Kansas City Kansas, and the band wound up taking him backstage and featuring his story on their Facebook page. At the winter benefit, Maes talked about the significance of Loredo’s love of the corrido “that speaks of long lost love, of outlaws and bandits, of adventure and tragedy. The spirit of the pueblo.”

Tonight, I find myself thinking—2:00 a.m., Santa in the air along with Marley’s Ghost— from the beginnings of the form through to Loredo’s favorite Chihuahua/Sinaloa/Culiacan and Southern California songwriters today, she might have added “the spirit of Christmas yet to come.”

Eduardo Loredo’s Top 10

1. Larry Hernandez
2. Gerardo Ortiz
3. El Komander
4. Fidel Rueda
5. Noel Torres
6. Los Buitres de Culiacan
7. Bukanas de Culiacan (BuKnas de Culiacan)
8. El RM
9. Voz de Mando
10. El Compa Chuy

Donations may be sent to:

To donate you can go to any Bank of America and donate to the following account: Account Name: Gahutier Eduardo Loredo Transplant Fund

Eduardo has two Facebook pages—Eduardo Loredo and Eduardo Needs A Heart

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Elements of Style,
And an unsent postcard from Gros Ventre
That says “A-OK!”

101 Essential Hiking Tips,
Three Missouri travel guides,
And something called Beyond the Tetons!--that card’s rocky sunset again.

From Shakespeare to Existentialism,
And a history of peace activists,
Along with that novel about the mass murderer
You wanted me to read.

The Quickening of America,
The Design of Cities,
All texts I keep moving,
Tracing who you wanted to be.

Not the girl of 27, 583 ways
To make me laugh,
Able to set the world right
With a point of her finger.

Not the queen of bar trivia,
Or the emperor of the honest answer,
Patiently waiting while I flail
Through all the wrong words.

Those royal metaphors
Like the crown of thorns
You never asked for
But wouldn’t remove.

A martyr not simply by choice
But caught in some philosophical wasteland,
An expedition guide who’d lost count of the bodies,
An aesthete tortured by shame—

Burrowing through your heart,
Allowing no peace…
Like the calm that fell over me
With a brush of your shoulder.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On the Outside Looking In

Bruce Springsteen’s Fan Interview at Sirius Radio, November 15

Working off no transcript, simply memory, as Mr. Marcus once suggested. My apologies for any lies that follow….

The best part, that’s easy—watching the greatest Springsteen fan in the world (IMHO), Randy “Drive-All-Night” Heaster (as Dave Marsh dubbed him), sitting in a close triangle with Bruce and Dave. Two of the best friends I could ever have engaged in a conversation with the artist who brought us together.

How I got to be a fly on the wall was wild happenstance. My buddy was one of 20 contest winners out of 3000 applicants. When I heard Randy was going on Dave’s show, I thought I’d go along for the ride just to sit in some Times Square bar and wait for the debriefing. Fortunately, I got to see the show.

Of course, there were 19 other fans there… and Chris Phillips from Backstreets, and Bruce’s producer, Jon Landau, and film editor, Thom Zimny, and guitar tech, Kevin Buell, and Dave Marsh’s radio producer Jim Rotolo popping in and out….and everyone of those fans had their own stories I didn’t know, all thrown into the same room for two hours to try to have an all-but-impossible conversation. Not surprisingly, Dave and Bruce gave it their best, and Randy reported, “I got what I came for.”

By definition, that meant I had too. But I actually have to write to get my finger on what that was. In the end, it had something to do with watching Bruce get outside of his comfort zone and learn a new thing or two about what he already thought he knew.

Bruce entered the room giving each of the winners a handshake and a how are you. From where I was standing, well outside the studio fishbowl, he didn’t look like a rock star so much as, say, a mechanic, a crusty aging craftsman. If not for the light in the contestants’ eyes, the charisma of this blue denimed character might be no more or less than that of someone who knows how to keep you on the road and charge a fair price in the bargain. He had that much swag, but he wasn’t exactly cutting a romantic figure.

Eye level with a group of fans rather than cloistered with a journalist, the craftsman struggled to get comfortable with the adoration in that room. It’s not like on stage where he could pull from his bag of tricks and send everyone home justifiably pleased. This was a different kind of reckoning, and it demanded some attempt to cut through the hype which the entire industry system had cranked higher than ever the night before an expensive, one-of-a-kind release.

That attempt to deflate the hype was the thread that ran through the night, becoming a sort of international auditory equivalent of the guy who just made the Darkness album climbing up on his own LA billboard to deface his image. “I hire folks to do that for me now,” he joked, but that’s the tip of the iceberg in an evening peppered with self deprecation.

The new 2-Disc CD, he reported, is nothing more than some pleasantly sequenced outtakes from the Darkness sessions sans the stuff that was already out on Tracks or made its way onto The River. He worked on it casually in the first part of the summer. He seemed happy it turned out good, but he wasn’t even going to imply it was great or important. Bruce’s sarcastic repetition of the phrase, “I’m a helluva guy,” eventually led Dave to say, “You’re beginning to make me worry that you are one of my friends who doesn’t like yourself as much as I like you.”

Of course, as big an ego as Bruce has to have, he’s also an important artist because he can’t quite like himself as much as any fan would, even someone who knows him warts and all like Dave Marsh. For me, the ultimate poignancy of the new material on The Promise is that, as joyous as the music often sounds, it’s consistently about the hardest sort of loneliness, desperate-but-almost-empty relationships, and the pain of living with dreams that indeed do tear you apart.

It is in this context (which I’d love to write about some other time), following the heartbreaking desolation of people taking chances and failing on “Breakaway,” that the song “The Promise” has finally taken on the depth and breadth it hinted at when I heard an unintelligible bootleg back in high school. It’s about how it’s getting “harder each day to live with these dreams I’m believin’ in.” It’s also about that point of betrayal when you “keep on living” with something stolen “from deep down in your soul.” To my ears, right now, it has a special resonance as the sound of my own secret scars and fears and as the sound of an America that doesn’t know what to believe anymore.

So, since we’re all in this shit together, it seemed all that much more appropriate Monday night that Bruce, clinging to a guitar for comfort, was sitting toe-to-toe with his fans and trying as best he could to answer their questions, not as the oracle but as a participant in a new kind of process. When he was not cutting himself down for tactical reasons, his honesty was welcome and often very helpful.

He called the much romanticized 1978 piano introduction to “Prove It All Night” “a device” that worked in a certain place at a certain time, allowing him to play some guitar at a certain point in the show, and he assured fans it wasn’t coming back. He said that he could not have done the things he did if he had not met someone with the wide angle vision and tolerance for insanity Jon Landau offered. He talked about his relationship with Steve Van Zandt in similar terms. Though he made it clear he never set out to make a lot of friends (note to a few thousand people listening in), he admitted that he has been very lucky to find a handful of collaborators he could trust. And once he trusted them, they were pretty much in for life. The cautious man’s strength acknowledged as several parts community, if a somewhat closed community.

He says many interesting things in the interview, and, for fans, it is certainly worth catching on a Sirius Channel 10 repeat broadcast, but it’s the way he said them that most interested me. There was a lot of humor, at times tinged with hostility—like a man trying not to put his guard up though his involuntary reactions want to go defensive. He said things like, “I often find the uproar of my fans amusing” and “you have to remember those first three albums were about getting out of New Jersey….I tried to move to California, where it was nice!”

When asked why “The Way” is a hidden track, he said it was because he never liked it, but the fans (and then engineer/now Interscope mogul Jimmy Iovine, apparently) wanted it. So, “there it is,” he said, repeating “there it is.” He explained the bizarrely possessive love song had always been “too red blooded” for him to be comfortable with it, and proposed the soundtrack of a perverse sex scene in a David Lynch movie would be “its righteous home.”

Talking about the album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, itself, he was more than happy to point out its strategic and tactical design. “I didn’t want to be perceived as a revivalist,” so anything that showed its influences was not long considered for the final album (this is apparent when the final cut is compared with the 21 genre-hopping outtakes that make up The Promise). “We needed to carve out a space that was our own,” he explained, and “it was what I wanted to say at that time.” He would never have to define himself so absolutely again.

That said, he admitted that the specifics of the record were indeed a reaction to a lot of things going on at that time—the punk explosion, the death of Elvis, reading Lester Bangs’ statement on the end of cultural common ground represented by Elvis’s death, and the fact that Bruce was getting sued by his formerly good friend and first manager, Mike Appel. This fan is probably not alone in feeling the two sides of Darkness may as well have come down from Mt. Sinai, but Bruce wanted us to understand a lot of specific conditions put that gun in his hand.

This even led him to a more general statement about every compelling musician (and he mentioned a number of people, but James Brown is the one who sticks with me)—they have something nagging at them, and their primary struggle is with themselves to deal with that issue before the concept of the audience enters the picture. The audience plays a role, but it’s after most of that work is done. This is why he believes the recent Paramount performance of the album, without any audience at all, worked so well—he was able to simply focus on his relationship to that music, and that’s a relationship that’s plenty intense.

So, what’s the value of Bruce Springsteen sitting down with fans instead of journalists? Have I suggested how it gets at something truly difficult? Have I said enough to show how it faces the limits of celebrity in its attempt to address universal human experience?

I dunno. I think it showed there’s more give in those limits than we might think. When Bruce pushed back, fans gave him space, and no doubt saw him some percentage more human than they saw him before. It’s tough when you live in a culture where your value as a commodity lies in all that makes you rarified. But the Springsteen vision has always tried to push beyond that to “all the redemption I can offer…beneath this dirty hood.” On Monday, November 15th, fans crowded around with the hood up and took a look at the works.

For Bruce, I hope it brought some relief. The kids (hardly kids anymore with about two exceptions) were all right, and they seemed more than happy to accept him just as he was. He played guitar more as the night went on, which may well have been a sign of increased nervousness, or stress, but it came off as an effective form of relaxation.

He played a little of “Come On Let’s Go” while explaining the effect of Elvis’s death on the recording, and when Dave mentioned a caller said Elvis’s ghost hung over the whole record, he slipped into the riff from “Mystery Train.” Most surprising was the outro instrumental he played while Marsh searched for the words to bring things to a close. Seizing on a caller’s earlier comment about the “highbrow” questioning on the show, Bruce said, “We were a little highbrow. How come no one asked me what color underwear I have on?”

Dave answered, “What color underwear do you have on?”

Bruce kept playing the outro but offered no response.

“See,” Dave said, “You don’t like it when I ask that.”

And the sprightly outro played on. At that moment, they sound like a weekly comedy routine, Misters Marsh and Springsteen, Fric and Frac, and it doesn’t sound like an altogether bad idea. Bruce would go on to appear more comfortable than I’ve ever seen him outside of a concert on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the next day. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but it felt like the cautious man had led down his guard and found support he didn’t know was there.

More than likely, I’m projecting more than I should. Three years ago, I had a heart attack and found myself faced with the choice of finishing my semester teaching or giving up my classes. Now, I’m possessive enough of my classes that I probably went against my own best interests and returned to the classroom in a couple of weeks, but I’m glad I did. I was not strong, and I was hopelessly behind, but my students didn’t care.

They were happy to see me back and patient as hell. Some of them even shared stories of losses in their lives and took on the roles of my caretakers in one way or another. I’ll never forget them, particularly a young artist and mother who brought me a painting as a gift at the end of the semester. Few ironies in my life will match her loss to a brain aneurysm a year later.

Since that time, I’ve learned my guard can be my greatest enemy in dealing with my students, and honesty about my own vulnerability can allow students to meet me more than halfway in an effort to achieve our semester goals. Of course, I’ve known this intellectually for a while. Though he calls it his "Samarai record," that need that ties us together is there in almost every tortured but defiant verse of Darkness on the Edge of Town. But just what such lessons mean in everyday life has to be learned time and again.

More than once, and more often than not, I got a glimpse of Bruce Springsteen as a part of a community of learners along with his fans last Monday night. As I know from the classroom, he was in the position to learn the most. I want to believe he didn’t miss the chance.

(P.S. Thanks to Backstreets and other Bruce blogs where I saw the in-studio picture posted. I have no idea who took it, or I would certainly give credit.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Oh, How She Comes Alive!

I went to see Janelle Monae's opener for Of Montreal last night at Lawrence's Liberty Hall. I went with my brother and nephew, wondering if I'd talked them into it, and if I had, worrying and not certain at all that the show would be half as good as I imagined it could be.

I was a little worried about the almost all white crowd, clearly there to see Of Montreal, a phenomenon I knew nothing about except for the stuff they've done with Monae and Big Boi. Since this was as close to a homecoming as she's had this tour, Monae had her KCK family there, in a reserved area of the balcony, which made for an unfortunate racial dynamic. I mean, for the longest time I saw only one Black girl on a packed floor of people who looked like they were trying out for Cirque de Soleil.

Anyway, all anxieties lessened within moments of the set's start time. After some surprisingly effective theatrics--Her ArchAndroid Wizard of Oz head, hanging over the stage, explaining she'd sent her emissary Janelle Monae to essentially free our asses so our minds would follow--Janelle and her two women back up dancers threw off their hoods and took command...well, along with that terrific three piece band of hers.

I didn't keep a set list or anything, but she ran through that opening three-song suite on the new album, hitting harder and harder, and then she did Nat King Cole's "Smile" alone with her guitarist. Her performance of "Sincerely, Jane," from the first record was a real showstopper, with this casual bit of theatrics where she used a finger gun to shoot down these zombie-like figures (probably members of Of Montreal) lurking around the stage--pertinent lyric, "Are we really living or just walking dead now?"

The house was packed, people were dancing everywhere, the show was already what most shows would call a fever pitch.

After a few more uptempo things--the inevitable duet with the Of Montreal guy (which is okay, I think, on the album, but definitely the low point of the set) and "Wondaland," which was a kind of psychedelic explosion of energy, she slowed things down again for the Axis: Bold As Love-ish "Mushroom and Roses." During that song, she donned her cloak and painted a picture, suggesting a female backside, while guitarist Kellindo Parker did his best Hendrix impression--it was like they were both painting colors on twin canvasses. After the last verse, she capped the painting with some bright yellow Xs and wrote "I Love You" and posted the work at the side of the stage.

The Stevie Wonder-ish free form songs off the new album, like "Oh Maker," were particularly wonderful. Her voice was so strong throughout the evening--fluid and natural, swooping and diving and emphasizing the lyrics just as needed to focus the crowd.

When she hit "Cold War," my only regret was that I knew the set was drawing to a close. Shots of Ali boxing flashed across screens behind her...then, of course, she started throwing punches of her own after Kellindo took the "Kellindo!" solo. "Tightrope" was every bit as big a finish as expected.

The crowd called long and hard for an encore, and she and her crew came out to do "Come Alive," the punkiest song of the evening, and the one that makes me think of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. It was particularly aggressive and effective live. In a bit of smart planned spontaneity, dancers and other extras--there were quite a few, whether from Of Montreal or her own entourage--moved into the front of the crowd, so it was pretty evident she would stage dive or something.

At one point, she fell to the floor on stage in a sort of charismatic fit, before getting up and descending into the pit. I could see her head bobbing as she danced at the center of a tight circle of folks maybe fifteen feet away, but she was pretty much invisible (probably not from the balcony). Then she returned to the stage, picked her mic stand up like John Henry (or Jimi Hendrix, or Pete Townshend) and slammed it to the floor. One final conductor jump, with the group, and it all came to a decisive end with "Purple Haze" blasting over the house speakers.

My friend Ben Bielski and his daughter, who is a fan, showed up just before it started, and we were all pretty giddy after the set. Ben said something like "that's the kind of thing that comes along once a decade," and I found myself wondering if I've ever seen "that kind of thing"....

All I know is I can't wait to see more.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nana and the Monsters

I watched TCM's 2006 print of The Hunchback of Notre Dame tonight, 1923, Lon Chaney. What a movie it is. I never realized that until tonight. Tonight was comparable to the 4th or 5th time I saw Vertigo, a movie I'd thought was ponderous and dated until it grabbed me by the throat and held me against the back of the couch.

For all sorts of reasons, we don't see things right away, and most things we never see. The night Vertigo became my favorite Hitchcock movie (next to Secret Agent, which no one else seems to love), it was the only movie I wanted to watch for several months. I'm convinced I have Broken Embraces on my DVR simply because I suspect it might take me to a place as singular as Vertigo, because those are the comparisons people make. Unfortunately, I may not get to Broken Embraces for a while. I want to stick with Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Of course, as Robert Osbourne tells me, this movie was not just Chaney's, Irving Thalberg (at 23) pushed for its production, the very-familiar-to-any-Universal-Fan Carl Laemmle produces it, Wallace Worsley directs it, and the later, greater William Wyler served as one of 6 assistant directors.

It's one helluva movie. First, there are those incredible sets (16 acres, according to Osbourne), which served as the backdrop for many a Universal horror movie, this being the first where villagers (in this case Gypsy Parisians) run through the streets with torches. It is about as grim as movies get, but it also features wonderful comedy bits, most notably the scene where Phoebus won't let a starving Gregoire eat because Phoebus is too busy enthusing over Esmerelda (if this is not the model--forget Bride of Frankenstein as funny as that is--for Mel Brook's blind man scene in Young Frankenstein, I'll buy a hat and eat it). There's also the mirroring of tightly linked but disparate images. Phoebus slips Esmerelda's dress off her shoulder when he initially pushes to seduce her and then slips it back up when he is shamed out of his predation, later echoed by Esmerelda slipping Quasimodo's shirt up over his shoulders, showing him the only kindness after his public whipping. And it's a movie about complex, tragic social conflict which culiminates in Quasimodo pouring molten lead on Esmerelda's loved ones who are really only trying to do the same thing he is, save her life.

But what I think about, more than anything else, when I watch this movie, is my Grandma McKinnon...Nana, the one who first told me about it, the one who inadvertantly ignited my fascination with Lon Chaney, in particular, and with horror, in general.

I write about Nana a lot. She works her way into fictional stories I write, and if anyone goes to the trouble of checking these archives back to (hmm...) 2006 when I wrote my 13 days of Halloween blogs, she's prominent there as well. Nana was the storyteller of my childhood. I heard some other stories from other members of my family, but Nana was the person I turned to for The Stories. Nana is the one I think of when I try to figure out why I'm compelled to tell stories....

And the funny thing about that? No adult who knew Nana. I doubt my own mother, her daughter, would have perceived her as a storyteller. Mary A. McKinnon was a quiet, dignified woman who worked as a secretary for Cities Service Company...first in Shreveport, Louisiana (I believe), then in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, then in Tulsa. Her husband died of a heart attack in 1944. He was the gregarious one, the musician and the entertainer of entertainers (I mean, quite literally, he brought circus folk home to dinner). And she was the woman who put up with him, and loved him, and made sure that I loved him though I never had the chance to meet him.

But, alone with her grandsons, myself and James McGraw (holla), Nana McKinnon was many things. She was a superb sharp chedder cheese on toast broiler, she made the best scrambled eggs I ever had, and she was the only person you really wanted to be with when that ball dropped on New Year's Eve.

She was also our storyteller. I often say that she told me World War II stories, tornado stories and ghost stories as if they were all equally true, they were all part of the tapestry of our family. When Gabriel Garcia Marquez says that he tries to write stories that pay homage to the stories his grandmother told, I recognize magic realism in the world my no-nonsense grandmother handed me.

But sometimes I forget the simpler things. The stories about movies, the stories about being a child. And that's what a whole series of things have brought back to me this week, and what The Hunchback of Notre Dame really brought home....

Nana was born in 1909, which would have made her 14 years old when she saw The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and she would have been in her late teens when she saw The Phantom of the Opera. She would tell me about that moment in Phantom when the mask was pulled off of Lon Chaney's face, and she would make sure I understood the wonder of The Man of a Thousand Faces. But when she talked about Lon Chaney's Quasimodo, she went somewhere particular. It was a theme that ran through the way she would talk about other movies, even Phantom, but particularly things like Frankenstein. She made it clear to me that these monsters were not creatures to be frightened of but characters to be pitied because of the way society turned against them. Early on, and I'll give Nana McKinnon credit for this, I recognized the monster as someone or something that is not understood and is, wrongly, hated by society.

She had clear personal reasons for understanding this. As much as she was always the champion of my brother and I, always seeing us as the innocents who meant well no matter what we did, she tended not to romanticize childhood. She couldn't. Her brother, Louis, had been treated for a childhood speech impediment by a method that involved cutting away part of his tongue. Ironically, but not surprisingly, this barbaric treatment left him unable to speak clearly for the rest of his life. She had vivid memories of protecting her brother against bullies. In this week of media talk about bullying, I hear her time and again. She would cluck her tongue and say, "children can be so cruel," and I knew she was using that phrase to ride out a flood of terrible memories.

Nana understood the complexities of childhood, and one of those contradictions included her understanding why Louis spent much of his time teasing his sister and protector. One time he threatened to throw a can of worms on her, and according to her, he slipped and did it. She was horrified....but (and this is the important part) she only felt sympathy for him. She'd laugh and say, "He felt so terrible for doing that."

What I recognized tonight, watching Lon Chaney and thinking of Nana, is the reason why I am fundamentally turned off by our society's desire to shelter childhood from the realities of this world. Yes, we all want to protect our children from danger, and we want them to feel safe. We want them to feel carefree, and we want them to have space to dream big dreams. My grandmother gave me all of that, but she didn't pretend the world was pretty or safe. Most of all, she didn't try to hand me any idealized concept of childhood. She knew it was tough..... And, on some level, she knew I needed to empathize with the monster so, in the present or the future, I wouldn't feel so alone.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

For a Mother:

On this mother's day, I can't think about much more than a mother and son (and family) I don’t know how to help. I thought I did, for a while. But now we’ve all been put in a position where we’ve been asked to wait and see, even though time itself is the enemy.

Her name is Karina. Her son, Eduardo Loredo, was 14 years old when I met him. Within 5 months, this athletic kid began to feel ill, was hospitalized and diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. He spent 3 months in the hospital learning that this disease was steadily going to enlarge his heart until it would no longer function. He was told he could get a heart transplant through another facility just 200 miles away.

Then, the story changed. He was no longer eligible for the heart transplant. Though doctors and hospital representatives hinted around about his weakened condition playing a role, the only thing he and his mother, Karina, were told for certain was that he would need $500,000 for a heart transplant. And, initially, they were told that he needed $100,000 to even be put on a waiting list.

Karina and Eduardo have no medical insurance, and he is ineligible for Medicaid in my state because he is undocumented. His father lives in Mexico, and after her split with him, Karina, Eduardo and his little sister moved here to live with Karina's sister. Eduardo's little sister is a U.S. citizen, and the family is caught between countries, neither country willing to put him on a heart transplant waiting list. So, his friends, including college students I work with, started to raise money and awareness, working with national health care and poor people’s right’s organizations. This was just before the holiday season, and we had some hope that a Santa Claus might appear if we made enough noise. We put out a call to people in the medical profession, politicians and organizations both nationally and internationally.

Our collective effort led to about $8,000, but it also led to a circling of the wagons by the very hospital that was keeping him alive. Folks there pulled me aside and told me we needed to stop “all of this media” before something bad happened. They said they were worried about him being deported. The hospital, the Mexican Consulate and other social service organizations began to urge Karina to take her son back to Mexico, although there was no commitment from Mexico that he would be put on a transplant waiting list. On the other hand, there was a letter from a local representative that urged him, for his health, not to leave the country.

Since Karina only speaks Spanish, she has often been isolated throughout this ordeal. The doctors and her other professional advisors only spoke to her through their translators. And although many of us have volunteered to help the family through consultations, only family members who speak very little English have been allowed to attend any of these meetings.

After the holidays, the hospital proposed to give Eduardo a procedure, cautioning Karina that the anesthetic necessary may kill him. Then they rescinded the offer.

That's when the stories Karina was hearing began to change. A hospital in Monterey, Mexico, where the Consulate wanted to send him, said Eduardo didn’t need a heart transplant. Soon, the hospital that originally said they would do the transplant declared that the boy may get better without a transplant. Now, the hospital that is taking care of him is saying the same thing. Karina, and everyone else who cared about the case, was terrified he was being sent home, yet again, to die.

One of the best pediatric heart hospitals in the Western Hemisphere has been reviewing the case, but they have not ruled on it yet, and if he goes outside the country to get a transplant, he may not be able to return. The family could be torn apart, or the sister would have to leave her home in the U.S. to be with her mother and brother. Of course, they would all go in a second if there was a clear chance, but these are just some of the prices they’d pay.

We have all now been given many reasons to keep quiet, including warnings that raising the case publicly was scaring doctors and hospitals away, yet we feel the serious danger in the silence. There could be something to the fact that he no longer needs a heart transplant, and we sure don’t want him to get one if he doesn’t need it. We also don’t want to risk his life based on the ever-changing judgments of people we’ve learned not to trust.

He is stronger than before. While he was pale as a ghost, he now has color, and while he was depressed and prone to tears, he laughs more and more these days. He had been written off when we met him, and today he seems like a young man with hope. It’s hard not to think a healthy psyche could give him a chance he wasn’t getting when he was originally sent home with, at most, three years to live.

This case raises so many questions about the justice of our health care system:

Why are life-saving procedures priced so high that working families can’t afford them?

Is the heart of a teenager not born in this country less important than an “American” heart?

What is a family that doesn’t speak very much English supposed to do to advocate for itself in this country?

What do we do when all of the usual social aid professionals that serve a Spanish-speaking community come to some friendly agreement that a case is simply a loss?

Is a second opinion, a truly independent second opinion, only for the rich in this country?

In other words, is something that should be a right in a just health care system only a luxury for a select few?

And what do you do when you are warned by social workers, as Karina was, that “you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you”?

(Of course, what that social worker didn’t say was this hand is also a hand that’s likely to kill your son. For now, it’s holding Eduardo dangling by a thread and threatening to lose its grip if Karina doesn’t play by its rules.)

What kind of a system pledges to fight injustice and, when faced with it, only multiplies the wrongs?

What kind of a system addresses a life-and-death emergency with smoke and mirrors, apathy and cynicism?

For now, we plan a new press release to ask for help finding a truly independent second opinion on Eduardo's condition. Representatives from our little ad hoc group plan on attending the National Council for La Raza conference and the U.S. Social Forum in June to testify on Eduardo's behalf about these issues and to network with others to address them.

Where I have found hope is with students like Will Suarez, Maribel Padilla and their organization LUNA, who were among the first to raise awareness about these issues. I have also found hope in friends such as Monique Maes, a poet and artist, who has worked tirelessly to network with others in the community and keep the attention on Eduardo's case, running down every lead and every source of revenue imaginable.

I have also found boundless hope in Eduardo's bravery and that of his mother, Karina. All of us who have been brought together by this family admire and love this woman who has done everything she knows how to do to help her son. On this mother's day and every mother's day to come, we dedicate ourselves to doing everything we can to address the questions above. And I certainly look forward to a long future working with Eduardo and Karina to find some answers.

My thanks for Miguel Morales for taking the above picture of Monique, Karina and Eduardo, and for all he does with LUNA, the Latino Writer's Collective and on and on.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Something So Strong

The Uncut Vision of Nicolette Paige

Nicolette Paige is the kind of artist who makes you want to hold your breath. You know something’s going to happen with her, beyond the given that she’s going to write another song, and it’s going to be even better than the last. Despite an impossible economy with a record industry that ignores all rules of logic or integrity, you feel like you can lay money on Paige’s chances at some form of commercial success. She has all the most bankable qualities—she’s young and beautiful, with a full-throated, soulful voice and surprising songwriting chops.

But those bankable qualities are precisely the reason I, for one, hold that breath. They’re qualities ripe for exploitation. She’s a near complete package in danger of being sold as one thing or another that she’s not, and for being bound to far less than her promise. The more attention she gets, the more Nicolette Paige is going to have to fight to be Nicolette Paige.

What I mean by that is hard to precisely define. She’s essentially a singer-songwriter with a fresh style and vision. Musically, part of that freshness is the way she builds her melodies over a strong bottom, often a reggae rhythm. She does love reggae and often jams with local reggae bands, and her new band, the Iries, has a decided penchant for reggae. Yet, she’s not a stylist, and certainly not a genre artist. Her roots are varied and as clearly American as they are Jamaican. As she boldly declares in an onstage rap, she’s a “4 foot, 11 inch, Irish Latina,” and her music can sound like it comes off a front porch in the Delta (though a 21st century front porch, more weary with age and mindful of the ghosts in the wind), and it can sound like it’s catching the call of both a boombox and a tenement saxophone on a city sidewalk. Dreadlocked and playing lefthand guitar upside down and backwards like Jimi, Nicolette Paige is her own synthesis, and that’s what I’m afraid today’s industry is least likely to respect.

(Not that I have any illusions about the industry of yesterday. It’s just that, while Dionne Warwick could once make a hit out of “Don’t Make Me Over,” makeovers are all the rage today. Thank you Simon Cowell and company!)

While I think her band is remarkable, it seems to me that it’s still finding its direction, its way of expressing Paige’s vision. I look forward to that coming explosion of light and color. However, last night, I was lucky enough to hear Paige where her voice still has the most power—alone with her acoustic guitar.

My brother and I caught her set at Howell’s Bar and Grill in Gladstone, and after two previous nights of shows, including a high profile midtown show with the band, this show was under-promoted, so there weren’t many of us there. What made that more than okay, at least for us fortunate enough to be there, was that it allowed for a relaxed Storytellers kind of setting. The stories behind her songs were always compelling, sometimes harrowing and sometimes slight, but they tended to point up what makes Paige’s talent important—her ability to build out of whatever comes her way.

Her set moved in a series of contradictions, contemplating a situation with one song and then flipping the script for the next. “Catherine,” the song that started the set, pleaded with a girl friend to take a good look at an abusive relationship, while “Sometimes Love” followed with a beautiful soul refrain, contemplating the singer in her own romantic quandary.

These songs were followed by a trio of bluesy relationship songs—contemplating a needy relationship, “Mr. Unfortunate”; alternating between bargaining and acceptance in the contemplation of a suicide, “Daniel’s Notebook”; and going uptempo with the death and resurrection of “The Other Side.”

That first set ended with a couple of quasi-psychedelic numbers, “Vanishing Cars” and “Illusional,” which again dealt with contradictions by first reveling in the beauty and then questioning the meaning of transcendental experience. Paige’s second set would remain in this territory, starting with “Back in 1969.” This song, flavored by a Hendrixy chord progression, appeals enough to get away with its simple muse on a little glimpse of eternity shared with friends, but it doesn’t stop there. It ends by tying together a haunting awareness of Vietnam and Iraq. And that underscores what’s so grounded about Paige’s most psychedelic moments. As with her reggae, she uses these elements in such an intimate, clear-eyed way that they avoid settling for the exotic.

Although “Hinun,” the first song I heard her sing, is second to none, I did mean it that each new song she writes is generally better than the last, and her debut of a half written song, “Killers,” drove the point home last night. About what so much great music is about, putting one’s self in another’s shoes, Paige pulled in close to the perspectives of her friends tied up in gangs and others being called murderers as they enter the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City, Kansas. Though the story behind the song involved her frustration with her friends caught up in turf battles, the song made it clear that she empathized with the complexity of their choices. That’s songwriting as what it wants to be, discovery, and every song Paige played last night felt like just such an unearthed oracle.

An artist only digs up such gems by constantly challenging her preconceptions and being true to her intuition. Last night, with a beautiful ditty of a song, “Fish Like Me,” Paige talked about how small she felt in the world of music, but even that unassuming quality is core to what makes Paige’s art so special. In a world where people are blown up into celebrity based upon cartoonish and often outlandish qualities, Paige works on a smaller scale in three dimensions with lush but rough textures. With her vision, small could be the new big, and I’d never underestimate the heights she could reach, but she needs to be nurtured with respect for her eye and ear and intellect. And I trust she will be. Little fish she may be, but these songs say tougher than the rest.

Note: If you plan to be at Austin's SXSW this weekend, Nicolette Paige plays two sets on Saturday, March 20th, a 1:00 showcase with hosts Go Girls Music at Austin Java, 12th and Lamar and a 4:00 showcase at the Agave Bar 415 East 6th.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Across the Borders

The singing over the opening bass and synth carried a quaver that sounded a little like American Indian song, but this was clearly hip hop even before Arabic rhymes started cascading one after another. And all of that musical color served as a perfect complement to the slide show Sara Jawhari showed of her trip to the Gaza strip. Yes, these pictures featured a few shots of forbidding walls and wire and rubble, but the spirit of the music emphasize the dominant images, one beautiful child’s smile shining after another.

“I was getting mad during the presentation,” one of the students told me after the talk, “but when I saw those kids’ faces, I felt hope.”

And, on February 22nd, that balance of heat and hope lay at the heart of a very important evening at my school, “Viva Palestina: Report Back from Gaza,” hosted by Jawhari and the Johnson County Community College Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The Office asked me to introduce Sara Jo (as Jawhari is perhaps best known around school), and it was, indeed, an honor. Since I’ve been working with the diversity initiative, which takes me out of the classroom and into much more of the day-to-day life of the students around campus, I’ve been incalculably impressed by so many students, but it’s hard to think of many who work as hard to change our campus as Jawhari.

As I said that night, Sara is one of our school’s great unifiers, and Sara is one of our school’s great builders. She has worked as a student ambassador to represent our school to the community, she has worked tirelessly with human rights groups, she’s helped to network and mobilize students from throughout the city, and last year she played a key role in our first Multicultural Night Celebration….

For these reasons and more, many of us were excited when we learned Sara was going to be traveling to the Gaza Strip over our winter break. We were excited because we knew what Sara would do with such a trip. She would use such an experience to raise awareness, and she would use that experience to build and unify others around a compassionate vision.

Palestinian herself, Jawhari plans to double major in journalism and anthropology, and her dream is to travel the world documenting the struggle for human rights. During the Report from Gaza, she showed just how well suited she is for such a task.

Jawhari told the story of the delegation she traveled with to bring desperately needed medical supplies to the Gaza strip. Of six speakers, her presentation was perhaps the longest, but important. She dealt with the many difficulties the delegation faced trying to move through Egypt, finding itself in a police-instigated riot and interminably detained more than once. [For a longer version of that story, see]
But it was also riveting because, as she said and made us feel, “all of my senses were heightened” in the short time she was actually able to be in Gaza.

She told a story of trying to sleep in a hospital on her first night in Gaza and hearing a birth in a nearby room. She tried to explain the magic of “witnessing a baby being born, though not with my eyes.” Knowing the power of hearing a child’s first cry, I found myself thinking that is, indeed, witnessing the event, and it added a beauty that lay at the heart of the night’s presentation, the unending struggle for life in the face of destruction.

And then she told the stories of her encounters with the generous people of Gaza, particularly the children, including an 11-year-old, she described as speaking as if she were 60, and a girl in a pink jumpsuit she would run into twice, whose family would almost coincidentally host her and whose picture, thankfully, would find its way into the later slide show.

She talked about the significance of the ruins in the strip, homes that served generations of a single family and that were completely lost to Israel’s bombs a year ago in December. She talked about the hundreds of stories she heard and how they deepened her perspective, recognizing how many of the efforts to isolate terrorism were horrifically keeping everything including food and clothing out of the hands of the people of Reza, people who were so generous with her and her delegation.

After Jawhari, spoke Mohamed Al-Housiny, a working architect currently pursuing an MBA at KU. Having grown up during the first intifada in Gaza, this experience was not as fresh and raw for Al-Housiny, but his testimony was every bit as passionate and moving. Though he was the first of the speakers interrupted by a frustrated group of Israelis in the audience, he emphasized precisely the key point, that none of us are guiltless when it comes to the kind of oppression that is taking place in the Gaza strip. Knowing his taxes contributed to the status quo, he plaintively and unforgettably declared, “I have blood on MY hands that I can’t wash off.”

His eloquent talk was followed by a passionate testimonial by Omar Bayazid, a Syrian-born business student who moved to the United States when he was 8. After apologizing that he wouldn’t be as eloquent as Al-Housiny, Bayazid also made an unforgettable impression, testifying, “I realized I came to be saved by the people of Gaza—by their manners, by the way they carry themselves.” He told of a farmer who had lost virtually everything, including two children, who maintained his faith saying, “I thank God for every day.”

As powerful as those three talks were, the next three speakers added an entirely new dimension to the evening. They were Melissa Franklin, Marei Spaola and Jodi Voice, three students from Haskell Indian Nations University representing the Comanche, Lakota, Muskogee, Creek and Cherokee Nations. They, too, had been to Palestine with an indigenous youth delegation that brought them together with the Palestinian Education Project (PEP), the Seventh Native American Generation (SNAG), the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance (MECA) and the Xicana power group, HUAXTEC. Out of these experiences, they formed a group called the 7th Generation Indigenous Visionaries (7thGIV). Many parallels between the experiences of indigenous Americans and Palestinians resonated for them, including the history of genocide, relocation and elaborate systems of control.

Franklin spoke first, and she talked about the parallels between the Palestinian border wall and the walls that have traditionally segregated indigenous Americans, most notably the U.S./Mexico border wall. Franklin also pointed out how Haskell itself was established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a way to isolate and eliminate the American Indian as a people. She told of the roots of the indigenous youth delegation to Palestine, which was not desired by the campus and had to begin with meetings in her living room.

Spaola spoke next, talking of the way the Palestinians he met on his trip surprised him with their interest in his background. “Tell us your stories,” they said. “We thought Native Americans were extinct.” Even so, he talked of how knowledgeable even the youngest people he met were regarding world events. And perhaps the most telling part of his story involved a moment when he was filming the Palestinians he was with and someone in an unfriendly crowd hit him with a rock. A young Palestinian told him, “Marei, come on. This happens all the time. Just keep going.” The young man’s acceptance of such hostility rattled Spaola and made him think about how we in the U.S. are generally buffered from such open conflict.

Finally, Jodi Voice closed out the evening by talking about the cultural exchange between her delegation and the Palestinians they met. She talked about how they wanted to come to visit our reservations, and her fond memories of how they all shared music and stories and laughter. “They have a beautiful culture and they are a beautiful people,” Voice said, and she added, “They helped us to heal.”

Voice also did a beautiful job summing up one of the most important aspects of culture. She said, “Everything we do—the songs we sing, the connections we make, the stories we share. This is our resistance.”

After that, she played that song, the Palestinian statement of solidarity with the American Indian, “Resistdance,” by the Refugees of Palestine. As I mentioned at the beginning of this report, that song served to underscore the promise in the children’s faces in the slideshow that closed the evening’s formal events, and that moment gave a sense of hope to the student I talked to after the event.

For me, that spirit of hope as resistance was what the night was about. There was hope even in the fact that the group of Israelis that had a grievance with the presentation stayed long after to talk with the presenters, but that’s not to say they left happy. And that’s too bad, because I don’t think anyone in that room saw the Israeli people as the source of the conflict. It’s just so hard for everyone to get around all of the pain and resentment.

As an American who knows that the restructuring of the world after two World Wars has led to a series of oppressions for which I am certainly (albeit passively) responsible, I wondered how we could get past this concern of the Israelis that they were being blamed for all of the troubles between their government and the 1.5 million Palestinians living on a tiny piece of land 25 miles long and less than 7 miles wide. I think all of the speakers pointed toward the answer—at two poles perhaps Al-Housiny’s emphasis on our mutual responsibility and Voice’s emphasis on cultural exchange as a form of resistance.

What the Report from Gaza said to this participant was that none of us are innocent, but the conflict was also not really between any of us in that room. As with so many issues facing our world today, people are being pitted against each other when it is actually a power structure that is reinforcing the conflict. As long as governments, whomever they represent, are not genuinely after the best interests of the people—the majorities and the minorities—then the political status quo will attempt to blame all of the victims and pit them against one another. It is only when we begin to talk about whose walls divide us and whose interests they serve and, indeed, the cost of the blood on our own hands, that we can begin to get to a strategy by the people, for the people and of the people. I saw and heard such a vision in the Report Back from Gaza, and as with so many times before, I’m thankful for this latest lesson from a group of students to those of us called teachers.

Note: "Resistdance" is one cut off of a wonderful compilation of indigenous peoples' music contained in Snag Magazine, available at

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Can You Hear Me?
For Dave, on his big Six O!
From the moment Dave Marsh countered the Rolling Stone review of Gary U.S. Bonds On the Line with something of his own from Musician or Record, I knew what I’d only suspected before. When he validated my impressions and even went so far as to isolate Steve Van Zandt’s guitar solo on “The Last Time” and try to explain why that four note progression was changing my life, he told me I could trust myself. While the rest of the critics always seemed to send me the same messages—“you may like it, but it’s not as good as the last one”; “what you like about it is what you should hate about it” and “you should have been around when this shit was really rockin’,” Dave said something else. “You’re here now, and that’s what matters.”

Of course, Dave was records editor at Rolling Stone, and he’d been building up to this message for some time, but that’s the moment I remember it taking. And, though I often give Bruce Springsteen credit for this, it was really part of a scheme that involved the two of them and several other insurgents—they all told me my time mattered, and my voice needed to be heard. I hadn’t lost something by not being a teenager in the ‘60s. In fact, thinking that way was the only real danger. I needed to not miss the value of my own time—a time when hip hop and punk (read everything from New Wave to ska) led a conscious insurgency against the remote superstardom of the late 70s. Soon, I got to watch pop’s former outsiders—Prince and Springsteen most glaringly—and those people dismissed as only pop—Madonna and Tina Turner come to mind—all take the center as the topics of a national debate about what’s pop and what’s not and what matters and what doesn’t like we’ve never seen before. Then there were a string of benefit records—probably starting way back with No Nukes, but really exploding with Band-Aid—which began to actively change music’s relationship to politics.

It would be the great “Sun City” record by Artists United Against Apartheid which would start me writing professionally about music, and it would be Dave Marsh’s Rock & Rap Confidential that would publish what I had to say. I was writing to draw a connection between the cultural apartheid on my local radio and the politics of the record, which barely got played on our college station. Meanwhile, we had racist traditions at our college, including something called Plantation Night, which celebrated fraternity minstrelsy as a sacred tradition at our school. Because of “Sun City,” I became involved with the protests against “Plantation Night.” Because of Dave Marsh, I wrote about it.

Dave had just visited Oklahoma State University a couple of months before this spring event. He taught me a lot during his stay. We talked about the politics of the deconstructionism I was currently involved in with my graduate work, and I would consider his critique in the last major paper I wrote that semester, which I sent to him. After that, he put me in touch with his associate editor Lee Ballinger, and I’ve spent the next quarter of a century writing for their newsletter.

But I learned more during that visit. He gave me a sheet of paper with his home phone number and address, which also had two names on it, Spiver Gordon and Leonard Peltier. Spiver Gordon was accused of vote fraud in an election in Greene County Alabama at that time, and Leonard Peltier, of course, was accused of killing two FBI Agents during a raid on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

I was a member of Amnesty International, and Dave was encouraging me to look more deeply into these domestic cases. I did, eventually, wind up working with the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, and I’ve stayed mindful of the way college activist organizations may be geared to involve students without encouraging them to look at the bigger picture. In AI’s case, they didn’t want international activists getting in trouble in their home countries. And, while that may be helpful in some politically unstable environments, that element of caution meant the powers that be in the U.S. stayed remarkably unthreatened. As a teacher today, I notice the same thing. Many political campaigns that target my students have righteous causes, on the surface, but they ignore the underlying politics of the situation. Because of this, the student organizations rarely target the root of the problem. This is one of the sad ways politics have progressed since the 1960s—better diversionary tactics.

Dave got me thinking about these things—most elementally, that there are not just two sides to a problem but there are many angles to consider. And that would all be well and good (if not clich├ęd) if he didn’t teach me something else at the same time. He taught me that complexity was not excuse not to take action. He handed me the great responsibility of being awake and alive and aware to the urgency and the complex dimensions of every battle ahead. I’ve never regretted the difficulties of that stance.

I would help form the Kansas City Missouri Union of the Homeless, the Greater Kansas City Coalition Against Censorship, the KC Music Alliance, the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, the national Labor Party and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, all as an effort to act, as best I could, despite the complexity of the battlefield ahead of me. I never drank anyone’s Kool Aid; I just committed myself toward what I believed was right every step of the way. Dave convinced me that was possible.

Now, of course, Dave doesn’t get exclusive credit for any of this. He always pointed me outward toward other longterm revolutionaries and musicians and even back toward my roots with my own nuclear family, a mother and father tied to the Civil Rights Movement and an older brother who has always been a guiding light when it came to music. And he found many ways to remind me, essentially through his way of being, to listen to everyone around me, so I always knew the many doors of music open to me—through my wife, my daughter and my friends.

And for Dave’s birthday tribute, as much as anything, I want to focus on that essential quality he has modeled for me, the ability to listen. He may not always be agreeable, but that means he isn’t patronizing me; it certainly means he’s taking me seriously. He’s given me a big ear, as big an ear as he’s helped me find for music. He’s let me know what I heard mattered, and that what he hears from me matters as well. Even without the wisdom I’m lucky he has, that’s more than I could have hoped for from a mentor and all I’d want from a friend. I feel very lucky to count Dave as both, and I never want this conversation to end.

Today, I teach English, trying to listen hard to about a hundred community college students a semester. I also work on a novel and a book of political essays, both of which Dave (perhaps unwittingly) encouraged. I’m also working on campaigns to highlight the privatization of water in the Rust Belt, the upcoming Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign march from New Orleans to Detroit and the fight for a new heart for my friend Eduardo Loredo, a 15-year-old undocumented Mexican living in Kansas City, Kansas, who could have a long life ahead of him if he only had 500,000 dollars (spare change to some in this unjust system).

And, of course, I can trace all of this work back to Dave. 25 years ago, when he was a decade younger than me and I was just a kid, I got to meet my hero—a man who knew to listen, listen well and never stop listening. I’d like to think I do the same much of the time. It’s not easy, but Dave never fooled me into thinking it would be. He just convinced me there’s really no other choice worth making.