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Archive for June, 2010

I know, I know, I know. It’s dark out there. The BP oil spread (not spill) is like an incubus sitting on our souls, reminding us of how dark things are and what we have wrought. Afghanistan. Iraq. Global warming. Corporate greed. And the clock is ticking. What chance do we have to turn this thing around?

And yet….and yet.

Like Dickens wrote “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…a time of great hope, a time of great despair.” When I pay attention, I’m constantly being reminded of the things that are happening that have never happened before. Good things, that show something might change in a way we can barely dream of. Here are three:

Zack Lieberman (son of my friend and fellow storyteller Syd Lieberman) has found a way to use computers to enable disabled folks and others to do things that seem impossible. Zack says he wants to replace DIY (do it yourself) with DIWO (do it with others). Here’s a video of him talking about his work:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

My lifelong pal Dave Kidney told me about a young guy from Vermont (now in Troy, NY), Eben Bayer, who has figured out how to create insulation from leftover plant material (soybeanhusks, peanut shells, whatever) and mushrooms – no Styrofoam, just organic substance created on the site. He’s talking to Ford and other corporations about how to use it in their products. Talk about low impact – here he is talking about that.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Finally , in the New York Review of Books, Nicholas Stern reviews Bill McKibben’s new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet and says that despite the dire situation, significant movement is being made towards humanity’s addressing global warming. The governments are moving, albeit slowly, and innovation, like that I mention above, will make a difference. We are being asked to do something together in a way humanity never has before. And people are trying – finding new ways to collaborate and develop.

So, today, I’m not wallowing in despair. Oh sure, tomorrow I’ll walk around with a cloud over my head. But hope is just as reasonable as despair.

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I’m working on the list of songs for a family folk song album I’ll be recording this summer and am thinking back to the songs I liked to sing when I was in elementary school. One that I loved was a version of “The Titanic” I learned from other kids on the school bus. They learned it at camp.

“Oh they built the ship Titanic
And when they were all through
They thought they had a ship
That the water wouldn’t go through
But the Lord’s almighty hand
Said the ship would never stand
It was sad when the great ship went down

It was sad (so sad)
It was sad (so sad)
It was sad when the great ship went down (to the bottom of the…)
Husbands and wives
Little children lost their lives
It was sad when the great ship went down

And that’s just the start. It’s all downhill from there. There’s drinking (“the captain said, bring the whiskey from the hold!”) and class strife: “the rich refused to associate with the poor, so they put ‘em down below, where they were sure to go”.

I loved this song – very singable (great descant on “husbands and wives” when it goes to the dominant chord). And the story was so compelling – completely fascinating for an eight or nine year old. The lesson of hubris taught in four or five verses – the horror of the headlines put to melody. When I read “A Night to Remember” a year or two later, I already knew the broad outlines of the story and got more out of the book.

But – does it go on the recording? I’d like to put it there – I know many kids would love it – and grown-ups too, for that matter. But is this family fare? It would be (and was) for my family. But lot of families probably don’t want death and destruction on a family album, and I understand that. The three year old is listening with the nine year old.

“Who died?” comes the little voice from the car seat in the back.

“No one you know,” says the dad. “It’s just a song.” Hoping that is enough.

“Why did the ship sink?” the voice continues.

“It hit an iceberg.”

“Are there icebergs here? How many people died? Did we know them?”

An insistent voice, because, well, death is compelling. Who wants to explain it all to a four year old? Especially when you’re tired at bedtime.

But I also know that putting these things in the context of a song presents them in a way that people can look at them. Children deal with mortality and hubris, loss and injustice all the time, and songs like “Titanic” give them a framework to begin to think those things through.

And who’s going to sing those songs if we don’t? Is it all rainbows and ponies?

I don’t have the answer to this question, but I have to answer it in the next couple of weeks. At least for this recording.

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