Archive for Observations

Profitable Professional Pet Therapist Opportunities

 

Time is what keeps humans from experiencing their entire lives as the old people they already are.

~ Alice the therapy min-pin

**

Crushed.

Just came from a local skilled nursing facility.  The only local contemporary musician who regularly entertains them is me. Been pretty much that way since 1995.

Today I learned that the only person who brings a dog to visit is also me. Alice just says “Hi” to a fraction of the residents, and this is just one Community Venue ™. There’s such a need, so easily addressed. It breaks my heart.

This is a huge opportunity for anyone who would like to earn income from professional pet therapy, and for a team of forward-thinking businesspeople that would like to make themselves more visible and accessible to the Access Limited demographic and their sizable circles of influence!!!! Hello-o-o-o!!! There’s value in making things accessible.  Hello-o-o-o!!!

I know Americans have trouble regarding our Access Limited relatives and neighbors as equals in the pursuit of happiness, but they are. So target them, with equal entrepreneurial vigor.

Because frankly it is stupid to suggest that I or anyone provide critical therapeutic value to the American marketplace for a pat on the back when music and dog therapy has the power to diminish the need for drugs and doctors.  Y’all go ahead with that line of thought, but I’m a compassionate businessman.

And I have to wonder what is appealing about growing old into a discriminatory social paradigm that threatens to take music and dogs away when we will need them most?

Is everyone else really comfortable throwing their hands up in mock helplessness?

The need is so obvious, the answer so simple, sensible, lucrative, rewarding, timely, fun. Where is everyone? What do we think time is for?

Damn. I’m going to go mow the lawn now, and cry.

Then I’ll pitch some more articles, because if just one person gets it, and acts…

.BnW Alice Oval cropped

Gramps Oliver – a silent musical

MUSICIANS NEEDED FOR “GRAMPS OLIVER”, A NEW MUSICAL ABOUT AN OLD MAN IN AN AMERICAN NURSING HOME

Gramps Oliver’s indigent family leaves him on the steps of a nursing home.

Mr. Bumble is the music professional at the nursing home. He feeds the old codgers a steady diet of one song daily. The same song, every day. It’s an old song because they are old people.  They’re always hungry for music.

One day, Gramps Oliver and several codgers draw lots to see who’s going to have to ask for extra music. Gramps Oliver draws short, which leads to the famous line: ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

Mr. Bumble is like ‘More? He wants more gruel?’ and his face gets red and he’s about to break into song.

But Gramps Oliver says “No sir. Please sir, I want some more music.”

“Bwaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha! No one gets more music here!”

Mr. Bumble then offers 5 pounds for anyone who will take Gramps Oliver away from the nursing home.

Some stuff happens and then Gramps Oliver ends up running away to Nashville where he meets The Old Fartful Dodger and his merry musical gang. Revived by the rhythmic diet Gramps Oliver becomes one of the best wheelchair pickpockets around.

Grandma Wants A Watch Tattoo

I should get a watch tattoo, close to the truth
where the hands only point to Now.
The concepts are cool but
they’re short of the truth and
the truth about Then is Now.
I only can be, then Now I will be
all I will be then Now.

The grandchildren are the hope for the future, to put a spin on a popular cultural idea. It’s a catchy cliché, but also the underlying reason that so many seniors are musically ignored by our culture.

This truth is most dramatically highlighted during the holidays, when “the grandchildren” come around to senior homes and nursing homes to bring a snowflake of cheer to “the grandparents”; one that will quickly melt in the new year leaving the grandparents shivering alone in musical silence. And while I’m grateful that the grandchildren and their adult music mentors make a point of dropping by with a few carols, it also breaks my heart.

I understand that our culture desperately hopes beyond hope that the future will be better than the present, but I’m mystified by that because two things seem so obvious.

1) Dissatisfaction with the present rolls endlessly into the future. No matter what Americans bring into their present lives they seem perpetually dissatisfied.

2) The future does not exist. Those grandchildren are never going to do anything in the future. They can only affect our future by acting now, in the perpetually unfolding present moment.

But we don’t like the present moment, which is in a very real sense the gift from those who came before. This present moment that we simply must get away from is an unrecognized outgrowth of what has “been done to us” by those who came before. And those people are “the grandparents”. They did this to us. Not our children’s grandparents of course, but someone’s.

And that is why, when it comes to music and the arts, the grandparents don’t matter much. Except, of course, at Christmas time when God and Santa Claus are watching ever so closely.

It is sad, to me, because what happens is that we arm the grandchildren with implements of the arts, but rarely share the results with the grandparents. We find ways to get musical instruments and instruction to the grandchildren, but we leave the grandparents in musical silence. We never stop by to say, or play, “Thank you!”

We forget that were it not for the grandparents we would not have factories that build musical instruments, nor schools with music classrooms, nor churches for choirs. We would not have musical venues nor the streets that connect all of these things, nor the transportation that gets us around.

And perhaps most importantly, were it not for the grandparents, we would not have the freedom to create these musical programs that arm the grandchildren with implements of the arts.

And that is why the grandparents are worth it; why the grandparents should not be left in musical silence day after week after year after decade.

May the spirit that arises from desperate hope for the future find a way to manifest in every present moment of your new year.

Happy Holidays from Alice and Greg

alice_cam1_0301

Of Sacred Space & Audiences Starved

Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed.

Patti Smith / Bruce Springsteen

              DON’T SHOOT ME
gregallenmusic2
                                                                           I’M ONLY THE MESSENGER

In the summer of 2014 I sat with Kent Williamson of Paladin Media at Charlottesville’s Golden Living / Cedars for an interview, part of which is linked below.

I talked about the artistic space created when a musician performs a song – the sacred space wherein the listener can be precisely who they are in the moment. The song has no judgment; the song just does not care if it’s a world leader or a homeless person. The song and the space have no concern for the listener’s race, creed, physical situation, sexual orientation or anything else. This is true also of a painting, photograph or sculpture on display – the space is open to all.

So I wonder why so many musicians wield discriminatory and exclusive judgments about who they entertain. It might not sound so great when I say it but the fact is that this is the systematic practice of audience discrimination, and it’s astoundingly widespread in America. It’s doubly mystifying since musicians routinely sing out against discrimination, claiming to stand for equal opportunity & fairness. Weird, huh?

When I first began the SongSharing effort I heard time and again that musicians did not have time to volunteer music in Community Venues ™ because they were aspiring professionals, struggling financially to remain dedicated to their craft. As SongSharing found ways to pay musicians the song remained the same, with a sickening twist. They still did not have time because they were professionally busy, but now they said “Oh, dear. I couldn’t take money to play for those people.”

I have grown to despise the classification of Community Venue audiences as “those people”, as though somehow they are to be pitied. I don’t pity folks in senior and nursing homes, nor do I pity the disabled children & adults I share music with. I feel for them, very deeply & profoundly. But I regard them as artistically equal to anyone that might bask in the sacred space as themselves, fully and unapologetically.

And I feel for the musicians that do pity Community Venue audiences and believe that I am driven by pity, because they know not what they do. The result of this artistically condescending mindset is that these human beings are systematically excluded from the domain of musicians and artists, but the musicians and artists think someone else is at fault. “Those people” become the domain of charity workers, and the social services, and strange people like me who end up ostracized.

And if you want to confirm your hunch about what sort of artistic exposure this yields then visit a nursing home in your area. Wait in the lobby every day for one week – a fraction of the time the residents wait. Bring a pencil and sliver of paper and wait for the music. Make a little mark for every musician from your town’s “thriving music scene” that entertains for even 45 minutes; a mark for every artist that incorporates Audience Inclusion ™ in their professional bag of tricks. Make a mark for every musician that lives their lyrics in this way. Trust me, you won’t need more than a matchbook cover because you won’t be making many marks in America.

Alice’s pal Les Iszmore says “You know, out here on The Road Les Travels ™ it’s not right and it’s not wrong. It’s just the way we do it.” And I am not saying that it’s wrong to practice audience discrimination. It is what it is, and I, like the space this writing creates, do not stand in judgment.

But I don’t understand, because all I hear about these days are starving artists and declining demand for music, while the audiences starved in Community Venues represent staggering, rewarding marketplace demand and therefore professional opportunity. But the valuable demand they represent for live and recorded music is not even recognized as such, which has to do with why so many musicians wonder what the hell I’m talking about and think I’m crazy.

But I’m not. The sacred space has been forgotten, forsaken in pursuit of money and a distorted sense of recognition. And the result is the sound of silence.

Fools said I, you do not know
Your silence like a cancer grows…

Simon and Garfunkel

WWDOG DO

Last night I spoke out on behalf of a dog that went missing. A dog that had bolted before, but for some interesting reason is allowed to be off-leash in situations precisely similar to those in which he has bolted before.

Lynn - goofy ears-1
Lynn’s rendition of Alice’s ears

Alice the therapy min-pin is a huge part of today’s SongSharing effort. She brings a different sort of music, but it is music nonetheless; a different sort of healing, but healing nonetheless.

When I found Alice in Buckingham County, VA in 1995, after I had left a note on a couple of nearby houses and we headed home, I asked her a question that many of us dog lovers would have asked of a stray that we’d just picked up.

“What’s your name, little girl?”

In those days I honestly was not expecting an answer, but immediately she responded with “Alice”. I heard it clear as a cloudless full-moonlit night.

“Did you say Alice?”

“Alice.”

Admittedly I was a little taken aback, but I said “Well, then, Alice, you’re going to meet some new friends tonight. When we get a signal I’ll call ahead so Lynn can tell the pack that you’re coming.” We had six other dogs at the time.

In the next few years it became very clear to me that Alice is one of the wisest voices in my head, which is one of the sources of her Canine Messiah nickname, for she is wise beyond her ears. She’s also my co-writer, and together we’ve written many a song and are working on our second book.

And so, yes, I talk to dog, and dog talks to me. And that, I have learned is a gift, and an enormous privilege that is not to be taken lightly.

Last night I spoke out on behalf of a dog that went missing. A dog that had bolted before, but for some interesting reason is allowed to be off-leash in situations precisely similar to those in which he has bolted before. What I said in a very matter of fact, honest tone was taken as a little bit harsh by someone, although I still don’t think it was a harsh statement. It’s like when you shoot an arrow from a bow. If there is no target, or it sails past the target, the target feels nothing. But if it strikes true, well then…

So I fired an arrow of honesty if you will, from an aching heart on behalf of an animal that relies upon its humans for certain things. Among those certain things it is clear to me that our dogs rely on us to treat them precisely as the dog that they are. And that’s not a hurtful arrow. It’s just an arrow.

The “dog that they are” is often drastically different than the dog that some humans imagine that they are, or pretend that they are, or wish that they might one day be. We all fancy how wonderful it would be to have an off-leash dog that never leaves our side, and never responds to instinct and suddenly bolts in pursuit of a deer or a squirrel or a car as we holler they do not hear, and call them “bad dog”.

But many of us do not have the dog we wish we had in that sense. We have the dog that we have. Alice is a flight risk, and I respect that and treat her as such, and I love her all the same. And she is either on-leash, in a crate, in the house, the camper or a hotel room with Lynn and/or me, or in the fenced yard. That is my responsibility to her.

Alice and I hope the dog that bolted yesterday is found safe. Every ounce of our mutual being hopes that. And we hope that the humans learn something, and assume an added measure of responsibility for this dog they love. Because, in my book, until they do so, they are not even close to being the fabulous dog owners that they make themselves out to be. That’s a fantasy they hold about themselves, and it can turn expensive and it can turn deadly.

Look, I’m not claiming some sense of perfection here. I too have had dogs run off in my past. I have had dogs that I allowed to roam be killed by cars. I too have blamed the dog, and the neighbors, and the way people drive. And no one ever said to me, “You know, when your dog takes off after a deer and you scream and holler its name and tell it to come, that dog does not even hear you. That dog’s brain has effectively shut you and the non-instinctual world out in that moment.” Lynn taught me that a decade ago.

Dogs evolve us, if we only hear them and listen. And sometimes I understand now, people like me must speak up for them, because alot of people only hear “woof” or “whine”, which is a vocalization, and only a minute fraction of the extensive communication that they are capable of.

So I am going to continue to speak up on behalf of dog whenever the opportunity arises. Because dogs are an incredibly important part of this world and our lives. I see it everywhere that I see Alice the therapy dog in action, whether it be a nursing home or a store like Harmony Moon this past Saturday, or a restaurant patio.

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Alice, wise beyond her ears

A Reflection on 20 Years of Making Music More Accessible

I wondered how different these past two decades would have been if just 50% of the musicians in our area had dropped by 3 or 4 times a year for a 50 minute show. You know, bring your guitar, sit down, play, leave. No big deal.

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Today Alice and I visited Charlottesville Health and Rehabilitation for one of our two monthly performance visits. This is the place where it all began for me in 1994. It was known as Heritage Hall then. I was working with the fine folks at Lakeland Tours (now known as WorldStrides) in those days and the community outreach committee organized a holiday party for the residents. The mom and aunt of my pal and co-worker Nedra shared a room at Heritage Hall then, so that’s how we ended up choosing that facility for the event, which was a continuation of their Make A Difference Day efforts that year.

In those days I had a pretty regular acoustic gig at a little coffee shop called Blackstone’s, so I had become known around the office as the music guy. The outreach committee had groups of Lakeland workers doing various things – some of them were making cookies and other goodies, some of them were making little ornaments that they could hang on the door of every resident at Heritage Hall, some of them were making and wrapping gifts for the residents, and so on. They brought me a list of office folks that either played an instrument or liked to sing and asked me to coordinate the music effort. So I printed up chord charts to a handful of Christmas songs that we would present, made up an agreeable schedule of rehearsals that would take place in one of the conference rooms at Lakeland, and things got underway.

One of the fun memories of the whole thing was the fact that one of the company Vice Presidents was part of the group – a good natured chap who I had gone toe to toe and face to face with a few times over the years on various points of differing managerial and administrative philosophy. Now here I was, making sure he got his part right for a few weeks. (Whuttup Jim? ;*)

So the holiday party came and went, and our little group of performers did a most wonderful job with our part of the deal. I have to tell you it was an incredibly moving experience for me, being the softie that I am. After the formal concert in the dining hall a few of us went room to room and sang a song here and there for folks who couldn’t get out of their beds.

When 1995 dawned Nedra came to ask if I would – or should I say insist that I would – continue bringing music to her mom and aunt Alice, and after plenty of attempts to wiggle out of it, I began to visit them weekly, on Wednesdays at lunchtime. I honestly believed that I didn’t know a doggone thing that two ladies in their 70’s or so would want to hear, since I played some original songs and covered bands like REM and KISS and the Beatles, and folks like Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot. How naïve of me.

Within a few weeks folks were coming to Alice and Clara’s room to listen – one or two at first, then five, then eight or ten. Soon they were spilling out into the hallway, creating an obvious safety hazard – if something happened and medical staff needed to reach someone in that room, precious time would be lost getting past the crowd.

That’s when Iris, the Activities Director, asked me if I would begin to stage a regular show in the dining hall on Wednesday evenings for anyone that wanted to attend. And the rest, as the French say, is histoire. I’ve been doing two shows a month there for most of the past twenty years.

So today… today Alice and I were there. I bet I’ve played more than 200 shows in that facility, which is pretty noteworthy I suppose. But there’s something even more noteworthy, something that makes me a little proud and at the same time rips my heart out.

There, today, at a table in the front row sat a lady who was at that very first show in December of 1994. Today, at Charlottesville Health and Rehab are two people, actually, who were at that first show. They don’t attend very often these days so it was a bittersweet delight to see her there, to be in her presence and share the joy and power of music with her.

It thrills my heart to know that I have brought this little speck of light to her for twenty years.

But it kills me to think that in some ways I’ve let those folks down, because I spent one of the past two decades trying to get Charlottesville’s “thriving music scene” to embrace the simple idea of Audience Inclusion ™. I built a non-profit that at its peak received in-kind support from REM, Billy Joel and Dolly Parton. International performers like Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, David Wilcox, Greg Howard, Dave Crossland, Zoe Mulford, Slaid Cleaves and Andrew McKnight played shows at area senior and nursing homes when I asked them. A very dedicated small group of local musicians including Tom Proutt, Thomas Gunn, Julie Goldman, and The Rusticators from Staunton played many a show in an effort to help make SongSharing successful.

But it never truly caught on here – in fact it was pretty steadfastly shut out by our, uhhh, our uhhhh… geez, I’m trying to be nice here… our uhhh… well you know… the people who sing about love and peace and getting along and taking care of each other and changing the world and all that. The people who played benefit after benefit for Katrina and tsunami and earthquake victims while they kept telling me they didn’t have time.

I don’t really like to harp on that era in such negative light, but I bring it up because here we are 20 years later, and I am not aware of anyone from our thriving music scene that includes these audiences in their musical vision. And as I played music today I could not get away from the painful little jab in my heart that comes from thinking about what it must be like to live in a nursing home for 20 years in a town like Charlottesville and be systematically excluded from the joy and healing power of music that so many could so easily bring.

I wondered how different these past two decades would have been if just 50% of the musicians in our area had dropped by 3 or 4 times a year for a 50 minute show. You know, bring your guitar, sit down, play, leave. No big deal.

But of course to the residents it is a big deal. Huge. Because recognition and inclusion are healing things that bring joy. And sharing your gift with your fellow beings is a sign of recognition – the recognition that these folks too are part of the community, even if they can’t drive a trendy car to the trendy bar and buy trendy beers. It’s a recognition of their humanity, and of the contribution that they have made to bringing this world precisely where it is today.

And while some might think the world’s a mess and they need to get out there and sing songs to “fix it up”, in one sense that’s bullshit. It’s bullshit because this world is also a place where musicians have unprecedented access to so many things – nice guitars, nice cars, nice venues, nice roads between their nice home and the nice venue, nice restaurants and nice radio stations and these people are a big part of why this world is so nice in so many way, and… and… do you see? Am I making sense here? How can they not see?

Or is it me? Maybe I’m crazy to think that people who sing about giving a shit might one day actually live their lyrics and act as though they give a shit. Maybe I’m nuts to think that the people who sing about what the rest of the world should do to change things, might actually start doing those things themselves. Maybe these musicians justifiably roll their eyes behind my back when I say that this is serious music, and when I call them Community Venues ™ and label the shows concerts. Maybe I’m just crazy to play for old people and sick people and disabled people.

Maybe….

No. No I’m not crazy. But I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was not more successful, for the sake of the residents.

And mostly I’m sorry for so many musicians. I’m sorry they’re in such a dark place, struggling to find the light. I’m sorry they’re struggling as they chase a vision so far away and so much later, while the success their heart seeks is right here, right now. I’m sorry they drive past it every day.

Happy Holidays, from Alice and me! _MG_9835

R.I.P. Aunt Gina

In 2009 I self-published a book that rather beat around the bush with respect to what I truly have to say to so many of the world’s posers – those who label themselves and fancy themselves to be musicians, artists, and spiritual teachers. But they are cheap imitations of the beautiful things they lay claim to. Perhaps they mean well but they are hollow shells ringing empty, likely doing more harm than good. The mirror needs to be held up to them, and for them, and in some cases slammed in their faces. And that is why I have come.

But I didn’t want to offend anyone then; I wanted readers and fellow musicians to like me…

My Aunt Gina read my book and quickly penned a stinging letter to me, calling me out and telling me to quit fooling around and say what it is I have to say. She told me how important my realizations, insights, actions, and message to this apathetic world is, and how I’d best get my ass in gear and be true to myself, my heart, and that divine thing that drives me, and to which I owe it all.

I’ve revisited that letter over the years, and it is a driving and inspiring force to me as I move into this next book, which will be written with all of the compassion I can muster, but will mince no words, and provide no safe haven for the posers who too often seem to dominate our world.

I spent the day celebrating my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday today, then came home to learn that my Aunt Gina passed away today at age 91. Life can be like that…

This lovely tribute was written by her daughter Bianca, who is an inspiration in her own right.

Luigia Philomena M. Miller
1923-2014
Artist.
Playwright. Poet.
Writer. Songwriter.
Painter. Professor.
Dreamer. Doer.
Athlete. Advocate.
Searcher. Survivor.
Insister. Resister.
Fixer. Fusser.
Fighter. Fearless.
Rescued her dad from Nazis.
Then stole supplies off their trains.
Unaware of her bad assness and other’s disapproval.
Unafraid to break rules, norms and balls.
Ignorer of all official signs, expectations and conventions.
Innocent in a million ways. Wise beyond most of us.
Mother to many. Friend forever to a few she loved dearly.
Believed in people’s potential and pushed them towards it.
Especially those unaware of their own powers.
Believed family was the most important thing.
Extended, of choice, of love. “You’ll see”. Yes, I do.
Believed in me, and taught me how to observe, always, closely, in the quiet.
That is where the good stuff lives, and art starts.
Believed she had exquisite taste.
Yet was an unashamed KFC lover.
Drove me crazy.
God I loved her.
On to her next big production.
And, finally, free.
She is light.
It’s all love.
There is peace.

I only hope that my life and my work will stand as some small fitting tribute to my Aunt Gina from this day forward. I am forever grateful for her unique honesty to me in that letter. In that regard she stood, and stands, alone.

It’s a good day to cry…

IF I HAD A FLOOR BUFFER

“It’s like this. This kid who is quadriplegic, nonverbal rolls into the room. We’ve never met him, he’s never met us. He’s never done any art. I don’t think he really ever went to school. And here he is.

We find out his signal for yes and no then tell him, in this flat serious professional tone, how the A.R.T. techniques work.

One of the staff leans in to speak, quietly suggesting, ‘I don’t believe he understands anything you’re saying.’

I was talking to my mom about this last night, so maybe now’s a good time to post something here…

One of the prominent mindsets that keeps musicians away from Community Venues™ has to do with how the audiences are perceived. It’s unspoken perhaps, but the fact is that Community Venue audiences are looked down upon. They are pitied and they are not considered artistically equal nor viable, and that explains why they are systematically ignored by contemporary musicians. They are considered “charity cases”, which is horribly exclusive.

If a musician should happen to entertain a room full of developmentally disabled children or adults, it is not for the same reason they entertain traditional audiences. They book a gig in an acoustic club because those are “their people”, their genre, the people who “get” their music; the people who tap their feet and sing along and cheer and applaud when the song is finished. They’re the people who look up, and musicians like to be looked up to.

But musicians comes to play for developmentally disabled folks out of a sense of charity; a sense of pity. They generally do not regard or approach these audiences as being artistically equal to a more traditional audience. Charity audiences are not “their people”, they don’t really “get” their music, and so many of them are incapable of tapping their feet or singing along or applauding with hand claps. And they’re most certainly not regarded as being one’s genre, or target audience. “Mainstream” (for lack of a better word) musicians play for the disabled (and the infirmed and the aging) because they pity them. They feel sorry for them. It’s condescending, honestly, because they are held in lower esteem than “normal” audiences.

It’s a truth that has had me shaking my head in disgusted wonder for 16 years now.

And what is even more mystifying to me so often is the fact that most of the staff members in so many Community Venues act precisely the same way. They do not regard those in their care as being artistically equal or viable.

I know this because I do consider these folks artistically equal. When I take music into a Community Venue I consider it every bit a sincere performance, not a charity gig for “poor them”. And when one attends a sincere musical performance, one does not carry on chatting and talking and vacuuming and buffing the goddam floor just down the hall, while the performance is underway. But it happens to my audiences all the time. We get stuck in a room where people are walking thru chattering away and laughing and carrying on, and of course there’s music going on and so they have to talk more loudly to be heard. Or we get stuck in a dining room after lunch while the staff is cleaning up and dishes are clanking away and silverware is being tossed into tubs.

Years ago, in a facility I was asked never to come back to, I arrived at the appointed time. My audience was waiting, and so was the lady with the floor buffer. She was pushing people out of her way so she could slide tables to the wall, clearly aggravated that they were here. You know, residents: the people who employ her and pay her wages; the people who are the reason that the bloody facility exists, and thus the reason she has her damn job.

This was the second time it had happened in three months. The first time I had asked the activity director to simply schedule me at a more convenient time. I understand work schedules. I wasn’t put out at all, that first time. But the activity director fumed when she heard that they were buffing the floors at 1:30 on a Wednesday, and she grabbed her little desk phone and she called housekeeping and she grumbled at whomever answered, and she slammed down the receiver and said “That won’t happen again.” And I walked out wondering why the residents and I should be caught up in a petty turf war.

So this time I said something to the buffer lady. I told her that I was here to stage a performance and that I had been told that the floor buffing would wait. And she stormed away grumbling obscenities and in a couple minutes she showed up with some supervisor type person. And this supervisor type person told me that the buffing would go on, and if I wanted to play music then I would do so in the hallway, where they would line the residents up along the wall to listen.

And I leaned towards her and hissed through my teeth, “That’s bullshit. These people pay your fucking wages. Get a clue.” And I turned my back on her and picked up my guitar and began to play, and they did not buff.

And the next day I got a call from the arts organization that sponsors me telling me that I had been asked not to come back. And this nice lady tried to make me understand that I was out of line. And I thanked her and said “That’s bullshit. Those residents pay the wages of those jackasses; those residents are the customers and they are entitled to be treated as such. I will never stand down on that point.”

Because I don’t understand. In every facility I entertain it is quite clear that the people who pay the tens and hundreds of thousands of annual dollars to be cared for are about fourth or fifth down on the organizational chart of priorities. But I believe that a resident should sign everyone’s paycheck, from the administrators on down. Residents should hand those paychecks to the staff face to face, every pay period.

This article from the fine folks at Artistic Realization Technologies, which I ran across years ago, is refreshingly supportive of my observation on staff attitudes.

“It’s like this. This kid who is quadriplegic, nonverbal rolls into the room. We’ve never met him, he’s never met us. He’s never done any art. I don’t think he really ever went to school. And here he is.

We find out his signal for yes and no then tell him, in this flat serious professional tone, how the A.R.T. techniques work. One of the staff leans in to speak, quietly suggesting, ‘I don’t believe he understands anything you’re saying.’

I think but do not say, ‘We’ll see about that.’ What good is it to presume this young guy won’t understand? How will we know until we let him show us he does?”

It was nice to find someone else who not only sees it and is mystified by it, but who also chose to speak up about it – albeit not in the moment. (Frankly I admire that the author of this piece held his tongue, which I did not. It’s arguably more professional and you end up not getting kicked out. Point well taken.)

And so this quadriplegic child paints their long-ignored heart out, and produces an impressive work of true art, and…

“The piece was far better than most of the stuff you’d see in a fancy art school. Much better. It was a real painting. Very direct, no fru-fru. It had power. It was clean.

One of the staff coming through the studio asks, ‘What is it?’ I say, ‘A painting.’ And he shakes his head the way you do to dismiss something you think is bogus, like shaking his head ‘no’. He couldn’t see the painting. There was nothing there, or at least nothing that struck him as art.

So I see the irony that the thing we figured would prove the depth of these young people’s inner lives: painting, didn’t register as true, awesome, serious, pro level high art.

The kid no one thought capable of sophisticated thought or feeling just fired out this gorgeous painting, it clearly proving the kid is more than whole inside. It proves the kid has some exceptional powers no one’s letting him tap. And this staff-person can’t see it. It doesn’t prove anything to him.”

“What it proved to him,” Solman says, “is that the abstract expressionists were a bunch of retards.”

Read the article.

This is a direct parallel to what I encounter all the time from Community Venue staff. They do not consider their charges to be worthy of a true musical performance. They do not realize that a dining hall becomes a theater when a musical performance is taking place. A TV room becomes a music hall when a concert is taking place. If you can’t see it look again. Walk a minute in their shoes… rather, sit a minute in their wheelchair.

It’s a huge lesson to be learned by the people that run and work in these facilities; it’s a huge societal paradigm that I am trying to displace. And sometimes it feels like it’s only me, which feels lonely, but I know it isn’t only me. There are those who get it, and I am so thrilled when I run across them.

My mom was taken aback last night when I began to share this insight, and she asked me if it was going to make its way into Play Something Pretty That You Like. I said that it is.

The book would not be complete without it, because the truth is that this is one huge reason why musicians who might once dare come to a Community Venue may never return, and it’s a huge opportunity for the staff and administration of these venues.

Stop treating live music as though it’s plastic bowling or bingo, for God’s sake.

Or I swear I’m going to bring my floor buffer to the listening room next time you go to an intimate music performance.

A.R.T. – Painter of the Month: Danielle Conti

Innocent Seniors Given Life Sentences – an observation…

Life without music.

Millions of seniors, alongside millions of physically and developmentally disabled adults and children. Audiences starved; tucked away in facilities across America that Alice and I refer to as Community Venues(tm).

Systematically ignored day after month after year after decade by today’s self-proclaimed “starving artists”.

And perhaps the most puzzling, and at times nauseating, thing for me…? That would be the fact that these fine folks are looked down upon as “charity audiences”. “Poor them”… They’re not considered artistically viable; artistically equal.

After a decade of advocating on their behalf locally I gave it up in the formal sense. Ten years of being told “What a good thing you do Greg. I’m going to come play for them soon.” But they never did.

But during those same ten years I watched them answer the call to come play on stages to raise money for hurricane, tsunami, and earthquake victims half a nation, or half a world, away. I even watched them play at fundraisers for Community Venue residents affected by Alzheimer’s or cancer or what have you. Musicians will gladly play at an event that is “about” poor them, or “on behalf of” poor them.

Because musicians care, you know. Not enough to actually drop by and mingle with them, mind you. But, at some level, the musicians say they care.

These days I rarely invite musicians to come and “be the change you sing of seeing in your world”, because I am tired of hearing that they don’t have time. As though time resides inside their cell phone, telling them what to do and when to do it.

But I know from years of mystifying firsthand experience that if a tsunami or an earthquake or a hurricane should come along and knock down The Cedars or Colonnades in Charlottesville, the musicians would rally. They would find time – make time – and they would drive to Staunton or Richmond, and play a benefit concert far, far away from them.

And they and the media would be damn sure to make you aware of what wonderful, caring, compassionate people they are.

Oh my heart…