Last night I performed at the Riverwalk Cafe in Nashua with MCtheprofessor.gov. I conducted and it was a lot of fun (except for the part that wasn’t fun which I’ll be talking about in a couple paragraphs).This Saturday I’m giving a solo performance at Coffee and Cotton in Lowell, MA. I will be performing a short children’s story about drum machines. Meanwhile I’m working on some commissions that I want to not say anything specific about until they’re ready but I’m very excited about all the projects sitting in my pipeline. I’ve also been recording vocals for the upcoming Cheap City record which I expect will come out in mid to late August. Speaking of Cheap City we have a few shows coming up:
August 3rd - Sun Tiki Studios. Portland, ME
August 11th - 4th River Fest. Pittsburgh, PA
August 13th - WUML. Lowell, MA
October 26th - Geist House. Montreal, QC
I also posted here a few weeks ago that I had made a score for my partner’s film Performing the Feed. I’m excited to say that on July 29th it will be showing at the Rock Water Film Festival at Sue’s in Rollinsford, NH. The piece will also be a part of the upcoming group show at the Kelly Stelling Gallery in Manchester, NH opening on August 9th.
Down to business.
I am super lucky to know James Ikeda. I first met James when we were both playing in Greg McKillop’s band (Greg McKillop is another person deserving of entire essays). The first rehearsal we had together was kind of a disaster and I remember feeling like the show we were getting ready for maybe just shouldn’t happen, but I was really struck by James’ optimism. James has this remarkable quality that I have always longed for but never quite figured out how to achieve, where he can be very clear and sometimes blunt about what’s working and what’s not working, but he does it in such a way that everyone is still really happy. If you’ve played in a band before, you know that there is often that one player who throws a little tantrum when somebody says, “Hey maybe try it like this?” That’s the kind of thing that never happens to James, or if it does I’ve never seen it.
Anyway, James is a high school history teacher and has a project called The Michael Character who I really love. James also books shows in Boston and even hosts cool events like study parties for local elections. James EVEN helped me with nailing down of the historical accuracy of my opera War Is a Racket. I’m honored to know him and I’m even more honored to be included in his relatively new project MCtheprofessor.gov
Last April - at the premiere of the opera actually - James asked me if I was free in a couple nights to play organ at a show with him. I said I was without really knowing anything about the project. All he said to me was, “I’ll send some instructions.” The instructions never actually came and when I arrived at the venue a few days later (the amazing Pink Noise Studios in Somerville) James said, “Oh I’m going to just talk for a bit. There’ll be some projections. Just make some music on the organ.”
Here are the two lectures from that night:
If you’re not going to watch the videos what the band does is this: We all kind of improvise and drone while James gives a lecture with an associated powerpoint. So far the lectures have focused (broadly speaking) on reshaping narratives associated with American history. After the third lecture (which is not online yet) we made the decision to have me switch to mostly conducting the group. So I worked with the musicians to develop a common understanding of hand symbols and directions we can use to guide the improvisation process.
Which brings me to Wednesday night’s performance at the Riverwalk Cafe in Nashua, NH. The lecture that night was called A Brief History of Japanese Americans. In the first part (I’m going to very broadly explain what happened in the talk but if you want to know more you should really watch the video which I’m sure will be available soon) James gives a broad overview of Meji era Japan and explains what caused so many Japanese to leave for America. In the second part he goes over the treatment and reaction to the influx of Japanese immigrants in America, as well different reactions to WWII internment within the Japanese-American community. And finally in the third part he goes over how the country and Japanese-Americans have dealt (or not dealt) with that history in the past 70 years. The best (and most relevant for me) part was towards the end when he reminds the audience that since 2001 internment camps for Muslims and Arab-Americans haven’t necessarily been off the table.
After the lecture I had to laugh when James said, “It’s funny because this was the least innocuous of all four lectures we’ve done so far.” Which is totally true by the way. The other three have required some complex analysis on both the part of the speaker and the audience. They require the listener to be present and ready to be challenged. The lecture on Japanese-Americans was much more straightforward, which is why we were all sort of surprised when James got some relatively upset reactions from the audience.
The fuss started about 20 minutes into the lecture. A gentleman sitting near the front was talking to his friend quite loudly. It’s not that he’s not allowed to talk, but regardless of the kind of performance happening, it’s not a lot to ask that he keeps his voice down. Also he had to pay a cover to get in so it’s not like he didn’t have at least some idea of what he was in for. So Adrian, who has been filming all these things, goes over and asks him to be quieter. “I can’t fucking talk?!” he says. Adrian asks again and soon Jed Crook (who was running sound) runs over and tries to calm the guy down. This guy would later say loudly as he got up to leave, “Guess I better go masturbate now,” in an apparent reference to what he perceived to be the masturbatory nature of our performance. I think. While this is happening and James is trying to continue with the lecture (we’re at the part where he’s talking about internment) and I’m trying to keep the band together we hear a voice from the back. A possibly inebriated voice, but an interrupting voice nonetheless.
Here’s what the voice said:
“It’s all too negative man! I appreciate what you’re trying to do here but you don’t get it. It was war. A lot of bad stuff has to happen. It was war. You’re not even making a point.” He continued on (somewhat without a point) for quite some time as James tried to calm him down and explain that if he would wait until the end of the lecture he might actually hear a conclusion! The fella didn’t want to hear it and after arguing with James for what felt like an eternity (but was probably 5 minutes) he wandered out of the cafe.
So we continue on with the performance and we’re in the third part and I think we’re going to get to the end just okay, when James starts to talk about the early 2000’s call for interning Muslims in America. In the middle of a sentence we hear another voice shout, “Well who’s in prison?” James says, “Excuse me?” The voice says, “Who’s actually calling for this?” James says, “Well I’m about to explain that.” The guy then says something else I either couldn’t hear or I can’t remember and James says, “You know I would be happy to talk about this with you after we finish up here.”
So we finish the performance and all go home and as far as I know James is actually having an email discussion with voice #2 as I type and you read.
There are two things I want to talk about in reference to the performance.
Without a doubt the best show we’ve had. I think the band’s playing was at its best (and I had a lot of fun conducting) but the confrontations were important. I think the point of the lectures is to challenge people and their expectations. Now, I highly doubt that either of the two naysayers had their minds changed about it, and I don’t think it really matters that they were challenged. What I do think matters is that a bunch of people saw exactly what happens when someone is speaking truth to power and gets challenged, and then stands up for themselves. And that’s an intoxicating feeling, and I think it’s more important and more valuable than giving a lecture to a bunch of yes-men.
History dads. If you didn’t grow up with a history dad you’ve almost definitely had the experience of going to a friends house and noting that their dad has like, a small, but sort of big enough to have a discussion about, collection of history books. But it’s usually not real history. It’s stuff like 1776. I haven’t read it but I’m sure it’s a great book, but it’s not the kind of book that you read because you want to learn a lot about history. It’s the kind of book you read when history is too dry for you but you kind of still like knowing stuff. This kind of dad was probably also a boy scout leader. You know the type. I’m bringing them up not because I want to stereotype dads or whatever. I’m bringing them up because they’re the most vocal indicators of a really insidious trend in America. And that’s the inability to question any dominant narrative that you’ve been taught. And the three interrupters at the MC show the other night are great examples of this. The guy making the masturbation comment is the guy who thinks he knows everything about everything and gets upset whenever he’s put in a situation that requires self analysis or critical thinking. He probably makes six figures because he “pulled himself up by his bootstraps and worked hard and didn’t complain.” The guy who complained about things being negative is the one who says, “Hey whatever happened in history might be bad but it’s stuff that just had to happen! We had to intern the Japanese. We had to take the land from the Native Americans (he’ll actually probably call them Indians). We had to bomb Hiroshima just like we had to invade Vietnam and we had to invade Iraq.” In twenty years he’ll be saying the same things about war with North Korea and Russia. And the final guy is the one who’s actually probably pretty well informed but only via a dominant strain of information. This means that he probably reads the headlines on The New York Times and watches CNN every now and then. His problem is that he’s unable to consider a perspective other than his own.
If we learn nothing else from MCtheprofessor.gov, it’s that it’s our responsibility to not become a history dad.