It’s no secret that one of my favorite songwriters is Ryan Adams. He speaks to my soul in a way that few others can; when words fail, his music slips into the cracks to help fill the void. He is hugely influenced by Tom Petty, to the point that Benmont Tench, Petty’s longtime keyboardist and collaborator in the Heartbreakers, has played on multiple albums for Adams. The lyrics to “Outbound Train” are a particular kind of balm today. The song is deliberately placed in a key that pushes Adams’ vocal range, so that his voice strains and almost cracks as he delivers the gut punch lyrics. “I was so sure, I was so sure, I was so sure, but I don’t know anything more.” Me too, Ryan. I am heartbroken by the tragedy in Las Vegas and the loss of one of our greatest musicians. I needed to organize some of my thoughts into one space, so here goes.
I’m only 25, but life has changed a whole lot since 1992, and the changes are readily apparent in music. When I started playing gigs as a kid, I remember typing up my show schedule in big bold letters and printing it out on blue paper to hand out to people at the gigs, so they could know where I’d be playing. You couldn’t easily create a website, or have Bandsintown automatically send out email blasts, or Tweet to promote your gig with a flurry of hashtags. Things were simpler then, but technology has by-and-large made our world a better place. I wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to tour the world without it. YouTube, Spotify, Facebook, Google Maps, and a hundred different apps and websites have made it possible for me to take my music to places that were previously reserved for those fortunate enough to have the backing of a major label and all the infrastructure that goes along with it. I’m grateful.
The flip side, however, is that the world seemed like a kinder place back then. I don’t know that it actually was, but the “bad apples” didn’t have the reach or voice that they do now. I was a young, raw musician, and my stage presence rubbed a few folks the wrong way. I would occasionally hear of some criticism through the grapevine. It didn’t bother me, because nobody ever said anything directly to me, and the people that didn’t like me just didn’t come to the shows. Imagine that. I’ll never know what pushes someone to commit a terrible act like the one in Vegas. But I know the negativity of online culture is not helping. If you pay attention only to social media, you would think the world is a truly awful place. It felt like it took approximately zero seconds after a devastating, horrific tragedy for people to start arguing with each other. I opened up Twitter for about 60 seconds, and then I closed it for the rest of the day. It was discouraging.
People are good. I wholeheartedly believe, based upon my travels, that the vast majority of people are kind, helpful folks trying to do the right thing. But there is something pervasive about the culture with social media, something about sitting behind a screen, that empowers the haters and amplifies the hate. You can build a wall around yourself quickly, and end up in a dangerous echo chamber. We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than ever at the same time. How do we fix it? I don’t know. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle; technology has advanced, and social media is here to stay. But I do know that kindness is always the best option. Going forward, I’d like to see us all make more of an effort to meet at the table for face to face conversations. Being physically present with someone in a debate or argument is a lot more conducive to empathy, and that’s a good thing.
Speaking for myself, I’m done with the negativity. I want to fill social media (and the world) with kindness, love, and music. I don’t know why someone like the Las Vegas shooter turns to evil. I don’t know why good people have to suffer sometimes. I don’t know why it’s so easy to default to anger. But I keep coming back to the NEEDTOBREATHE lyrics from “More Heart, Less Attack.”
“Be the light in the crack, be the one that’s mending the camel’s back.
Slow to anger, and quick to laugh. Be more heart, and less attack.”
Join me, won’t you?