Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shameful Silence

Just got back from the ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo in sunny Hollywood. Fantastic, and there'll be more about that to come. But before I get into all the deets and name-drop with abandon, I need to try to set the cosmic karma right and admit to my shameful inaction yesterday.

I probably should blog about this more anonymously than I'm going to. Sheer professionalism ought to guide my hand a little here and try to haze things a bit so that no one "gets offended." Fuck that. I was offended. And, I don't believe in unnecessary cyber-anonymity. So here we go.

I met the eccentrically-dressed Mr. Red Kilt the first night of the conference, and ran into him on each of the successive days. He was hard to miss in his garish but authentic gear, and he struck me as very jovial and outgoing...just the kind of person with whom I can make easy small talk at these kinds of conferences. We ended up sharing a shuttle van back to LAX on Saturday eve, and that's when I witnessed a seemingly-harmless Dr. Jekyll turn into a horrid Mr. Hyde. The setup, then: we have our driver, in the driver's seat. (Duh.) Driver is listening to VERY amenable jazz, of the Dave Brubeck-meets-Billie Holiday style. Good stuff, and surprising considering his tender years. (I saw no one working in L.A. who was over 25. Weird.) Immediately behind him are Mr. Red Kilt and myself. The next bench back was, at the moment, empty, and then there was an American woman of long-ago African descent in the very back seat. Onward...

Mr. Red Kilt spent several blocks regaling me with one of his songs. At one point he asked the driver to "turn down the music" so the "musicians could share their stuff," which wasn't so much out-of-line as it was oddly imperious. I thought Red Kilt's song was clever, sure, but I was perfectly fine paying attention to him with the radio on too. But whatever; this was my last chance to "network," and I felt like professional courtesy dictated that I give this guy my attention, the same way I would want attention when disseminating MY art.

So we pull up to another hotel and Driver sallies forth to fetch our last passenger. Billie Holiday was, literally, on the radio at this point, and Red Kilt was revving up for a run at a DIFFERENT set of lyrics. At this point I much preferred hearing Billie, as did Back Seat Woman who was quietly - and expertly, I might add - singing along. Red Kilt unexpectedly reached up to the dashboard and turned the volume knob all the way down; I honestly think HE couldn't concentrate on what he was saying with the distraction, but whatever. Back Seat Woman curtly but POLITELY asked "Could you please turn that back up? I was listening to it." At first Red Kilt did nothing and kept regaling me with his new song, but I tapped his shoulder and motioned to the back, indicating "Someone back there wants your attention." He turned back and, in my ONLY defense of him, seemed surprised to see someone back there; I honestly think he didn't know she was there.

And he said? "No!" Now, the exclamation point is too heavy of an emphasis; he did NOT shout. But, neither would a period suffice, as he was definitely too emphatic for that punctuation. What followed, though, was an escalation beyond all proportion to the situation, the kind of thing that 30 years ago would have had me scouring the bushes for Allen Funt and a hidden camera crew. The exact exchange is beyond my memory; I was really too horrified at the rapidly-degenerating situation to pay that close attention. But there was an ugly exchange, during which Red Kilt belittled, harassed and generally steamrolled Back Seat, at one point berating her for not being able to "not listen to music for more than 30 fuckin' seconds" (this, despite the fact that he talked continuously for the next half-hour).

I sat there, stunned. What should I do?? My initial reaction was to come to Back Seat's defense...but, she really didn't seem to need it. She handled her own very well, but I realize too long after the fact that she must have been feeling the same brutal shock that I was...only, as the focal point of his tirade, I'm sure she would have appreciated some vocalized support. I wasn't afraid of this guy necessarily, but I did have enough time to wonder "Wow, if he's on this short a fuse, what happens if the whole van turns against him? Is it possible to have road rage within the SAME CAR?!?" I had already loosely associated myself with this horrible man simply by sitting with him and discussing a shared interest, and so I felt pinned, as if any support I might offer would be taken as something akin to a Judas kiss.

Finally he wound down, as I was mentally nudging him onto other topics. I thought "If I can just get the focus off of HER, this will all be over!" This is the silence that shames me. I should never have just sat there, but hindsight makes that a little more clear. At one point he did attempt to explain his behavior - to me, not to the person he SHOULD have apologized to! - but then astonishingly followed that up with some misbegotten comment about "two long-haired Caucasians" and a "black woman" in the back. WH-WH-WHA...??! EX-FUCKING-CUSE ME?!? Did you SERIOUSLY just revert to 1953 and say that a black woman BELONGED in the back of the bus?? Oh, no you DI'INT!! At that point I DID speak up, clearing saying for the listening benefit of the van "Uh...no, you do NOT have my support, understand? You are on your OWN with THAT shit!"

I wanted Red Kilt to be dropped off first, so that I could attempt to apologize to Back Seat for the behavior of a man I was now at least mentally associated with, in her mind. I wanted to apologize for not acting sooner, to explain that shock had me immobilized. Alas, I was the first to go, and so I can only send this out to the blogosphere:

Back Seat: please forgive me. Claiming that shock kept me from acting is a sham; I could and should have spoken up in your defense, or at least made it clear that I was NOT allied with this terrible man. Understand that I had had previous encounters with him, NONE of which prepared me for his unwarranted lashing-out. That we share the same career is an unfortunate coincidence, akin to comparing a kind and loving parish priest with the ludicrous Jimmy Swaggart. What I should have done was to decry this man, to deny him THREE times and then abandon my seat next to him and joined you in the back. That you could sing along to Billie Holiday should have been my first clue that we might have had a far more satisfactory musical discussion than Red Kilt could dare to dream of.

And Red Kilt: fuck you. I admit to enjoying our musical discussions, and I appreciate that you shared your song with me; the rhyming and imagery were both clever. But bigotry and shit-headedness don't come from, as you seemed to claim, living as a hermit for months at a time, with just your cats to keep you company. That shit runs DEEP, and I share neither your values nor your clear lack of empathy. Get your head on straight, man! How can you be a songwriter with that nastiness bubbling under your carefree surface? Work that shit out in your music, so that you don't inflict it upon the undeserving.

9 Comments:

Blogger L*I*S*A said...

Whoa...nice way to get it al out, though.

I'll never view kilts the same way again.

12:02 PM  
Blogger kat said...

I don't say this wholly to make you feel better, but maybe in part to give Back Seat more props:

I'm sure Back Seat knew the score. She seems like a kindred spirit and probably recognized it in you.

You're good people. I think the cosmos know that, too.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Can't racist, stupid fucks come with a warning sticker on their foreheads? Cripes! Really, the guy caught you on your heels (as you should have been with no inkling to his nutso-ness). You jumped in there when you got on your game...nice job.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Monkand Flea said...

I read this today. I deserve the comments from Scott but NOT the label. This could end here, but a lesson to me is better now before this behaviour becomes a common thing. She (the unknown person in the back), shocked me by being there. I thought we were alone, and that is true. I feel ashamed and bear the responsibility to LEARN from this. OH, after Scott left I didn't leave her without getting on my knees almost. I can't take back what I said to her, but it wasn't directed to her for being Black or like the mind of Scott .. her being in the Back. Where I came from Northern Ontario we treated Blacks no differently and I certainly have never had such a problem. Scott is a good man but when he didn't speak up either to her or me until his use of the "F" word on this Blog, then what I feel is that he left all responsibility up to us Bloggers. Lets talk about this. It's a Brave New World. Thanks Scott...

3:15 PM  
Blogger Gknee said...

Holy crap what century are we in? Living in the south has really opened my eyes to racism but man I thought the rest of the country was a little more educated. He'll get his..karma is a bitch!

5:23 PM  
Blogger sdb said...

Who would ever want to turn the volume down on Billie Holiday? I suppose that is a matter of preference.

But, to not respect another passenger's wish to continue listening? I don't know about the racism, but come on. I call rudeness what it is...rudeness.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

i find it all a little peculiar.

Being that Monkand Flea is from Canada makes sense that his comment was more of a insensitivity to another persons enjoyment of the radio, not the insensitivity to other person skin color, or colour, as they spell it in Canada.

Bartending to the world, as i do at the international setting i bartend at, i have been able to understand how racial issues, tend to be an american thing.

Not being there, i will just assume MaF made a social gaffe based upon his excitement discussing work, and had no idea of the social implications in the comment. Although still not polite.

On the positve, he does seem to admit to some rudeness and appears to have not understood how the comment was perceived at the time. Not being from the US, we sometimes seem to forget Canada really is another country, with it's own history and culture, eh.

This seems like an excellent opportunity for a continued dialogue with another musician from another culture.

Thanks for sharing

9:43 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

I won't comment on what may or may not have been going on in Canadian Red Kilt's head, but I will say that in my experience racial issues are not just an American thing. I've lived in France several times over the past twenty years and travelled extensively in Europe and some of the most virulent and clueless racism I've ever witnessed has been in Western Europe. White Europeans love telling Americans how there is no racism in their societies, too, and how we have all the problems. They explain why their non-white citizens don't need any legal protections against discrimination--because there supposedly is none. Meanwhile, fascist candidates like Jean-Marie Le Pen in the current French election get obscene amounts of support and attention.

I tend not to believe white people from other countries when they tell me how they have no racism where they come from. I think they just aren't in the position to notice, or find it more convenient not to.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, being Canadian...I know his comments about being in the back of the bus were NOT even a little connected with AMERICAN abuse of black people. It wouldn't occur to me or him to connect those dots.

Most telling about the writer is his comment on *work that shit out in your music*. Why does the writer need to spread mistakes of one for many to see? Stirs the pot, makes him look just as bad, and certainly is out of context. He is an American who instantly thinks *black* and *back of the bus*. David did not mean that, yet the writer took that and ran with it.

Funny you were not offended being described as a long haired caucasian and yet drew offense to the same type of description of her being a *black woman*. You just do not get that he described both sets of folks with colour and neither in a bad way. YOU drew from your toolbox of bigotry to infer the back of the bus rosa parks crap because that is YOUR shame not ours.
If you drew offense to being described as a caucasian...my views would be different about this. Clearly your own feelings, ways of thinking and bigotry flared where he never even meant the connection.

The frightening thing? You teach our youth!
You are vulgar, biggoted and should be ashamed of yourself for turning something into a race issue that was simply an issue of David wanting to sing for you and share his thoughts and music. He did not know she was back there at first.

Do I look at him differently? No
Do I see Americans as even more racist? Yes
Do I lump you and your inflamatory blog with your school? Yes
(much like you recognized you and David would be mentally joined)
Am I eternally grateful I am not an American? HELL YES!

6:02 PM  

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