A film by Sleepover Shows featuring Michael J. Epstein, Sophia Cacciola, and Tanya Palit’s visit to #OccupyBoston – with narration by MJE

Sleepover Shows: Occupy Boston: Music and Protest

Something is wrong. If we cannot agree on everything, at least we can agree on that. For far too long people have been out of work. For far too long people have been losing hope, and all so quickly after we seemed to have that driving us forward. Say what you will about the elections three years ago, what you cannot say is that they did not foster discussion and a willingness to participate in a way we have not seen in a long time. For months, conversations about government were on every corner and at every dinner table. How quickly things change. (read more…)

My thoughts on the matter:

I’ve been juggling my feelings about the Occupy movement since it began. All along, I’ve known that I wanted to get behind it and support anyone who is speaking out against increasing class disparity, corporate welfare, and the growth of wealth through the extension of credit to those who cannot possibly pay back the loans. (Of course, I just cite these as tiny examples of what I consider a systemic problem.)

The members of the Occupy movement are NOT extremists. They are NOT anarchists. They are NOT anti-American. They are NOT the lazy. They are NOT entitled brats. This is a movement that captures the spirit of our time to ensure that we all survive and that we keep the United States on top (or at least near the top) of the world. We cannot succeed if we allow individual voices to be dismissed by rhetoric. That’s what has motivated me to speak up. That’s what has motivated me to go down to the camp and at least do something…even a tiny thing like play a few songs. I owe my tradition of songwriting to folk and blues singers; singers that delivered tales of suffering, tales of the silences, and tales of personal struggle. My roots easily trace back to people like Woody Guthrie with his “This Machine Kills Fascists” guitar. I don’t write explicit protest songs, but I do write songs that tell my perspectives on sociopolitical challenges. I write songs that allow me to step back and examine challenges that I face. I write songs that I use as a lens to see into the lives of those with challenges I myself have not faced.

I can’t promise that my reputation stands as an upstanding citizen, but I am willing to put my reputation behind this. It’s my way of saying simply, if you think I am a reasonable person, if you think I am not crazy, then you need to be paying attention to what’s going on because it is important. If you believe in me – and I certainly don’t expect that everyone does – this is my call to you. This is my tiny contribution for today. I will continue to think about the ways that I can help. I hope you will do the same. This is such a mainstream movement that even Governor Patrick paid a visit.

As part of a taping for Sleepover Shows at Occupy, I chose to perform two songs with Tanya Palit and Sophia Cacciola. I carefully picked songs that were my best looks at some of the systemic issues of our time.

The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library‘s “Civil Engineering” is the tale of city planning in which efficiency and safety trump humanity, comfort, and meaning. In the context of such challenge, we simply shut down and revert to meaningless routine and structure. We become mechanical shells.

The city was built it was perfectly laid out
in a gridlike form, none too close to his neighbor
but problems evolve, no they’re not created
put disclaimers on the news

There’s a man on the street, God told him to wait there
for a message to be sent in a bottle
but the bottles he sees are all broken, discarded
by boys stumbling by late at night

no they don’t talk at all they go la la la

and the boys they pass by they won’t give him a dollar
cause they know that he’ll use it for mouthwash or sterno
besides they’ve got nothing left in their wallets
they just spent all their money on beer

no they don’t talk at all they go la la la

and the leaders of nations stand tall at their pulpits
complain about how they’re all victims of violence
and nothing they do will solve any of this
so they may as well just smile

and they may talk a lot, but it’s la la la

You’re a proselytizing, prophylactic mess 
and the girl that loves you is circumspect
with her bloodshot eyes and her tearstained dress

no you don’t talk at all, you go la la la

The Motion Sick‘s “Grace Kelly” is the story of a woman profoundly obsessed with the modern values of fame, wealth, and beauty. Her identity erodes through inability to cope with a reality that fails to meet the demands of her sick fantasies until gradually, she withers to nothing.

opening night in a town so quaint and serene
The clock drips away for each of her brilliant fifteen
The bleachers are silent, clowns painting off their frowns
The routine’s the same; the sun rises up and then comes tumbling down
She wants a war so there’s something to cry about
She wants a death so that all of the tears can flow
She wants the credits so everyone can go home

Grace Kelly, Grace Kelly
as she falls that’s all she sees
Grace Kelly, Grace Kelly
That’s who she has always wanted to be

She stares in the mirror reflecting a face from the screen
She remembers her past and it plays like a Rear Window scene
The circus is no place, for a princess or a lady
She wants to be a country girl or part of high society
She closes her eyes to help keep the music down
She closes her mouth to stop truth from leaking out
She watches the credits so everyone can go home

The ringmaster twirls his mustache and bows to the crowd
The calliope clamors, the spotlight lifts up to the clouds
The girl leaps from the platform, glides gracefully to her doom
At least graceful is what’s perceived by everyone in the room
Opening curtains to thousands of children’s screams
Opening credits crescendo to title themes
Start the projector so nobody can go home

Because she wants to be remembered in traumatic, haunting dreams
of Boy Scouts and field trips; watching midgets and madmen rush onto the scene
[Some photos of my first visit to Occupy by Joe Harrington. I’m sure it won’t be my last.]

Some more of my free-form thoughts on Occupy…

We have a culture in this country plagued by entitlement. We deserve to have a car, a house, an expensive education, gadgets, expensive food, etc. We all, myself included, balk at financial sacrifice. We have been told repeatedly that by working hard, we can get whatever we want. We can rise up and become part of the elite. The problem is, we’ve created a rift. We’ve generated rhetoric targeted at causing shouting about essentially social-freedom issues that have little to do with the function of our country – things like abortion and same-sex marriage. Neither party cares to resolve anything because as long as these smokescreens exist, increasing national debt, reduction of programs to help the poor, and ballooning corporate favoritism are overlooked by the voting populace. It’s a system designed to create pretend choices – Republicans and Democrats, two parties full of members so identical and so devoid of morality that we ultimately choose between cutting off our left arms or our right arms. The rhetoric has been, for a very long time, about this football game between two teams that function as one team…one team serving the economic interests of multinational corporations at the expense of individuals. Regardless of winner, no one wins.

I am not terribly fond of the Occupy rhetoric, but there is something powerful about the 99% concept. We’re virtually all harmed by these systemic problems. We are not at odds with one another; we are all suffering. I think 99% is catchy, but this should actually be 99.999%. No one is going to do well under economic collapse. The rich will lose their money when inflation happens. The rich will lose out when no one is there to extend credit to, because no one can pay it back and when it can no longer be bounced as a tradable commodity. The tradability of bad loans was key to the accumulation of wealth and the absolution of responsibility and blame – i.e., all of the toxic loans were tradable prior to the exposure of the problems with constructs like Credit Default Swaps (usually simplified by the media as all those mortgage collapses). [The first 50 or so episodes of NPR’s Planet Money do a great job examining what happened and delivering it all to people without economics educations.]

The more we see that we’re all in this together and that we all need to pitch in, the more we can keep our suffering to a minimum. We are all going to have to make sacrifices over the next few years. In my opinion, we can either do it now voluntarily or suffer much worse mandatory repercussions of true collapse. We haven’t even begun to see recession and unemployment. Economists disagree on the precise solutions, but virtually every single one agrees that we need to do two things – raise revenue and cut spending…and virtually all specify that raising revenue is the more essential of the two. The pundits and the party leaders – as puppets of the wealthy and as puppets of corporations – will try to convince us all that we disagree on these points. They will attempt to create a rift between the “hard-working” employed and the “lazy” unemployed. They will attempt to create a rift between those who are lucky enough to have benefits at work like insurance and retirement packages and those who are not. They will do everything possible to make sure that we are so blind with passion and fury that we cannot fit our swollen feet into the shoes of people on the other side.

The most important thing we can do is to defy the splitting spikes of the faceless/nameless entities in control. The enemies are not the people who disagree with you, especially not those who disagree with you on social issues. The enemies are not the wealthy nor the poor. The enemies are not the protesters nor the police. The only enemies are rifting/divisiveness, anti-intellectualism/anti-science, volume over substance, and rhetorical prejudice over humanity and compassion.

It sounds alarmist and it sounds extremist and it sounds like conspiracy theory, but I think we are at a monumentally important moment in our country’s evolution. The decisions we make now about national economic planning, both short-term and long-term, will have profound effects on our well-being for the rest of our lives…assuming we’ve not already neglected to pay attention for too long already (Let’s hope we haven’t!). Let’s stop squabbling and make this country a place that we can all be proud of. I may not be ready to live in a tent or get arrested (at least not yet), but I am ready to tell you that I believe we need to take back our country. If everyone gave a little, we’d all get a lot. Don’t create enemies that don’t exist.

After we taped the segment with Sleepover Shows, we popped back in to play a short set. Here are a few songs from when we popped in by the statue of Gandhi and played a few songs on the tiny path there before we returned to the comfort of our climate-controlled homes.