May your song always be sung

Let me open  a vein for you. See that white fluid there? That’s the milk of human kindness.  It flows freely through my body. It causes me to think the best of everyone, to make allowances, to promote tolerance, to embrace strangers in the street only after asking permission. That’s just who I am.

You may have notice that my milk of human kindness is a little clotted. It feels like it’s past its sell-by date. It’s been hearty and free-flowing since the Eisenhower administration, and now…I worry.

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Humans experiencing kindness

So here’s a story, not a true one but who cares? I was pulling weeds in the front yard of the old widow Jenkins, who has slowed down in recent years and has a bad back. So I like to keep her front yard tidy, because that’s the way she liked it when she was younger. And I’m going along, murdering blackberries, and I notice that the widow Jenkins has a Trump sign in her window.

A Trump sign! Where did that senile old biddy get a Trump sign? Probably down at a meeting of the “Dopey Seniors Who Hate Negroes” club. Gawd.

So I did the best thing I know to do: I took a knee. Then I replanted all the blackberry plants. Screw her.

As various public bigots are likely to say after their comments go viral: This is not me. Yet, it’s clear that it is them, because they did it. And I did it too, or have done something equally nasty that I don’t feel like copping to just now.

Because why? Because the fucking president is driving me crazy. I have cut back on my news consumption; I listen to nothing but podcasts now, because there’s nothing like a three-year-old episode of “Wait, wait, don’t tell me” with its jokes about the polar vortex and the ice bucket challenge. It was a simpler time.

So you may have noticed this blog is late. Really embarrassingly late. Not that it has a schedule, you understand, and it may be that I overestimated my ability to write regularly with no deadline looming, but that ain’t the whole story. The whole story is that the resentment monkey inserts himself into every sentence, every paragraph.

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Art and race and joy and sorrow

Like for instance, I have wanted to write forever about my increased engagement in the arts, mainly plays and live music. This summer I saw a Berkeley Rep show called “An Octoroon,” which was a complex presentation of a nineteenth century melodrama of that name, with many things added or interpolated. It was an amusing, sophisticated, ultimately devastating look at race in this country.

It did everything I want a work of art to do. My brain was buzzing when I came out, but also my heart had heard that melancholy American music and I began to feel so relaxed and fulfilled. Not because institutional racism made me feel good, but because I had seen human beings do the thing they do best, create castles and crevasses and the contours of the human spirit. I felt…kindly. I very much wanted to hug everyone I saw just because we had audienced together.

I believe that a work of art is not complete until in interacts with other human beings. The combination of the two rises like smoke from the sweetest fire ever.

I began to think about…you know who. Because you cannot think about race in this country with thinking about the barely concealed racism of the current administration.

It may be that the Trump administration promotes a flurry of great work in the arts. Resistance should be powerful, and I suspect artists of all types will rise to the challenge, and I look forward to the next two years, assuming the next two years exist in any real way.

But also, art does pure joy as well. At the very same Berkeley Rep, four weeks later, I saw Mike Birbiglia do a 90-minute aria on marriage and children that provided, as they say, non-stop laughs. Stand-up comedy is as demanding an art form as ballet, and when it’s done with honesty and brio, it’s like watching a really funny high-wire act.

And music! Chris Thile is the new host of Prairie Home Companion, which you may know (I didn’t). He’s also a virtuoso mandolin player and, by the way, a MacArthur Genius Award winner. Bet you didn’t know that. And he came to SFJazz with pianist Brad Mehldau, and they gave us two hours of bliss with original compositions and jazz/blues takes on Neil Young’s “Tell Me Why” and Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice”  (absolute stunner of a version). And I was so happy. It just reached a center of my self that appears too infrequently.

And I did not think for 107 whole minutes about Trump, who has contempt for artists and art and, for that matter, the concept of free speech.

In fact, he has contempt for almost everything that makes what’s important and useful in American life. It can make you fucking crazy. I feel so powerless. I try to do stuff, call and write and whatever I can think of, but a small part of me wonders whether, in the long run, violence might be the answer.

And that’s me, Mr. Milk of Human Kindness. What are the less evolved humans thinking?


Less evolved humans

Yeah, but: Despair doesn’t get us anywhere. Despair just makes us take to our rooms with a six-pack of whatever and a television playing endless reruns of “Law and Order,” where our faith in justice is restored every sixty minutes. We need the solace of art. We need, I submit, art in live presentation, at a concert or a theater or a dance hall or a symphony space.  That’s our most basic understanding of community, when strangers assemble to experience joy or sorrow or madness or rueful acknowledgment of our shared humanity.

The mad humans, particularly the ones with guns and don’t get me started, threaten that sense of community, but they must not be allowed to kill it. Because that’s our blood and bone. We are not hate robots.

Last week I went to the San Francisco Symphony. The first thing on the menu was Bartok’s piano concerto number two. I know little about symphonic music; it’s become an emerging taste of mine. I’m an ignorant savage, but I know what I like. I like big and fast and crazy.

I like feeling things that are sublimely unpolitical, but that make me stronger for the politics I must endure. And there were 50 or 70 musicians, flawed and grief-laden and wrapped in joy, coming together to make music and dance in their souls. Together.

Racism will continue to exist. But also this, this will continue to exist. Keep remembering. Keep fighting.

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Photography by Tracy Johnston, who would undoubtedly want me to say that, although she did indeed take these photographs, she did not choose them for this column, nor did she approve the captions, because she has to be in Pakistan, home of the Taliban and the ritual slaughter of vigorous older women.  She’ll be back as soon as we can pay the damn ransom.

Many useful things by Michelle Mizera.

43 thoughts on “May your song always be sung

  1. Ok – I am totally with you, crazy crazy crazy. Undone. But if you’re in need of a fantastic podcast, I recommend “Reckonings” by Stephanie Gerson. Amazing transformative stories about people who had one ideology or set of behaviors, and then completely changed.
    These programs won’t get rid of Trump, but they’ll give you hope his followers can reform themselves.


  2. When I lived in the City in a former millenium if the Symphony wasn’t performing a choral work you could buy a reduced price ticket and sit in the bleachers behind the orchestra. I loved that. Also you got to see MTT’s face.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Even over here in Germany, where we aren’t lambasted day and night by American cable (or cabal) television, we often get the impression that Trump is gaslighting the whole world. It must be even worse in the US.


    1. Oh, I imagine. There’s not any area of life that does not have Trump in it. The outdoors? The Trump administration is trying to destroy the environment on at least three fronts. The grocery? Trump is cutting social services, which means of millions of more Americans going to bed hungry. The bedroom? Trump is cutting funds for women’s health, including contraception, which means, oh boy. millions more unwanted babies! It’s terrible.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Bartok. Big fast and crazy was his game. I had a friend, something of a minor concert pianist, would launch into Bartok with something of a near frenzy. If you are all just on the outside you cannot play it. she would say. I haven’t though of Bartok in years. Thanks, Jon

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your writing is important to us. Keep it up and don’t get discouraged. Our juvenile Culture with a terrific Constitution is still growing up. We must change from CONSUMERS to CONSERVERS. The Planet depends on it, and our Free Speech can help individuals change. If our Culture can prosper making things most people in their right mind would hate to use, it should do just as well “Redefining Progress” to comprise things and services people need for protecting the Planet ande caring for each other. Life is either too long or too short to do otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s great to hear from you, Jon. Many, many of us share your thoughts, feelings and frustrations. I’ve just recently officially entered codgerhood, and I must say that this vulgar, embarrassing, whining, preening, bellicose, bullying, buffoonish ignoramus who is pretending to be our leader is beyond anything I thought I could possibly see in my lifetime. WTF! The upside here is that a situation such as this makes you realize and appreciate that there are many actually decent, intelligent and compassionate beings on this planet that recognize and are attempting to ameliorate the plethora of hideosities that surround us. Long live decency, intelligence and compassion!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, Jon, but it’s not really a portal…it’s just a line carefully etched onto the fabric of the space-time continuum that most of us traverse without even noticing. And you don’t get a diploma, but you do get a nifty swag bag full of useful items such as Polident, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, generic Depends and some sweets if you haven’t been acting too crabbily. To learn more about this and how to claim your swag bag, you’ll have to wait until the Grand Master Codger gets around to creating a website with all the details…he’s been planning on doing that for some time but it keeps slipping his mind.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I like three kinds of music: jazz, blues and classical. All three arouse me in a good way. There is a channel on Comcast, Music Choice (MC, Ch. 945) that plays all three 24/7 with no commercials but short bios of the musicians. I have it on all day because KCSM and KDFC don’t always please me and I have to listen to an announcer from time to time. Anyway, music does sooth the savage freakin’ out soul. And if I can’t do that, I can read in bed.


  8. Speaking as an advocate of despair : you have a worm in your brain ( not unlike the implant in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan ). Have it surgically removed. Alternatively, you might consider a lobotomy or electroshock therapy.


  9. We must all protect our “milk” from curdling.

    It is harder these days and takes more effort.

    Thanks for suggesting we can help each other prevent the curdling.

    Sometimes it is difficult.

    I too must look away when “he” appears, and I cringe with shame and rancour.

    Hope sometimes seems elusive.

    Your words and “our” comments are as balm.

    Now, maybe if there was some way to get people to stop making “portrait” orientation videos with their phones!

    Surely someday a backlash will set most things right… Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I feel you. Art and music yes. Especially choral music. And nature. Redwoods, ocean bluffs, mountain meadows, deserts, rushing streams, starry skies, serene lakes. Even everyday neighborhood dog walks.


  11. Jon, thanks for sharing your thoughts so eloquently. I have faith, shaky and uncertain faith to be sure, that the current shitshow will eventually meet its just demise, and it’s folks like yourself that are shining a light on a better path forward.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I want to live in a world where at least half the people are Jon Carroll clones. For the other half I’ll take Joni Mitchell. Sorry Jon.


  13. Thanks, Jerry,

    Part of the way I deal with what’s going in is through writing. It’s cathartic for me. I’m attaching a piece I wrote the other day. I submitted it to the Chronicle, but they probably won’t take it. Still, the writing did me good.


  14. I feel the same pain as you and am heartsick that the crazy bastard in Las Vegas destroyed so many while they were in escape in music.

    Nancy Wales

    Sent from my iPad



  15. Forget about the Widow Jenkins and her ilk. You are on to something..if you haven’t already, go see Ain’t Too Proud at Berkeley Rep right now. The power and beauty of Motown, with all the great harmonies.

    By the way, you have no deadlines with us. Everything you write is a gift.


  16. what fine, fine photos from tracy.

    and another fine articulation from you, jon, of the crazy-making. we are kindred in our frustration and fury at this insanity. this dreadful devolution. this death spiral.

    I leapt towards your phrase: ‘the solace of art.’

    you bet.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. For a partial antidote to the ass-backward president and the psychic damage he inflicts, may I suggest the work of the Greater Good Science Center? Those folks really help bring our positive nature into the public domain. Empathy, gratitude, the power of music in promoting community, all forms of pro-social behavior, reassuringly found to exist.
    Also, I did not know we had such similar taste in the arts. I attended each of the performances you mentioned, and I got to relive the pleasure of the experience each time another one came up in your blog.
    Michael Tilson Thomas is a local and national treasure; I only wish I had more chances to see him, and I somehow anticipate how sad I will be if he ever retires. Jeremy Desk, who performed the Bartolomeo concerto, has such funny expressions as he effortlessly pounds and/or glides across the keyboard. Chris Thile, also a treasure, an amiable, oddball genius and an inspired choice to replace Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion. Last thing, I decided to catch Tom Petty at the Greek Last month; now he’s gone too soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Damn auto correct! Bartok changed to Bartolomeo without my noticing. Talk about your mixed blessings. Or is auto correct all curse?


  19. Me? I take a walk through my fields and woods behind the house. This morning it was Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe in Gambit on the Audible Machine as I walked through the fog. Blissfully unaware of Tsar Trump of Putinville, I made my way down to the pond and back. Thanks for keeping us up to date on your goings -on . . .


  20. nice column, Jon. Since you left my house in a fury, I’ve been a little worried about you. Art! yes, what a brilliant way to steer people in despair over the White House. Give them ease,and the strength to fight back calmly and to better effect. love adair

    On Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 12:53 PM, Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: “Let me open a vein for you. See that white fluid > there? That’s the milk of human kindness. It flows freely through my body. > It causes me to think the best of everyone, to make allowances, to promote > tolerance, to embrace strangers in the street only aft” >


  21. I’m an artist and I say, “so what?”. Our culture likes established art, safe art, dead artist art, cute art, feel good art and commercial art. Real art and genuine crafts appeal to such a minority they’re simply window dressing, pretensions that we’re educated and they’re props that we love colors and the experimental almost as much as we luv guns and football.

    As for the laments, it may be too late to save the US and there’s no faraway island for escaping, so now art becomes important?

    Bottom line, talk and tears are cheap rhinestones … show me your actions, do something, that’s what counts.

    Need examples of how to do it? Forget Mario Savio and John Lennon and study what the fringe Right has been doing the past 3-5 decades … they grassrooted themselves into menial to significant levels of local-state-Fed government. And now they’re the dreaded bureaucracy. Conversely, during the same decades, the Left diligently defined “herding cats” with almost no work ethic but lots of feel-good harmonies.

    Again, talk is cheap … Show Me Your Actions! Otherwise, go to the opera.


    1. and you would suggest??? Forgetting Mario Savo and John Lennon? That should fix things. Gimme a break.


    2. I know you mean to be insulting. On the other hand, i do agree that the Left was absolutley not paying attention when the right took over state legislatures and began gerrymandering everything.

      i think the idea that true art is unpopular is an elitist view that has been disproven too many times, and is often used by people to explain why their own art is largely ignored.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I just thought you’d like to know you have a kindred spirit and follower from Southern Oregon. One of the *other *kind of Southern Oregonians. Thank you for continuing to write and for sharing.

    On Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 12:54 PM, Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: “Let me open a vein for you. See that white fluid > there? That’s the milk of human kindness. It flows freely through my body. > It causes me to think the best of everyone, to make allowances, to promote > tolerance, to embrace strangers in the street only aft” >


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