Can Music Turn White Supremacy into Love Supremacy?
Updated: Apr 18, 2022
My band Horned Beetle has a gig coming up this Saturday at Founding Fathers Collective. They want us to play there regularly. Since they booked us, a friend of mine sent me this snippet from a speech, the owner, Grant Quezada, had made to the Yavapai Republican Men's Forum during his run for city council. It went like this:
"Prescott and our region is under attack at all levels, from reconstructing our history, to the reeducation of our children, to the special interest groups like Prescott Indivisible, who have strong national ties to BLM and other Marxist organizations that seek to destroy our way of life. We have to address this head on! It is time for all of us to choose a side and step into the ring to fight for our community.”
Since then, he has withdrawn from the race, and I have been unfriended and publicly shamed for playing there.
I decided to send a text to the guy who books me there. I asked if he would like to sit down and talk about the place of Founding Fathers in our community. He said most definitely.
Well, I knew going in that we would have radically different views. The establishment is called Founding Fathers Collective after all. In my opinion, the original founding fathers were great thinkers and they made their dream come true. This dream would not have been possible without the nightmare of slavery, massive land theft, and genocide. Last time I was at Founding Fathers the logo was featured prominently: it shows the tip of a fountain pen with the slot in the middle in the shape of a musket. Hmm.
So we talked for three hours. One of the first things I noticed was the tattoo of that logo on his hand. I’m still haunted by that.
During those three hours I was schooled, and I hope he was too. He reminded me of the names of many of the elected leaders in Latin America that our country has taken down. He has done a lot of research on the different vaccines, including ones made in Russia, Cuba, and China. I don’t know if it’s possible to get to the bottom of that pit, but I do believe that the more we share what we have found, the more we can be guided by our intuition. He pitched to me a mentorship program they offer their employees to help them reach their life and career goals even if it means leaving the company. I asked if that would include getting involved with Black Lives Matter. He said most definitely. I didn’t ask what experience they have in that field.
He told me that they pay above the norm for this town. I know they do for music. The employees are super friendly in that way that says, “I am paid very well.” One thing is clear. They are very savvy business people.
One thing I always wonder when I read ignorant things like that quote above from the owner is, does it reflect the ignorance of the speaker or the ignorance of who they are trying to reach? Appealing to ignorance has often been a major source of power throughout our history.
And who am I trying to reach with the music that reaches beyond words? What am I trying to say to them?
We live in a house built from the ground up with the blood of racism running through the plumbing. Every stone in the foundation is built from genocide. The automatic washer/dryer combo was built from the bones of democracies we have overthrown.
Where will we live while we take down this house?
I remember when they were starting reconstruction work on what had been the performing arts center of Prescott College, a place I taught classes and did countless gigs, watched amazing dance performances, held benefits for comMUSIKey before the Arts programs had been decimated. I would take walks by there on my way to the park. One day I saw some letters going up on the wall that looked something like this: F_U_DI_G F_TH_RS CO__ECTIVE going up. I was wondering what it was going to say. It was like Wheel of Fortune.
Coming back I saw the whole name spelled out. FOUNDING FATHERS COLLECTIVE. I wondered if this was a dog whistle for White extremist groups and the like, and I felt a little sick. Around the same time was the Black Lives Matter march where hundreds of gun activists came with their assault rifles to make sure we didn’t burn down the town. These were the people hearing the dog whistle call to arms. I really don’t know but Founding Fathers seems like it is intended to be the perfect place for white supremacists to gather. But more than that, could this be a way to normalize white supremacy without actually naming it?
I’m feeling ripped to shreds. It’s not the money I’m helping them raise. They may be losing money on me. It’s what I am helping them to normalize.
OK, so I told my contact at Founding Fathers that I didn’t want to play in the small unventilated members-only lounge anymore. I don’t want to be their entertainer. But I will hold onto the Horned Beetle gigs where I get to do my real work. We do the Build the Bridges song and a pretty strong anti-anti-immigration song and some anti-war songs. I plan to bring in a song about taking down the man, a song about taking down the myth of the founding fathers, and my mother’s Powerful Woman song. I bring lots of shakers for people to shake and invite them to sing “take down the walls!”
So, do we put on our dog ears, listen to the dog whistles and harmonize or dissonize below?
I don’t want to just walk away and let them multiply unmonitored. Conversing with apparently opposing views has always been important to me. I’m glad I talked to that associate. I asked him if I could talk to Grant, the owner. He gave me that smile that says, “You're asking a lot. I doubt it, but keep asking and it might happen.”
In the meantime maybe we can wipe out White Supremacy with A Love Supreme. Would John Coltrane call himself a Love Supremacist if he were alive today?