by Ryan Wasoba
Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship.
Nobody truly knows how to cope with something as disturbing as the Sandy Hook massacre. But please don't write a song about it, at least not yet. I implore this not because of the potential distastefulness, but because if you write a song about Sandy Hook, it will suck. It will be terrible the way every song about 9/11 written between September 12, 2001 and September 11, 2002 is terrible. It will have nothing to add to the discussion, it will bring nobody comfort.
Tragedy is one of music's greatest inspirations, just think of how many bad songs have been inspired by soured relationships. It should also be noted how many of these songs are awful. The dialogue around Sandy Hook, about gun control and mental health and safety of children, is evidence enough that we're dealing with something more complicated than the typical tragic themes.
While lyrics can express multiple layers, it would take a beast of a song (written by a beastmaster of a songwriter) to appropriately handle the complexity of this shooting. The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle might be able to do it, but he knows better. Let's hope that the Christina Aguileras and Chris Martins out there know better as well, but I fear we'll all be hearing a "We Are The World" variation on this theme before Christmas.
This is but a small concern under the massive umbrella of the Sandy Hook disaster, but this is the unfortunate area where music tends to intersect with life in the big picture sense. Although most musicians donate money from their tragedy inspired song to charity, the positive PR is enough reason for a cashing-in accusation. It also hints at the arrogance of artists who believe the greatest gift they could give the world is an acknowledgement of their concerns. The families and friends of these victims have already been consoled by the most powerful people in the universe: the President, the Oprah, and even some non-black people who are not from Chicago. An aural hug from Lady Gaga is unnecessary.
There was a time when musicians could pull off a reaction song. "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is one such example, written in the aftermath of the Kent State shootings. But this was a product of a less globalized world in which information traveled at a speed that now looks as quick as the Pony Express. There were people who knew nothing about Kent State before hearing "Ohio." The last thing anybody needs is more awareness of what happened in Connecticut.
There will be a time when Sandy Hook will be fair game for song material, but only after it has been digested. Even then, most of these songs will suck. At least the context will be more interesting than a knee-jerk response of anger or pity. For now, it's off limits. Don't write a song about Sandy Hook. I'm not going to say please. Have some respect.