Planetary Jam

Post by Josh Urban for the Kind Kindred series.

What if the World was a Band?

The night train hurtled south as a perfect metaphor for the mystery, uncertainty, and darkness that faces us today. Stuffed aboard was a motley collection of passengers, swaying over the discussions the wheels had with the unseen rails and cross-ties flying underneath. Crammed in the overhead luggage rack was my suitcase, guitar, and a strange invention: a broom converted into a one-string electric guitar. I was midway through a tour to start a jam session with the planet. I’d end up doing a lot of pondering about the darkness and light, too.

The question is this: What if the world was a band? And, if so…What if we had a jam session? On board the night train, I was determined to find out. My own personal experience with music has brought me face-to-face with people I disagreed with in every possible way. To my surprise and delight, I not only learned tolerance, but respect and friendship. So, what would happen if this was scaled up? I booked a tour by train, and set off to make a music video with humanity.

After a day of playing music in New York City, I figured out the work-flow. I would stand on the street corner, playing the broom guitar. Often it’s hard to attract attention as a street performer, but the sight of a man playing a broom would work its wonders, and people would drift over with a puzzled, delighted look. I’d explain it to them, show them how to play it, grab my “real” acoustic guitar, and we’d all have a jam session. Recorded with permission on a GoPro camera, I assembled all of the interactions into THIS video:

 

The “humanity band” should have been named The Menagerie for the delightful assortment of people it included – tourists, locals, homeless people, students, old ladies, Hungarian folk dancers, Italian bluegrass musicians, taxi cab drivers, beautiful women, friends, family, druggies, fitness gurus, and of course, musicians. I started out knowing that music unites, but quickly realized that curiosity is a marvelous catalyst for a shared experience. The broom seemed to have magical powers as it pulled people into its glow, and we would start to jam, building bridges to common ground through music.

It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia

Well, OK, it was raining by late afternoon on the Philly tour stop, but I was in a sunny mood when I got to meet up with KOM’s infinitely kind Lara and Jamal for a quick jam session in a commuter train station concourse downtown. As we set up, people materialized out of an empty station to watch, participate, and clap along. Whenever I meet up with like-minded people who intentionally try to better the world, it not only inspires me, but gets me to thinking about light…and the darkness, for it is into this arena that we try to bring a sparkle.


The Darkness

Sometimes, with brute optimism and the birth lottery that I’ve won, I can almost forget that there are wars raging and unimaginable suffering all around. But then I go out onto the street to play music, and it all comes crashing down onto my smiling face. I’m sure most of the folks reading this have had a similar experience. We get geared up to go make a difference, and then a mountain of despair looms in the distance as soon as we glance down the street with a chipper gaze, seeming to blot out the sun as it reaches almost to the sky.

I usually get discouraged by this. It’s always easier to play to a packed house, and be kind to an appreciative audience. But this thought occurred to me recently: A flashlight seems feeble and useless in broad daylight. It’s when the night comes and the mists swirl through the air that the beam leaps out so brilliantly, helping us find our way through the dark and scary part of the forest and wind our way through the tombstones, back to the good and the love. Perhaps all of this darkness that we are bombarded with every day could be looked at as a signal to advance, our “Please turn on headlights in tunnel” sign. It’s easy to get discouraged, intimidated and overwhelmed by the sheer force of the Bad, or The Great Silence – like a hush falling over a land where music is strangely forbidden. Far from sitting down and unplugging our guitars…it’s time to leap up, face out into the night…and crank it up! The world is waiting for your light, and your song. What will you shine? What will you play?

 

Josh Urban is a musician, speaker, and writer living near Washington, DC, USA. 
Say hello at www.JoshUrban.com and check out the new music video featuring the humanity band HERE!

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