Greetings from the road!
I will be performing several concerts in the coming weeks - across the eastern US, Ireland, and in Ontario, Canada. I hope to see many of you at one of these shows.
Thursday – September 13th – I will be at Baldwin’s Station in Sykesville, MD. My Friday the 14th concert in Norfolk has been postponed due to Hurricane Florence – and will now be on September 21st. In between, I will be returning to The Cooperage in Honesdale, PA. I will be performing additional shows this month at The Lotus Center in Roanoke, VA - and FOCUS Concerts in Alexandria, VA.
October will see me in Albany, NY – then onto the Garden Stage in Garden City, NY – and at Circle of Friends in Franklin, MA – and then off to Ireland. October 21st I will be performing in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY (more info TBA soon) and then off to Ontario for a lovely tour swing with my dear friend and very talented colleague from Edmonton, Alberta – Marina Dunn.
Please scroll down for a list of upcoming tour dates and visit www.joejencks.com for more complete listings. Please also read the essay below – Rhinoceros.
I look forward to seeing many of you soon!
As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Carolina and Virginia coast, my thoughts are with many friends and colleagues in the region – and indeed all of the people who will be affected by this storm. “St. Christopher protect them from the cold and stormy sea…”
In Gratitude & Song,
Copyright 2018 Joe Jencks, Turtle Bear Music, ASCAP
I had a dream a few weeks ago wherein I was witness to a broad-shouldered, chisel-jawed, robust and strapping man. He could on a whim transform himself into a small Rhinoceros. There was a dog in the space where we were and he morphed into a Rhino and went and lifted the dog with his pointed and horned snout up into the air. As the dog came back down – he caught it on his horn. The dog yelped in pain. He continued to torment the creature a fraction of his size – just because he could. In the dream, he derived joy and pleasure from the exercise. The Rhino-man was a sadist, extracting delight from injuring a relatively helpless creature.
The Rhino-man transformed himself back into a fellow in a tuxedo and began talking to me again as if nothing shocking had happened – while the poor canine lay, in agony in the corner. I was in shock.
The Rhino-man repeated the atrocity when a wild boar – a more formidable opponent - entered to investigate the Rhino-man and the dog. The man-cum-Rhino attacked the Boar in a similar fashion – unprovoked. The Boar was a harder mark, but the Rhino dispensed with him quickly enough by throwing him down a flight of stairs. The Rhino-man went after the Boar – down the stairs – trampling him.
I had pleaded with the Rhino-man to STOP when he attacked the dog. I pleaded when he attacked the Boar. I begged him to stop. Finally I put myself directly in front of the Rhino-man. He did not attack me. He transformed back in to the burley man I had first seen and looked at me quite quizzically. He asked me what I was going on about? And I said he was hurting creatures unnecessarily, and doing so for his own pleasure and amusement. I expressed my dismay and outrage, and empathy for the wounded and likely dying creatures.
Rhino-man’s eyes blazed with rage and anger toward me for the briefest of moments, and then he laughed out loud. He laughed and said he could not begin to understand why I was making such a scene! He said I was too sensitive, and that I was making something out of nothing. He said that the animals were of no consequence. Nuisance creatures. Why was I concerning myself with their inconsequential existence? He suggested that because they were animals that they could not really feel pain. True pain required awareness that was beyond their sub-human capacity. He brushed me off in disgust and went away – and I was left with the image of the wounded animals and the lingering memories of their cries of pain as a sadistic bully attacked them in an unprovoked manner.
The dream has haunted me for nearly a month.
Imagine my surprise, when while reading a book by Yale professor and historian Timothy Snyder, I learned of the Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco, who wrote a play likening the actions of Fascists and their minions to a Rhinoceros? Ionesco wrote a stage play in 1959 called, “Rhinoceros” wherein those people who were committing acts of Fascism and their followers – the people who believed their propaganda – were transformed into violent Rhinoceroses. WOW.
Both Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung wrote about the collective unconscious mind of humanity. So did the famed professor of mythology, Joseph Campbell. How in the world did my mind link Fascists and brutal, sadistic acts of oppression and torture with the actions of the Rhino-man before I had ever even heard of Eugene Ionesco?
I have yet to read his play from 1959 – but be sure I will.
The lesson is not in the vilification of the Rhinoceros – a creature that is innocent enough in its own right, but in the way in which the mind of a playwright who lived under an oppressive and totalitarian regimen in 1959, a man who had survived the inconceivable hatred and racism of the Third Reich, drew the image of such a massive and powerful creature out of his unconscious mind as the symbol for the exploitation and coopting of the “innocent” into being complicit in the oppression and exploitation of others. The lesson is more perhaps in how a musician, poet, and songwriter in “the land of the free” nearly 60 years later would have a dream – wherein the same creature served a similar role.
For me, the amazing serendipity is that in the face of people who willfully surrender their relationship with the truth, people who willingly surrender a rigorous pursuit of factual information about what they hear and read and see, the mind of two artists independently conjured the same archetypal image of brutality, ignorance, and unmitigated savagery – as a way of quantifying the inconceivable acceptance of systematic and unwarranted hatred. Two artists separated by ½ a world and more than ½ a century both summoned out of the depths of their unconsciousness – a specific image to represent the cold, unfeeling, unquestioning, reckless, and sadistic bullying that has somehow become socially acceptable in their respective societies.
In the dream, I tried to plead and reason with the Rhino-man. I pleaded with him to stop his brutal attacks on the innocent. I begged him to quit. Eventually the screams of the innocent grew so unbearable that I myself stood in front of the Rhino-man. My refusal to stand idly by while he brutalized another – was enough to interrupt the behavior for that moment. The dream ended there. I don’t know what happened next. But I ask myself – how many of my neighbors will need to be attacked for being black, being women, being Muslim, being Latino/Latina, wearing a hijab, being poor, being Chinese or Japanese? Would I have stood between the Nazis and a Jewish neighbor in Warsaw, Poland 1939? Would I have stood between a Japanese-American neighbor and the US authorities in 1942? I cannot know.
The question is - what am I doing right now to challenge a growing acceptance of increasingly violent and bigoted nationalism masquerading as patriotism? And am I willing to stand in between a Rhinoceros and an innocent life – in order to choose non-compliance over complacency or even worse – complicity?
And even if one is willing to do such a thing – willing to risk being attacked alongside others who are being targeted, bullied, exploited, and blamed, how does one do that effectively in the current climate?
I do not know. It is a question I will be exploring in the weeks and months to come. The dream still haunts me. I can still hear the yelps of the Dog and the squeals and screams of the Boar as they were attacked by the Rhino-man. I remember the extraordinary fear as I finally stood between the Rhino-man and the innocent – refusing to allow him to finish off the two wounded creatures. In my dream, I stood up – and not soon enough to stop all of the brutality. But I did stand up.
When the weapons of unwarranted violence, driven by ignorance and fear strike – we don’t always have warning. And while we are wrestling with our own shock, disbelief, and fear, the wielder of those weapons strikes again.
We are not necessarily responsible for the ways in which we are surprised. We are not even reasonably responsible for the ways in which our human instincts protect us by putting us into shock when we witness the unimaginable. But we are 100% responsible for what we do once awareness reaches us that something horrible is happening, and we have the ability to do anything at all to interrupt the pattern of exploitation, hateful rhetoric, or damage that is being done to the innocent around us.
I do not know what my response will be on or off stage, in a climate where racism and hatred are again being turned into public policy. I do know however, that in the wake of a dream that unwittingly connected me to a playwright from Romania and a work of art written well before I was born – I WILL have a response.
I respond in my music and in my conversations. I respond in my actions and in my inactions. I respond by educating myself about the world around me. I respond by travelling to communities different from my own so that I can learn from them. I respond by choosing a non-violent form of resistance rather than surrendering to a presumption that violence is the inevitable and necessary response to a threat. I respond by challenging a toxic level of competition among men and women – and encourage systems of cooperation instead. I respond by refusing to “take the bait” when someone tries to goad me into an unnecessary confrontation. I respond when I reserve my voice for places where I can reasonably communicate (a.k.a. not getting sucked into needless anxiety by living on social media). I respond by living as much of my life as possible in the flesh and blood world, not the virtual one.
I respond by saying hello to everyone I meet on the street or in the grocery store. I respond by making eye contact with people and by choosing to be kind – if occasionally direct. I respond by singing. And, how can I keep from singing?
When tyrants tremble as they hear, the bells of freedom ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?
Until I read the book “On Tyranny” by Timothy Snyder, I did not know that Eugene Ionesco had even existed. Now I feel bound to him through our collective manifestation of specific imagery. I feel bound to try and quantify the hurtful and unreasonable behavior of bullies and those who side with them, over reason and social responsibility. And I will keep asking questions even if I do not have the answers. That is why we ask questions, to find the answers. When did ignorance become something to be proud of, or something to be ashamed of? When did ignorance stop being the beginning of knowledge and wisdom?
Never, is the answer. And never is when I will stop asking questions that make me (and others) uncomfortable. Please buy the book On Tyranny – by Timothy Snyder. Please go see the new Spike Lee film, BlacKKKlansman. It is extraordinary. And, say hello to neighbors and strangers alike. Break the wall of anonymity that separates us. I am convinced it will make a difference.