commentary noun anything serving to illustrate a point, or prompt a realization.

Hey Joe, what ya gonna do with that gun in your hand?

Just replace OCC in Oregon for Sandy Hook in Connecticut. Rinse. Repeat. 

On a Friday less than two weeks before Christmas an American tragedy occurred in Connecticut. Adam Lanza shot and killed twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Then Adam fled the scene to his home where he killed his mother and himself. These cold facts in no way capture the tragedy. The children were six and seven year old first graders who went to school that morning like it was any other Friday. Lanza was just a boy himself, twenty-two years old, intelligent but mentally challenged with a form of autism characterized by difficulties in social interaction called Asperger syndrome. He still lived at home with his mother and often slept in her bed. Obviously something not quite right about that, but also nothing to shine a light on the violence he harbored in his heart.

And then, before that town in Connecticut had even grasped what happened or the parents’ shock had turned to grief, before twenty tiny coffins found solace in cemeteries across the county, there began a political drumbeat that sounded into every corner of America. Gun control. Gun control. Every act of gun violence not involving known criminals moved from the city page to the front page, the lead story, the drumbeat. Gun control. Gun control. From Montana to the nation’s capital children were kicked out of school for pointing their fingers like a pistol at each other, playing cops and robbers at recess like they have since Smith met Wesson. Gun control. Gun control. Presidential inquiries are made of the National Rifle Association about the need for certain types of weapons, but there are no inquiries about an entertainment industry that makes more and more violent movies and games that imitate the very thing Adam Lanza executed. And the President of the United States executes 23 executive orders pertaining to gun laws in a single day because Congress would not heed the siren song. Gun control. Gun control.

So, is gun control the solution to Sandy Hook? No, it is an obfuscation of a social and political failure. It is the new American way. If we despair of winning the fight, we search of something else to focus on, something related to the real fight so it may appear that we are winning.

When we despair of war, hollywood celebrates our heroes in uniform. They are honored at every sporting event. Celebrities put on their patriot hats and make public service announcements about them. These are the same folks who said, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the War on Terror, the only reason young people join the military is because they don’t have an education and haven’t anywhere else to go. This causes some consternation among the preponderance of military officers with a college degree, many with advanced degrees. Yet now the airwaves clamor that these uneducated, desperate military men and women are heroes, and it takes the focus off the missions we are running from or the wars we are flat out losing. Wars and missions, by the way, the soldiers desperately want to complete.

Now we despair of the violence in our society, and gun control is the canard of choice. It misses the point, but someone up there in Washington or over in L.A. can feel good about “doing something.” The tragedy at Sandy Hook is a symptom of our sickness. The disease is the unchecked criminal violence in our country, glorified in our entertainment and media. And the Godfather is good cinema, I agree. It is one of the best films ever made. Only, mafia bosses and drug lords and terrorists are not heroes, even if they play one on TV. The fact remains that we have not been able to check the criminal violence in our cities, and gangs continue to kill each other and their innocent victims no matter how hard we try to make it to own a gun. In Chicago, our President’s home town (or is that somewhere in Malaysia), they have the strictest gun laws in the country and the criminal murders there have never been worse.

But, gun control gun control the drumbeat repeats. If we don’t let people have guns there will never be another tragedy like Sandy Hook. If we disregard our duty to defend ourselves and our families and our neighborhoods and “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” we will live in a gun free paradise where everyone is safe. Just guessing here, but I still think criminals will get the guns they need to perpetrate their nefarious deeds whether it’s against the law or not. They are criminals after all, and that implies a disregard of the law. And innocent people will still be killed by guns, and not just by criminals but by people like Adam Lanza, too. It is no coincidence that most mass shootings, like the ones in Sandy Hook and Columbine, are carried out in “gun free” zones. That phrase, gun free zones, sounds kind of like an invitation to anyone like Lanza.

Now, I do own a gun. It’s a double barreled 20-gauge shotgun that was my grandfathers. I haven’t shot it for twenty years. I don’t even know if it works, and I don’t have any shells for it anyway. I’m not a gun guy. I don’t go hunting. I don’t want a handgun in the house, although the gun control drumbeat of the past weeks has made me consider going to get one and shells for the 20-gauge, too, before it’s too late. It just seems that America has lost it’s knack for fixing the problem. Instead, when we fail, we find someone or something else to blame. Blaming guns won’t help. Franklin Graham says, “it’s not what is in our hands, but what’s in our hearts” that needs to change. And when a six year old boy points his finger at his friend and says, “Stick ’em up,” Sandy Hook is not in his heart.

Before we make laws to control guns, we should remember what we are fighting. I was walking my dogs the other day and Coulton, one of my son’s friends in the neighborhood, was outside and saw me walking by.

“Can Troy play?” he asked me.

“Sure, you should go over there and see,” I answered, trying to maintain my control of the dogs.

He held up the toy Davie Crocket, Kentucky flintlock rifle he had in his hands. “I want to show him the new gun my daddy got me,” he said.

Coulton is not the enemy, neither is his father, and taking the toy gun out of his hand will not solve Sandy Hook.

The Things I Have Not Done

“…the shadows of deeds that were never done…” Theodore Roosevelt, 1916

When the world spins down to its end – a possibility that seems more likely with every day this version of humanity careens along its broken path – each of us, from Adam and Eve to everyone living in that final day, will face judgement. That seems a scary prospect. I certainly don’t want to stand before the throne of our Creator and have Him unfold to the entirety of humankind all I have done wrong. I mean, how many of the Top Ten (that’s the Ten Commandments – you know, Moses, stone tablets, the Book of Exodus – for the uninitiated) have you broken? Murder? Maybe not, but abortion is murder and how many accomplices to that are there in the world today? But what about honoring your father and mother? or lying? or stealing? or choosing a way other than God’s way? You know what your list includes – all the things you tried to keep secret because you know they were wrong. And that means this judgement thing is going to take forever, not that that is a real concern of God’s. I’m not a really bad guy or anything, but even my list would take a good, long time. Imagine the list for the Hitler’s of the world. Any way you look at it, it’s not a pretty picture for any of us.

But, it turns out it’s even worse than we thought. It seems God is not interested in what we did wrong. He knows we’re all screw-ups and that’s what forgiveness is for anyway. No, God is more interested in what we didn’t do right. If we had chosen what God wanted us to do instead of what we wanted to do, what would our lives look like? Would we still have broken our share of the Top Ten? Probably, but what about the lives we would have touched, the hearts we would have changed, the people we would have become? Perhaps he’ll show us what the lives of all those babies we aborted would have been. The Einsteins, the Mozarts, the mothers and fathers.

It makes me weep to wonder upon what I have not done. For fifteen years during the most productive time of my youth I turned from what God wanted. Even now, as I struggle and still fail to follow His path for me, the immense possibilities of those years can not be recovered. That loss is what our judgment will reveal to us. It recalls to mind the quote from Theodore Roosevelt that opens this commentary. Our judgment is not a list of the things we did wrong, it is “the shadows of deeds that were never done.”


Every year I get older. That’s not true, really, not anymore. Now I  see something on the satellite or on the web that makes me feel older every day. There have been a couple of documentaries recently that made my tooth longer. Both are about dead musicians, but not the usual famous, indulgent, overdose tales of woe. Sad none the less, and not simply because I recalled their epochs as much more recent to my memory then they actually were.

The first was A Skin Too Few, chronicling the brief career and death of Nick Drake, a British singer/songwriter of the early 1970s. He only record three albums. None of them were successful. His music did not fit into the acoustic folk tradition of that time, and his lack of audience exacerbated his history of depression. In November of 1974 he died of an overdose of antidepressants. It was ruled a suicide. He was 26 years old. A familiar story in many respects, but the music in the documentary made me pay attention.

I purchased all three of his records – Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970) and Pink Moon (1972). There is a depth to the words and music of these recordings, and a powerful virtuosity to the acoustic guitar.  It is easy to see why Drake was difficult to categorize and promote in the early ’70s. It is hard to categorize him today, a Cat Stevens with a much more complex imagery, perhaps. I was certainly never aware of him during his lifetime. In 2000, a renewed interest in his music was sparked with the use of Pink Moon in a Volkswagen commercial. That song is often the first sited when mentioning Drake’s music, and it is a beautifully melodic bit of song, but it was his second album, Bryter Layter, that hooked me. I had heard the song Fly from this record before, from the the soundtrack of The Royal Tenenbaums. And like that song, this album features a much fuller instrumentation with Drake’s voice floating high above and his intricate guitar anchoring every song.

I have since acquired posthumous releases like Made to Love Magic and Family Tree. They are uneven, but still contain glimpses of brilliance. The somber home recordings found on Family Tree are particularly haunting in their often desperate lyrics, considering the nature of Drake’s death.

The Drake documentary attuned me to other such fare, and it was not long after that I saw The Future is Unwritten. It is the story of Joe Strummer, founder of The Clash. I was not drawn to this because of Strummer’s association with The Clash. I was never drawn to the punk bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The music seemed too one dimensional, almost without subtlety and always angry. Many of my peers raved about London Calling, but my interest in The Clash ended with Should I Stay or Should I Go and Train in Vain.

No, what drew me in was the music Strummer made after The Clash, particularly with The Mescaleros. This oeuvre includes only four albums, the last released posthumously, following his death from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect in December of 2002 at the age of 50. I was also very interested by the songs Strummer identified as influences in the documentary. Songs like Crawfish by Elvis Presley and Corrina, Corrina by Bob Dylan.

Following the demise of The Clash, Strummer recorded Earthquake Weather in 1989. It was a precursor of his later solo work, but it was not what the public or critics expected and led to his release from Sony Records. Strummer didn’t record again for a decade until the release of his first record with The Mescaleros in 1999. Strummer and The Mescaleros recorded three albums from 1999 to 2002.  The jewel of these recordings is Streetcore, a stylized rock album in the tradition of David Bowie or Peter Gabriel. The sampling and world music instrumentation and subtle, sharp guitars are mesmerizing. It not only induced me to investigate all of Strummer’s solos efforts, but to take another look at his work with The Clash. What I found was the seeds of his solo work and a reggae aesthetic apparent, most notably, on Sandanista!.

And, ultimately, this brought to mind the dichotomy in many of my favorite bands. Are you a Lennon person or a McCartney person? Is it Page or Plant? Roger Waters or David Gilmour? The Clash offers this choice as well – two strong musical presences forming the core of a seminal band. When these presences are separated, one of the artists will tend to embody in their subsequent work what you liked most about the original band. Mick Jones was Strummer’s counterpart in The Clash. Jones had great success immediately following the break-up of The Clash with his band Big Audio Dynamite. But I found the music of Big Audio Dynamite encompassed all the things i didn’t like about The Clash. I didn’t realize until I saw The Future is Unwritten that Strummer’s influence was a part of The Clash that appealed to me forcibly.

To demonstrate the legacy of both these artists, Nick Drake and Joe Strummer, and to highlight what I like about them both, I have also posted playlists under the My Playlists tab on this site. I hope they don’t make you feel older, as they did me, but rejuvenated by the music.

See more Commentary HERE.