We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine. – H. L. Mencken
Last Friday, Brad Paisley performed at the same Sacramento area venue where I met him in August 2014. On Saturday, he performed at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. (Both tours support his recent Moonshine in the Trunk album.) I have photographed musicians at both places and I had hoped to see him again so that we could continue an important discussion. More accurately, I wanted another chance to share a complicated story about epilepsy, music and apologies.
Last year, Brad Paisley invited me to his concert after I had written an open letter to him. People in the epilepsy community found some of his comments insensitive. (I have epilepsy and Brad Paisley CD’s.) I did not expect a response or an apology from Paisley, but he contacted me directly to apologize for his “poor choice of words.” When we met, he appeared genuinely sincere. I photographed part of the show and wrote about our meeting. Paisley impressed me and I wanted to share his gesture with a larger audience. I wanted the epilepsy community to feel heard. I wanted country music fans to know that their celebrities followed a code. I failed. Hopefully, I will be more successful this time.
If this is the first time you are viewing my photos and reading my blog, you might be asking, “Who the hell does he think he is?” I often ask myself this question. Sometimes I think I am a leading epilepsy advocate; other times I wonder if I am blindly wandering into the forest. Alone.
I mean, one day Brad Paisley contacts me while I am grocery shopping; the next day I am ignored when placing a simple headphone order. One minute people are giving me high fives; the next minute I have completely lost the ability to crush it. Who am I to think I can write and speak for millions? Who am I to write to Brad Paisley and suggest that Walt Disney had epilepsy? Why do I care if our voices are heard? Why do I care so much about music and imagery?
I wish more people who had epilepsy understood country music. Country music shares a common language with epilepsy. (We fall; we get back up.) Country music is also multi-generational and layered so that different ages can relate to some of the content. During last year’s concert, Paisley let a small child sing. After the child sang, Paisley appeared to sing a little worse than usual so the boy would not seem off key. (Paisley began performing with talented local musicians when he was young and they let him shine.) Country music remembers its past while pushing forward. Just look at the other performers on Paisley’s tours. Listen to his lyrics. Some who don’t know country music confuse corny with backward. It’s a layer.
This week I played Garth Brooks’ country music anthem “Friends in Low Places” for my nine year old son. “Well I guess I was wrong, I just don’t belong, but then, I’ve been there before…” I know the feeling of showing up in boots and thinking that I belong only to find out that I was wrong. When I listened to the song this week, I also realized that I know I survived each time … AND I will experience the process again. I will be wrong again, yet I will still show up and survive.
Many people forget that we will survive being wrong. This is one reason that sincere apologies are rare. It’s not enough to “just show up.” Sometimes we must show up crazy with our hat on backward knowing that we are going to be wrong eventually. When we are wrong, we must do something about it. We must do more than act like a child who is ordered to “say you are sorry.” We can’t stop showing up. This is what I find special about Brad Paisley’s apology. It appears genuine… and if we were never taught how to apologize, we were probably not taught to accept an apology. So what do we do now?