Inspired by three (real) albums of protest music released in 2018 -- "Retake the Middle Ground," "Unfollow," and "World Almost Over?" -- the novel follows the travails of three (fictional) songwriters as they deal with issues from writer's block to physical intimidation, from trolls to the seemingly endless social media feeds devoted to politics.
Retake the Middle Ground
It had all started with a Craigslist ad. The ad had simply read "Musicians: are you unhappy with the current course of our government and are you writing songs to protest it? Let's meet up! Starbucks on 4th at 7pm Wednesday." And that was it.
At six forty five on Wednesday Kim sat by herself at a small table at the Starbucks on 4th in Bloomington, Indiana. As she sat waiting for the other musicians to show up in response to her Craigslist ad it suddenly occurred to her that she had not mentioned in the ad just how the musicians would recognize one another. She had simply told them to meet at Starbucks. She now realized that was definitely not sufficient.
In a panic she looked about the room, attempting to see if she could recognize any other songwriters simply by looking at them.
She did not succeed.
Kim pulled a piece of paper and a thick marker from her backpack. After thinking for a moment she wrote upon the paper "Craigslist ad gathering here!"
She stared at the piece of paper. "That's not right," she mumbled aloud. Then she flipped the sheet over and pondered it for a moment. She tapped the marker on the table. This was something that she always did when she was contemplating things. She was a tapper. After about a minute of tapping she wrote on the blank side of the piece of paper:
"POLITICAL MUSIC CLUB"
And she smiled.
Kim was on a mission to find kindred souls. Since the 2016 election she had felt increasingly alone in the small Indiana town in which she had lived her entire 23 years. It had begun to feel as though everywhere she turned she was bumping into people who not only were of a much different political opinion to her, but who were also incredibly vocal about those beliefs.
She had, of course, always known that she lived in a conservative area. That had always been the tone of her small town and she had always been fine with it. But over the previous several years the tone had gone from one of a benign, peaceful sort of conservative — the type that her mother had taught her, based on her own belief in the loving nature of Christ as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount — to the loud, divisive Gingrich/Limbaugh style of conservative with which Kim did not agree.
When at work or out in a social situation she would often feel completely alone and would find herself wishing for nothing more than to go home where she could close herself up in her room, play her guitar and write songs about the things that she wished she could say in public.
One day at work she had been forced to listen to a customer go on a loud rant about all of the "damned liberal college kids" who had recently been "doing some damned liberal protest" (they had, in fact, been protesting the mind-boggling concept that their government was throwing children into cages) and how these college kids were "too young and stupid and brainwashed by big media to know anything about anything."
This had been a last-straw moment for Kim and just as she had been about to lose her temper (something which almost never happened for her) and lay into this person, an idea had come into her head. It was a simple idea, an idea so simple that she was surprised that it hadn't occurred to her before: she should move to a college town.
She was only 23 at the time and of a smallish build, so she still looked young enough to be a student. She knew that if she made the move she would miss her mom, but there wasn't really anything else that was holding her to her home town. Plus she could, of course, drive back to visit her mom at any time — she wasn't considering moving to a college town in Alaska, after all.
So one day about three months ago, she had packed up her car and moved to Bloomington — an island of Blue in the sea of Red that was her home state.
"Political Music Club," Kim said aloud, pleased with the way that it sounded. It had a good ring to it.
She looked up from her new sign to see a long-haired middle-aged looking man who sported a beard that had gone salt-and-pepper gray walking toward her. In a soft, pleasant voice he asked, "Are you the one who put the thing on Craigslist?"
"That I am," she said, rising to shake his hand and return his smile, "I'm Kim."
"Nathaniel," he replied as he shook her hand lightly. Pondering her for a moment, he then asked, "Have I seen you at the Oat Wheel?"
"The what?" asked Kim.
"Oh, sorry. I guess that means that I haven't. The Oat Wheel is the vegetarian restaurant on 12th. I work there and I thought maybe I'd seen you there."
"No, if there's a McDonalds near there you might have seen me but not at The Oat Wheel," said Kim to no response from Nathaniel. She continued "So Nathanial, what instrument do you play?"
"I don't play an instrument but I have been told that I have an okay singing voice. Mainly I write poetry. A lot of poetry. And I've always been curious if I were to get together with a musician if my poetry would work as song lyrics."
"You're a Bernie looking for an Elton!" Kim exclaimed.
Nathaniel looked blankly at her.
"Bernie Taupin. Elton John… It's okay, never mind. That's cool that you write poetry."
Nathaniel said, "And like you, I'm troubled by the current political situation. I would like to see the world be a better place and I think here and now is where we should start."
"So your poetry is political?"
"Well, I'd like it to be. That's what's been on my mind. That's what I want to write about these days, so I…"
A loud crash of doors being thrown open interrupted Nathaniel's sentence. He looked up and Kim turned around to see a thin young woman with bleached and spiky hair who wore tattered black jeans and a similarly mangled sweater standing boldly in the doorway. The young woman raised high into the air a beaten-up Telecaster electric guitar and shouted out to the entire room, "SO WHERE ARE ALL THE FUCKIN' PROTEST SINGERS???!!!"
The room went quiet.
The young woman with the guitar looked around the Starbucks and, seeing no one answering her, said to the room, "Simple question folks."
After a brief pause, both Kim and Nathaniel slowly raised their hands.« previous next »