Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Gratitude and a serious talk.

Gratitude and mirrors.

This morning, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to those brave members of the #Nashville #Jewish community who came out last night to support the only #Hanukkah show of its kind ever staged in Nashville, and quite possibly the south. Thank you to Belcourt Taps for being generous enough to host it. And thank you to my friends who performed: Eric Schwartz, Steve Goodie, Sasha Aaron, Gabe Price, and Steve's friend whose name escapes me at the moment. Which is a perfect segue to today's editorial blog posting…

Dear #America, have you lost your f^cking mind? Let's forget about the need for sensible gun control for a moment, forget about all the senseless killing because of your lack of critical thought, analysis, and adherence to logic and reason, and we can even forget your collective complicity in the gun deaths of 33,000 Americans every year. We're going to let that slide for moment. Because what you are enabling is far worse and will lead to the slaughter of millions.

Let me ask you a question, America: Which group of people would you like to exterminate from the planet today? Let me ask this again: Which group of people would you like to exterminate from the planet this morning? Take a moment, let it sink in, and please think deeply about it. I promise to come back to that question at the end.

Donald Trump. Mr. #Trump has been successful at one venture and one venture alone in his lifetime: entertainment. His foray into the world of entertainment was shocking as it was wildly successful. The size of the ego one must have to propel a failed and corrupt business man to the highest ranks of society could not possibly be contained by the halls of #NBC/Universal. So, they fired him. But that wasn’t enough power for him anyway, and firing him only made him stronger. He finally had the platform and attention he had been searching for all these years. Everything in his life before that show was a complete lie, smoke and mirrors, flat out corruption. The stuff of mafia legend perhaps, but nothing rising to the level of #genocide. That's right, genocide. And that my friends, is what we need to be talking about today on Hanukkah, the festival of lights. Not of darkness.

There was once a man with a giant ego who felt he didn't receive enough attention in the art world. He had a complete lust for power and control. He, like Mr. Trump would give loud rousing speeches to frustrated disenfranchised people professing the problems in his country and dangerously pinning it on one particular people he hated. My people. The Jewish people. This is the classic tale of the wolf wearing the sheep's clothing. But now the veil has been fully lifted. Donald Trump at this stage is no better to the #Muslim people then Adolph Hitler was at this stage to my people. 

Draw any comparisons you would like to, but they all hold up. A bitter and hateful failure is given a megaphone and a platform and is able to change the course of the world and exterminate race of people. This is not 1930, This is 2015. I hear many Trump aplogogists claiming ‘he doesn’t really mean that’ and ‘he will never become the President of the United States.’ But the problem is right now. The damage he is doing to the United States of America, to Muslims, and to the entire world is massive and it must be stopped.

While the world as a whole condemns his hateful vitriolic words about Muslims, even members of his own radical party are starting to condemn them as well. It is hate speech, bigotry and racism. However, the more rageful and hateful he is, the more powerful he grows. And  you are enabling him. That’s right, America, a huge part of the problem is you. Yes my country, America. You are the problem, and you can fix the problem.

The people that support Donald Trump are on the whole very fearful and susceptible to hateful speech. They are not happy with their lives because the party they support and consistently vote for over the last three decades claims to represent their values, but doesn't care about them or their needs. And they fail to be able to see that. Those people would be voting democratic if they could wrap their heads around the truth. They are being played like a philharmonic orchestra by a small handful of masterful conductors. 

Then along comes #Hitler (Donald Trump). With a dynamic voice, a rousing performance, and ridiculous combed over hair. All that's missing is a small mustache. He even has the Sieg Heil salute down perfectly. Just check Getty images from yesterday.

As most of you know, I am far from a religious person. I'm a man of deep morals and convictions, of right over wrong, but not a man of faith. I know many Muslim people. They are my friends. They are peaceful. They condemn every terrorist act that happens on this planet ‘Jihadist’ or ‘Christian’ as it is in their religion to do so. As any sane person would. There is so much hate against Muslims now on the internet, I can’t even give you the quote anymore from a NON-hate source, but here is the gist: to kill one person is to kill the world, and to save one person is to save the world). There is nothing especially Muslim about that, or Christian, or Jewish, or Hindu, or Atheist. That is just being a good human. Golden rule stuff. The way most people on this planet try to live. 

I know many Christians. They are my friends. They are peaceful. They condemn terror. I know good Christians of great intent who support the #NRA (even though they are by all measures a violent and racist hate group). And even among those people are NRA supporters that truly believe the outright and painfully obvious lie that the second amendment provides them unfettered access and rights to his many guns and bullets as they desire. Historians and well-educated people know full well that this was NEVER the meaning of the Second Amendment. However, I know many of those people, with many guns, who are peaceful people. In their minds (despite all proof otherwise) they are simply protecting their families. They do not wish for the extermination of a race. I know many many many levelheaded Jews that despite enduring repeated terrorist attacks over decades and non-stop oppression for 5776 years, know and love many Muslim families, and know that they are peaceful. They wish them no ill will. To do so would perpetuate this sickness known as terrorism. If anything, smart Jews pity many of these Muslims, because they are victims of the worst horrific crimes of these terrorist organizations.

These terrorist organizations are not made up of Muslims, regardless of where they steal their disgusting warped ideology from. There is no difference whatsoever in a "radical jihadist, who quotes random verses from the Qu’ran to justify hatred and murder then a white male “Christian” Jihadist in the United States who quotes Bible verses to justify his; nor in a Jewish terrorist who commits atrocities in the West Bank or Gaza. All of them might use some sort of religious justification to commit their crimes. But lift the veil and they are all the same: Vile, disgusting, soulless murderers and terrorists. Not Christians, not Jews, and not Muslims. (And not Atheists either, thank you very much)

So I want to circle back to my original question to you now. America, which group of people would you like to exterminate from the planet today? Which group? Muslims? Jews? Christians? Someone else? Because if you support a large group of screaming people, foaming at the mouth like the Nazis did… and if you show up to wildly cheer for a leader no different in rhetoric whatsoever than Adolf Hitler, I promise you will not like the results. I know first hand. My family knows first hand. My people know first hand. And I promise you too will know first hand. For if you set out to rid our country or our world of an entire race of people, you end up exterminating America and destroying the world. And trust me, like those Syrian refugees you want to turn away, no one else wants us.

Friday, November 20, 2015



Good morning #America. As we wake up to news of yet another terrorist attack in our world, I am flooded with many thoughts and emotions. First and foremost, my thoughts are with the victims of the #Mali attacks. I am pleased to see wide media coverage of these attacks, just as there was in #Paris, #Beirut, #Mumbai, #Kenya, #Baghdad, #Madrid, and many others. I was deeply disturbed every time I saw one of those 'WheresTheOutrage' posts or hashtags this past week. (And not just for the absence of an apostrophe)  What people fail to realize about the media is that it is ever-changing and constantly covering the 'most shocking events' of any given moment. Many people and organizations recognized ALL of the attacks mentioned, and were horrified about them.

So WheresTheOutrage? This morning, while walking the dogs, I contemplated what might be different to Americans or the Western media between a terrorist attack in #WestAfrica and one in Paris, the heart of #Europe… Which is actually quite a bit different than my thought process behind what might be different between a terrorist attack in Beirut and one in Paris.

For better or for worse, I think I can explain why these events affect people differently, and why flags are painted on #Facebook profile pictures for Paris, but maybe not for some other countries or causes. First of all, France is one of the oldest allies of the #USA. They built and sent us the freakin' Statue of Liberty as a gift for god sake; the very symbol of our country's freedom, and ironically, a symbol of accepting refugees. (More on that later) So when something goes down in Paris, in the middle of #Europe, we tend to feel it very deeply. And no, not because those people look #white. It's because their society is similar to ours, and many of us, including myself, have close friends and family who live there. We as Americans visit Paris on a regular basis. I repeat, absolutely none of this has to do with the color of skin. When the #bombings in #Kenya happened, they were so awful, so shocking, and the hearts of the world were with the victims. So was the #media coverage, despite what you might have read in your Facebook feeds last week. It was indeed well covered internationally at the time. While I often point out how little darker colored people are valued in society compared to lighter colored people, this really is not a factor in what I have been discussing here.

So, I am guilty, as are many of us. But of what? I never changed my Facebook picture to show a Kenyan flag, a Lebanese flag, and I most likely will not change it to show a Mali flag. But it is not for lack of love and support. What is unfolding there this morning is horrifying, just like similar attacks in Mumbai several years ago. I have a couple of friends who just barely escaped those. However, #terrorism is terrorism, whether it is for an Islamic Jihadist cause, an anger cause, or a #Christian fundamentalist cause.

In the case of #Lebanon, Beirut used to be called the 'Paris of the #MiddleEast', a wonderful vacation spot. Lebanon and #Iran were beautiful countries with freer, more moderate governments. These were places we used to visit regularly and they were spectacular cultures with wonderful peaceful people. I love many Lebanese people, and I love Lebanese food. I also love Persian or Iranian food and many of their people who have made it out and made it to the United States are friends of mine. I don't differentiate between them and any other Americans. But in Lebanon, there also exists a faction of society and of government that would seek to annihilate everyone of my people, no different than Hitler would. #Hezbollah. While I do care deeply for the victims of the bombings there, I admittedly am guilty perhaps of viewing that event a little less sympathetically than the events in Europe. We all have some sort of bias, and as liberal as I am, I have this little thing about militant groups that try to wipe my people off the face of the planet.

Moving on, the outright lunacy, #xenophobia, and #bigotry being leveled against #Muslims and the fear of taking in #SyrianRefugees in this country by #conservatives (some claiming to be Christians) makes me sick and embarrassed. We should all be ashamed. If we are truly afraid of terrorism within our own borders, start by dismantling the #NRA and getting rid of private ownership of #handguns. They kill children, women, and men in shocking terror attacks on our own soil every single day. The numbers of refugees inside the borders of the USA, including every single non-native American that is alive, is staggering. And yet, we have very little terrorist activity. The Islamaphobic percentage of '20% radical Muslims' being tossed around by anti-Muslim bigots with a microphone like Brigitte Gabriel is nothing more than hateful conservative right-wing rhetoric and propaganda. The real number is far less than 1% and even still, the vetting process for refugees is stronger than that for any other citizen coming into America. As my friend Bob rightly pointed out yesterday, any terrorist (including the Paris attackers who were not on our watch list) could get on an airplane any day of the week and get to America very easily. While on the other hand, #refugees would have to wait 18 to 24 months and in fact not even get to choose their destination. Oh, and unlike pretty much every other person who enters our country, they are rigorously and vetted by multiple intelligence agencies and immigration. So the hatred and paranoia of the right-wing is not welcome in America. You guys look and act FAR MORE like ISIS and Sha’ria law than the ISIS and Sha’ria law that you claim to fear.

Which brings me back to something far more personal in my heart and mind. #WheresTheOutrage for the DAILY terrorist attacks in the United States of America. If conservatives actually cared about terrorism as they say, they would immediately institute stringent federal gun laws, mandatory background checks with long waiting periods, remove any and all loopholes, have a massive gun buyback, and start from scratch with guns. In civilized countries, people don't have them because the laws are so strict and they are intelligent to know they don't need them. They don't walk around constantly in fear, paranoid that danger lurks around every corner. They live much longer, happier, and healthier lives. But if you want to talk about terrorism, 31,000 Americans die every year at the hands of guns. Most of those people did not want to be shot. Except the suicides. However, those suicides are way too easy to carry out given the simplicity of obtaining a gun in the United States and many suicides would likely not have succeeded by other means or could have been stopped in time to save those poor souls.

As has been pointed out numerous times this week, there will be the equivalent of a Paris or a Mali attack in the United States of America today by 'licensed' Americans armed with handguns. This point is completely relevant. #WheresTheOutrage when they kill 20 of your children in classrooms? #WheresTheOutrage when an 8 year old murders a 5 year old? #WheresTheOutrage when a white-supramacist kid sits in a black church for an hour then murders everyone who welcomed him into their prayer group? #WheresTheOutrage when large groups of hateful white Christian open-carry proponents gather around a Mosque full of peaceful families praying... carrying signs saying "Death to Muslims". Imagine that scene in reverse!!! #WheresTheOutrage when a white-supramacist Christian fundamentalist walks into a Jewish daycare and kills 5 children? Or #WheresTheOutrage when someone with a similar profile shoots up a Jewish Community Center? In that case, all the victims were Christian as the JCCs, like the YMCAs in the USA accept people of all religions, colors, and backgrounds. They provide a service to the community. #WheresTheOutrage when it is proven over and over again that unlike the JCC and YMCA, guns in the hands of private citizens and their cheerleader, the #NRA, provide no such service to our society, no safety to your homes, no safety for single women, and no safety to your families. #WheresTheOutrage

Today my thoughts will be with the victims of Mali, but by the end of the day (barring more international attacks) and when I go to sleep at night, my thoughts always shift back to the victims of terror in my own country. Approximately 92 of them each day. May their souls find peace, and may we as a country wake up to our insane hypocrisy.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Paranoid Xenophobic Bigoted Racism

A Jewish friend of mine just posted something about not accepting refugees because she was certain there were terrorists among them. (This of course has been the rallying cry of the Christian conservatives all week) I called her out immediately for being a paranoid xenophobic bigoted racist.

It's the 4 word combination that is truly needed to encapsulate what is going on right now in this country. It's not at all about security. It's about fear, ignorance, and hatred of those who are 'different'. This is the shit that leads up to genocide! But good luck wiping out those 1.5 billion Muslims you hate. Maybe haters should just go back to killing Jews. My people were a much smaller and easier target. And we had to suffer this same xenophobic bullshit from America during WWII when we were fleeing the Nazis. In fact (and you can google this) America turned one of the ships full of Jewish refugees back to Europe and many of those refugees went straight to the concentration camps to be exterminated by Hitler, so thanks America for that move!

If you are an American who is more worried about the 'potential' for terrorism arriving in the form of helping Syrian refugees than you are worried about the millions of armed angry white conservative right-wing Christian male terrorists ALREADY HERE KILLING who cling to a radical ideology no better or worse than that of ISIS and have been desperately working towards instituting a Christian brand of Sharia law, the self-righteous murderers who slaughter tens of thousands of innocent American men, women, and children every single year in terrorist attacks that are well-funded and directly sponsored by the NRA and the GOP... Well you are the problem, not the Syrian refugees. And shame on you and your radical ideology for making my home country one of the least safe I spend time in.

Chew on that, America.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

We're The Same ©2015 Russell Wolff

After 48 hours of hell, very little sleep, a batch of frustrated songs not fit to share, this one was waiting for me this morning. I know the title is similar to another recent one I wrote. Anyway, I promised Jill Courtney​ I would post it. For victims of terror around the globe. For friends, family, and loved ones.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My friends in Paris

My friends in Paris are finally accounted for. So many others are not. There are people I know in that list of souls even if I couldn't remember names. One friend, Maya Thomas, was in fact asleep and learned of the tragedy in the morning. I wish she kept her phone on!!! Here was my reaction learning Maya was ok: Fucking hell that is a relief. My love to her and to all of Paris. To friends and family. I feel more determined than ever now to return to your city. To play guitar on the bridge next to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. To perform again at Chair De Poule. I will try and get back to sleep now. Thank you for the update! 
Attached is one of the happiest moments of my life, playing in Paris around the corner from the massacres in a small club called Chair De Poule. I remember the drummer being a fan of heavier rock. The guys didn't speak English and I didn't speak French. But music is a universal language. I met them 10 minutes before we went onstage. If you recognize these guys, please let me know if they are ok! Theo Olivier might. I think Rachel Lynn Sebastianwas singing backup though tough to hear in the video. It was all adrenaline, friends, and plenty of French wine that night! 

There was another singer with us that night from SF living in Paris but I cannot find her info.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A promise broken

I promised my rockstar shrink I would stay positive on Facebook this week, and even in this post I am trying to. But... terrorists are awful!!! It's so frustrating. They ruin the entire world for the rest of us. I get it. I understand why they are so angry. I know what they grew up being taught about Americans and Jews. I understand how powerful and tempting indoctrination into ANY cult or religion can be. But I cannot excuse this evil. Nor can I remain silent when it is so blatant.
On behalf of America, I continue to be deeply sorry that we as a nation slaughtered a million or so innocent Arab civilians in the Middle East during the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. Nothing I can say or do will change that or bring them back. But whether it is gun-toting 'licensed' Americans killing people right in our neighborhoods with handguns, or foreign cells of bombers and shooters in Beirut and Paris, or all the recent stabbings in Jerusalem, this world needs to take a long slow deep breath and figure out a better way to communicate. 
Terrorism and murder is in fact a form of communication, but of the worst possible kind. I don't have the answers, but I have reached out to close friends in Paris... I was VERY grateful to hear back from one of them while typing the name of his city. Theo is ok. But there are many more I am thinking of this evening. At 42, I am still an atheist and can't personally imagine any other belief system. I know that so many terrorists (of ALL religions) kill in the name of their god. But here's the thing, world: If ANY god actually exists, it's the same one for you, for me, for all of us. ‪#‎Peace‬ ‪#‎Love‬  ‪#‎Paris‬ ‪#‎France‬ ‪#‎Beirut‬‪#‎Lebanon‬ ‪#‎Jerusalem‬ ‪#‎Israel‬

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Up for 4 GRAMMYS!!!

Well, friends and colleagues, ‪#‎GRAMMY‬ voting season is upon us. I couldn't possibly be more humbled and honored to have an album I worked my soul to the bone to make be considered for a GRAMMY in 4 categories!!! For my GRAMMY VOTER friends out there, no nepotism is requested here, simply your ears, a little time and consideration, then your vote if you deem it worthy. ‪#‎NARAS‬

For my #GRAMMY voter friends, we have simplified the method you can listen to the #JamesWolpert record #TheEntireCity at this link. #ForYourConsideration #NARAS It is on the Grammy Ballot in these categories:

Entry #: 46198 Artist: James Wolpert
Title: The Entire City Category: 2. #AlbumOfTheYear

Entry #: 46202 Artist: James Wolpert
Title: The Entire City Category: 15. #BestRockAlbum

Entry #: 46212 Artist: James Wolpert
Title: The Entire City Category: 69. #ProducerOfTheYear, Non-Classical

Entry #: 46227 Artist: James Wolpert
Title: The Entire City Category: 4. #BestNewArtist



Thursday, October 15, 2015

Jerusalem 2015

ISRAEL - once a foreign country, now a second home. Though I have only spent a relatively short time there over a couple of trips, I am forever bound to that land; connected by blood and by people. It is as if I went through the first 39 years of my life not knowing I had a twin brother, but upon meeting him, we felt inseparable. We celebrate each other's joys, we mourn each other's pain and losses.
The violence in Jerusalem is horrifying and impossible for me to ignore. As Hillary Clinton pointed out during the Democratic debate, 90 Americans will die today at the hands of gun violence in America. In Jerusalem this week, far fewer Jews and Arabs will die from the recent violence and renewed terrorist attacks. However, Israel is a country smaller than the size of New Jersey, the state where I got Bar Mitzvah'd. And the fact that terror attacks are occurring once again with frequency is disturbing in and of itself.
Every life counts in Israel. At this point, Jews make up less than one quarter of one percent of the world’s population. That's right, 0.22%. We can't afford to lose any more of them.
I have friends, many close friends, who otherwise agree with me on most issues, but who proclaim that the Jewish State of Israel should not exist and the Jews (who originated on that land and who have inhabited it consistently for thousands of years) should 'go home', 'leave', 'go back to where they came from' etc. However, these people seem unable to face the reality of what has happened to the Jews over the last 5000 years. And I can't say I blame them… It's a pretty lousy story. Not the fun stuff you bring to a campfire.
The Jewish people have been persecuted in and banished from everywhere they have lived on this planet. And early in the last century, at the urging of the British who were in control of the land of the time, Jews returned to the land they started their journey in thousands of years earlier. We 'returned home'. But, not only did Jews return there, they improved it: with agriculture, with industry, and with jobs. And to this day, Israel remains the freest country on the planet for the Arab people. These are facts. Simple as they are complex. There are 22 Arab nations surrounding Israel, some of whom’s governments have vowed to annihilate us. Most of today's Palestinians originated in a few of those countries. From what I understand, mostly from Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. I would never suggest sending them 'back home'. But I do know one thing with every ounce of my being: If any group of people on the planet has endured enough to deserve a tiny nation where they can live freely, it is the Jewish people.
My friend Sarah Tuttle-Singer wrote last week in The Times of Israel 'the Jews are not going anywhere. The Arabs are not going anywhere'. No one should have to leave their home. But, the violence going on in Israel right now is painful to endure. For Sarah and her family, for OferYael and all her family, for Hadar and her family, for Oz, for Ronen and his family, for my friends Deryn & Oshrat . For so many of my friends facing terror on a daily basis now just for being Jewish and existing. I wish there was something I could do or say to make it easier. To retrain the minds of those who hate so passionately. If there was some way I could take their passion for murder and genocide and convert that to something positive, I would do it.
Israel and my cherished friends there, Jewish and Arab alike, my heart aches for you tonight. I share your tears, your pain, your suffering. I wish I could take it all away. I hold tight to my Star of David tonight and as it weighs heavily on my chest, I hold you all firmly close to my heart. That one-of-a-kind Star found in the Shuk in Jerusalem with RisaFelicia & Joel. The one that I desperately tried to find for Eden. I close my eyes, and I am there with you all. Protecting you to the best of my ability.
With undying love and deep concern,

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Recording Studio Rockstars with Lij Shaw

Honored! I have done many interviews in my life, but this one with the brilliant Lij Shawis by far my favorite. Honored to be featured on the #1 ‪#‎Podcast‬ on ‪#‎Apple‬‪#‎iTunes‬‪#‎RecordingStudioRockstars‬ We were delirious at the end of summer NAMM but on a Sunday morning, we got together and this happened:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Planned Parenthood - National #PinkOut Day - Video

Ok, here is the official video from today's ‪#‎Nashville‬ Planned Parenthood‪#‎PinkOut‬ Day event. News Channel 5 and Rebecca Schleicher expertly covered it and led the 10:00 news with the story. I am glad they drive a very important point home at the end of the story. These stories are not at all about me, but I am very honored to be involved in some of the biggest stories to land in Nashville in a LONG time!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Historic Inauguration of Nashville's first female mayor, Megan Barry

I sat front row center, next to her amazing parents.

Posting my own clip of the ‪#‎WSMV‬ ‪#‎NBC‬ story last Friday of the historic Inauguration of new ‪#‎Nashville‬ Mayor ‪#‎MeganBarry‬. It was an amazing day for our city and I look forward to watching her soar! Reported by the great and talented Carley Gordon

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Depression and success

Depression is a weight. A heavy jacket you don't get to take off. It doesn't care where you are in life, what's happening with your work, your love, your friends, nor the world around you. In fact, the better things are going for your life, or for your friend's lives, the harder it seems to work to weigh you down. Depression follows you when you leave New York for Boston. Depression is in the car when you drive from Boston to Nashville, and it moves into your condo like an unwanted roommate. Depression is there when you win, and there when you lose. Hiding just beneath the surface on your best day, and throwing a parade and BBQ on your worst. There is treatment, medication, therapy, people who claim to be cured. But for many of us, it never really goes away.

Regardless of where it comes from; nature vs nurture (or lack thereof) it is there. When you meet someone new to date, someone you really are excited about, it screams at the top of it's lungs that you aren't worth their time. That you do not deserve them. That you are too broken to be of any use to another human's life. When you have a great career opportunity or a success, it stands right in front of you reminded you that you are worthless and that your endeavors will fail. That they make no difference to the world you are entering. That your entire existence is a burden to the world around you.

Dark stuff for sure. There is no snapping out of it. No 'pulling yourself up by the bootstraps'. I suppose people with faith have an easier go of it. I read studies, I love facts. Every study done shows that people who have faith in a higher power (be it jesus, allah, yaweh, adonai, a magic tree, chi, yoga energy force, etc), those people have much happier lives. Much lower rates of depression and suicide. Much stronger relationships with friends and family.

I received a card recently from a friend I have barely spent time with in this life. She sent it to me at one of my lowest points in memory. She couldn't have known how much pain I was in. No one could. But she felt she had to send it right then, at that moment in time. She knew. We have some link between us and I am so grateful. I was in tears reading the card. I try to read it when I can, but I find it too hard, too painful. I think, now in my 40's, I am starting to find a voice for some of these things. They have a name. It's more than depression. It's pain. Deep emotional and spiritual pain.

Pain is mixed into all that depression. Pain is the root cause of the frustration, the anger, the self-loathing. The unshakeable sense that one's life is a burden on others.

Monday, August 3, 2015

An open letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President

I apologize in advance as some of this might be a bit rough to read. I am a native New Yorker after all. I write to you on this ordinary day in our great nation. Nothing spectacular happened when I woke up this morning and turned on my local news. There was nothing out of the ordinary as the first 20 minutes were devoted to several stories of young lives cut short by guns. These were young people who had potentially bright futures. Young people that needed your leadership on this issue. And the living that are left behind still do.

A little background. In the beginning, I was a supporter of your best known opponent. I thought she would have made a better president for our country at the time. But I proudly voted for you twice and despite the negative propaganda surrounding your victories, I grew to deeply appreciate your work ethic and character. I grew up as an atheist NYC/NJ Jewish kid. My friends could have been junior representatives of the UN. I never saw you for your race, I never saw you for your color. But when you won, as hearts raced around the world, and tears of pride came from all corners as a man of color ascended to our nation’s highest office, I celebrated and cried those tears with them as well.

Mr. President, I want to take a moment to thank you for all you have done thus far. To paraphrase a recent interview you gave, ‘though it all seems to be changing quickly, what we as a nation are witnessing are the cumulative effects of years and years of the administration’s hard work.' Old pillars of discrimination are falling one after the other. One of the promises of our constitution is finally beginning to be realized; that all of us are created equal. Though as we all know, we have a long way to go. For instance, anyone willing to honestly look at poverty, race, and police bias knows that darker skinned Americans do not get the same opportunities, privileges, and outcomes in life as light skinned Americans. But back to the positive: Americans who have never been able to afford health coverage now have it; myself included. We are now talking to countries instead of flattening them with all the might of our enormous military. Cuba is open for business and trade with us; that very simple act was long overdue. And looking back to your last term, you went after and took out the ultimate leader of terror who masterminded the most spectacular terrorist attack in our history on 9/11/2001. You achieved this feat with a small team of our best and bravest soldiers using methods that should have been employed to hunt down terrorists in 2001-2003 instead of invading 2 sovereign nations and killing 1,000,000+ civilians as our last President did. Those actions not only bankrupted our country, but assisted directly in the creation of the evil ideological organization we now know as ISIS.

While conservative Americans continue to employ their paranoia and propaganda machine to terrify our population about Isis-inspired terrorism taking over the country, they are creating a far worse terrorism. More and more of them easily buy up many guns. And more guns = more gun deaths. No one living a life based on facts and reality has any basis to dispute this. The balanced and honest Americans among us are far more concerned about this real threat of terrorism. A mother cannot send her children to school in America without the fear of this terrorism. A family cannot go to a movie theater in America without the fear of this terrorism. Open-carry 'activists' stand in front of high schools and bring assault rifles into malls and supermarkets to 'make a point', all while terrorizing citizens all over the country. These same folks organize rallies outside Mosques to scare and intimidate peaceful Muslim families who have gathered for prayer. Imagine the outrage if a group of armed Muslims gathered outside a church shouting hateful slogans during prayer on Sunday. And of course, we are not just talking about mass shootings. This systemic problem needs to be addressed, not simply for 20 children gunned down in Newtown, not simply for 5 Marines killed in Chattanooga, and not simply for 9 peaceful and praying African-Americans in a Charleston church. But also for the tens of thousands of nameless and faceless forgotten victims of terrorism every year in our country that no one seems to care about. Because, Mr. President, as a nation, we have become numb and given up. I used to watch the morning news. But I do find it difficult now. And this morning, like every other morning, I turned it on and the news is dominated by gun deaths in my community. Mr. President, I live in Nashville, Tennessee. In a 2013 New York Times article, Nashville was called 'America's IT city.' But Nashville is not unique with regards to gun violence. Every city in America faces these problems. Every community, large and small. As I write this, I am reflecting on the news broadcast, and unfortunately I cannot remember the names of the 10 people in my community that died overnight at the hands of gun violence… AKA domestic terrorism.

Mr. President, as I said earlier, I grew up in the New York City and New Jersey metropolitan area. I used to dress as a chicken and deliver singing telegrams to the top floors of the World Trade Center, and I DJ'ed many happy parties and corporate events there. I was a child of the Northeast. Everyone I know knows someone directly or indirectly that perished on 9/11 at the hands of terror. But with 30,000 or more people every single year dying at the hands of gun violence, I would say it is more likely that every American knows someone affected by this far more dangerous form of terror. To drive that point a bit further, I happen to know or have some connection with two of the victims of the Newtown school shooting. And again, no parents in America should have to wonder when they drop their children off at school, whether or not they will see them again. This is simply not acceptable. Not in any country, but certainly not in the United States of America in 2015.

A little bit more background on me, Mr. President. I came from a broken home. But like many born into my skin color, I found a way to rise above it. That was much easier for me than for many of my friends that have darker skin color and came from different circumstances. I was so lucky to have been born an American. To have found my voice and purpose on this earth in the world of arts and entertainment. I am 42 years old and have supported myself throughout my life by following my own path. While I might have started out as a broken kid and a high school dropout, at times using drugs and alcohol to cope with my pain, within 16 years I was able to turn that kid around into a Harvard graduate with honors. I walked in Harvard Yard in front of my mother and grandmother, my father and both of my stepparents. I, my friends of color, and of all national origins, believe that every child, no matter where they come from, should have the same opportunity to live out what we were taught is the American dream.

Last fall, I had the privilege and honor of spending 3 weeks in the Middle East and Africa entertaining our troops. I met so many great and proud Americans; black, white, muslim, christian, jewish, gay, straight (and everyone else I left out). It was the experience of a lifetime and we discussed many of these issues late nights as we lived among them. I was also lucky to share some quiet conversations with some of the higher ranking officers as well. Here is what I learned: The military for the most part understands that the grocery store, the movie theater, schools and restaurants are not the battlefield. There is simply no need to have firearms in those places. And there is no need to have them so freely available. I also learned first hand that they are suffering deeply from PTSD before they ever get back home and we need to do a much better job supporting them once they do.

So what is there to do? I see increasing frustration and sadness on your face, in your eyes, and hear the absolute exhaustion in your voice. I see it every single time you have to go on TV and talk about yet another senseless killing at the hands of a hateful and aggressive gun owner that simply wanted to settle a score. When you came into office, many fearful light skinned Americans didn't know what to do. And for whatever reason, every conservative person I spoke to at the time kept repeating the mantra that: Obama's coming for our guns! This was no doubt fueled by the insanely terroristic and racist propaganda of the NRA. I remember some of their ads from that time. Many resemble Hitler’s Nazi ads depicting my people (Jews) in Germany in the 1930s. I remember Ted Nugent, a former guitar star and ranking mouthpiece of the NRA threatening your life on many occasions. As if that weren't bad enough, he and those in his camp have encouraged others to take up arms against the government and assassinate you and members of your family. And he wasn't the only one. There were so many on social media, and in interviews, all over the country threatening your life, with their guns. As recently as this summer, you were coming to visit my current state of Tennessee. You were coming to Nashville no less, the most liberal and open city we have. This was right after you had the most victorious week of any president in recent memory. Equal marriage rights had come to same-sex couples that had fought so long for them, the Affordable Care Act you fought so hard for was defended once again in the Supreme Court and is currently the law of the land, and you reopened diplomatic relations and lifted travel restrictions to and from Cuba. It was a wonderful week for our country, and the entire world took notice. However, also noticed (at least in Tennessee) were signs put up at businesses saying NO GAYS ALLOWED, scores of confederate flags lining the routes your motorcade would be taking, and of course, direct threats to assassinate you from the fringe elements of white supremacy that are still deep-seeded in our culture.

I am reminded this morning of a Charles Dickens quote; "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." So once again I pose the question, what is there to do? Mr. President, I hate to put things in these words but: Sir, you are the Commander-in-Chief. It is your primary purpose to ensure the safety and well-being of our nation and the citizens living within it. What I am about to ask you to do will be controversial.  And before asking this, I want to you to know how proud I am to have been alive during this time, to see our first African-American president. That is no small thing. And to have witnessed your amazing accomplishments in the midst of the most divisive and dare I say racist Congress we have ever seen. The Congress and the Senate are supposed to be in Washington working for 'we the people', the citizens of United States. But all they do is bend to the desires of lobbyists, follow their own radical ideology, and do anything in their power to stop you from doing your job to advance the nation. I want you to know that your perseverance, your unbelievable poise, and your consistent hard work has been deeply appreciated by many of us in America. And whether they know it or not, your loudest critics and opponents are already benefiting from the work that you have done and the goals you have accomplished. They just like it better when those ideas come from a different source. And I think you understand that as well.

So Mr. President, it is with a grave sense of duty and urgency that I ask you to issue an executive order and do everything in your power to ban guns nationwide. Let me be a bit more clear. Handguns, semi-automatic weapons, they need to go. Police need them to do their job, but they also need to be wearing body cameras, and be held accountable for their abuses of power. Police need to stop killing and mistreating people of color. For those Americans living outside of developed areas, hunting licenses should be available but they should not be simple to get. And similar to other safeguards in our society, people should be required to reapply for their license every year. Background checks should be carried out every year as part of the process to keep those weapons. Mr. President, even after all the good you have done for our country, and there is so much good, ensuring the safety of our nation, of our children, and of our most innocent people; that is not only your responsibility, but it would be the most noble legacy you could leave this country when you leave office. I see the pain and struggle in your eyes when you give those terribly common press conferences. I hear the devastation in your trembling and frustrated voice. I know this is something you want to accomplish more than anything in this world; for your children, for your family, and for the sons and daughters of this great nation.

Gun laws need to be exactly the same for all 50 states. There should be no loopholes. Whatever it takes to get guns off the streets is worth it, amnesty programs for illegal guns, tax benefits and much lower interest rates on mortgages for the legal ones, anything. Whatever it takes. There is nothing more important to the safety and health of this nation than to take action on this issue. We do need to take things a step further than that though. When we Americans go to an airport, a concert, sporting event, or a government building, we walk through a metal detector or are waved with a wand. This is normal, no one complains about it, we just do it. These types of entry barriers need to be in all public places. Whether they be malls, schools, public parks, movie theaters, or any place that serves the public good. We need to restore safety to our streets, and to our citizens. With all due respect sir, you have the power to get that done. I daresay you have the responsibility to get that done. Mr. President, please forgive the direct manner in which I am addressing you at this point. However, since 9/11, well over 150,000 American lives have been lost to gun violence in America. If handguns and assault rifles were banned completely, many lives will be saved, both homicides and suicides. The notion that all those people would have been killed anyway is ridiculous and statistically false. Having a gun in one's possession makes one more aggressive, more likely to use that gun, and more ready to settle differences fatally with a quick pull of the trigger. At the very least, they are more likely to escalate a situation by taking the gun out and pointing it, terrorizing those innocent people around them. On the road, and parking lots, and in grocery stores, countless tense situations are escalated to terror because of the availability of guns. And make no mistake, these are legal gun owners; people who pass background checks easily. Mental illness, as you well know, has nothing to do with our gun problem.

That leads me to share something a bit more personal. Every time there is a shooting, and conservatives come out brushing it off as a mental health problems. Not only are they doing a disservice to the safety of our citizens, and insulting the lives of the dead, they are also insulting me. Me and every other person in America who has suffered from mental illness. Mr. President, I am 42 years old. I have suffered from depression, ADHD, and PTSD since my childhood. In fact, I know many Americans who suffer from these illnesses. However, much to the NRA’s disappointment, neither myself nor anyone I know who suffers from various forms of mental illness has ever had the urge to go out, get a gun, and kill someone. The only people we tend to want to hurt are ourselves, and for the most part, with a strong support system and treatment, we don’t let it get that far. You have started to say in your press conferences: ‘other countries don’t have this problem’ (gun violence). And you are 100% correct. They do not. But mental illness exists all over the world. Without guns, there are less gun deaths. With NRA propaganda and a distorted definition of the 2nd Amendment, we have let our society get completely out of control. Our job as a society is to put the REAL needs of the many above the PERCEIVED needs of the few, especially when it comes to the safety of our citizens. Guns owned by private citizens are used to kill and terrorize Americans, rarely to protect them. Guns in the home are a direct threat to the lives of women and children and also a direct threat to those suffering from mental illness.

Mr. President, on behalf of the 86 Americans that will die today at the hands of guns, and for the 31,000 Americans that will likely die this year from guns, I implore you. Take action. Take action now. Assemble a team, make a plan, and implement it with enough time to set the plan into motion before you leave office. Please remove guns from our society. It is not just a mission, but the responsibility of the leader of this nation. All of us level-headed people understand that the change will not be instant. But year after year, there will be less and less gun deaths. The change starting in year one will be among the most dramatic. The NRA likes to say that removing guns from society just puts guns in the hands of criminals… However what they don’t say is the truth: that so many of the current gun deaths come from people or families that have obtained guns legally and passed background checks. I did not wake up this morning and plan on writing this letter to you. We don’t know each other, but we have mutual friends. I hope to meet you someday. But I was compelled to write down this plea for your prompt and decisive action on this issue. Our society as a whole is blinded by NRA and conservative propaganda. But as the Commander-in-Chief you have both the ability and responsibility to protect our great nation from itself.

We are all counting on you!

Russell Wolff
US citizen since 1973

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stardate: Chattanooga

BREAKING NEWS: There were no shooting deaths in Hong Kong today. There were no shooting deaths in South Korea today. There were no shooting deaths in Singapore today. There were no shooting deaths in Poland today. There were no shooting deaths in the Netherlands today. There were no shooting deaths in India today. There were no shooting deaths in Spain today. There were no shooting deaths in Australia today. There were no shooting deaths in Hungary today. There were no shooting deaths in Denmark today. There were no shooting deaths in Italy today. There were no shooting deaths in Sweden today. There were no shooting deaths in Iceland today. There were no shooting deaths in Greece today. There were no shooting deaths in Israel today. There were no shooting deaths in Japan today. There were no shooting deaths in Germany today. There were no shooting deaths in Canada today. There were no shooting deaths in France today. There were no shooting deaths in the UK today. There were no shooting deaths in Korea today. I think you see the trend without the list continuing.

Remind me why we have guns freely available in the United States? Guns kill more people every single year in my country than any terrorist attack ever will domestic or foreign. Approximately 31,000 lives are lost every single year. The availability of guns is a public health epidemic, plain and simple. Mental health problems do NOT play into this epidemic as every other country on the planet also has mental health problems. Our country should be deeply ashamed that we have let this become the norm. We have been lulled into collective non-action. We have let ourselves be held captive, LITERALLY with a gun held to our collective heads, by the NRA, the very people that SELL these guns, who do NOT care about your children, for DECADES. At some point, hopefully in my lifetime, this lunacy will stop, and guns will be illegal in our country. Period. End of story.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Dust

I have not picked up a musical instrument in over six months. Not for enjoyment, not for performance, not for love, not for hate, not to laugh, not to cry, not to write, not to relax, not to vent, not for work, not for catharsis, not for anyone else, and certainly not for me. It has been a pretty sobering reminder of what can happen in life when one sinks into the depths of oneself after surviving the trauma of losing 11 years of love, trust, and friendship to the cold betrayal of deception, fraud, and the heartless theft of ones home, attempted theft of ones beloved dog, and the ensuing court battle. (Thankfully settled out of court). All of this from my absolutely lunatic ex who decided to go off her medication cold turkey and attempted to destroy my life. And for a little while, she won the battle. But I think we all know who wins the war in these cases. I feel very very lucky.

But then there was last week. And in an instant, a rising river from a vicious sustained rainstorm caused an older dam to collapse. One that was meant to hold back flood waters for 100 years. I spent the past week running through rising flood waters, trying to find a way out. But drowning while standing on my feet, at times stranded on a roof, with no boat, and no FEMA. Very grateful for the friends who have reached out from their own boats weathering their own storms... Tossing me supplies and support.

Where I have been is not an unfamiliar place. It's a place that I have spent far too much time in my life. I know all the hallways, I have keys to all the doors. The doorman knows my name, and I even have roof access with a private swimming pool. It is dark, it is sick, is heavy, it is solitary. It is home.

About a year ago, I met with Eastman Guitars in Nashville when they came in for the NAMM show. Ironically, I had just purchased a beautiful home with my ex and we were reviewing plans to build a  full-size recording facility in the lot behind the house. I was especially fond of Eastman's parlor size guitar that they were bringing to market. I felt a special connection to the E10OO-M and had been looking for a smaller body guitar to take on the road. At the time, only two existed in the entire world. So, I had to wait for Eastman to build me one. But, build it they did. My guitar was delivered late in the fall, just weeks before the walls of my world came crashing down around me and the earth crumbled beneath my feet.  I was in a free fall, and it lasted the better part of six months. Welcome to life. Again.

That gorgeous guitar has been calling out to me for the last two months. Every day she calls out louder, and every night I hear her, but I feel powerless to answer. Last night, I could no longer ignore her cries and finally gave in to her desires. Like many of us, she longed to be held. See, she had a purpose... She was built specifically for me, to take in everything I had to give; to listen, to receive, to decode and to translate, and of course to communicate what she has learned.

I have not picked up a musical instrument in over six months. But last night I played for six hours. Last night, I played an hour for every month I had missed. Last night, I played until every muscle in my torso had seized up. I played until every finger was raw and bled onto the strings below it.  I was in a trance, unconsciously yelping and moaning and singing and crying until my voice was long gone. What emerged from the ashes was the dark and murky dust of a song. It arose from a deep wound, an infection of sorts, filled with dark pus that needed to be brought to the surface; a demon waiting to be exercised, this song, this disgusting beast, this misunderstood child that no one wanted. And yet, there he was standing in front of me, a perfect reflection, staring directly into my eyes without speaking a word, as if to say: I am here. I have been waiting for you. I have been here this whole time.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Men are victims too

2015 #Cosby #Rape #TriggerWarning

This video. And some things I haven't yet shared with the world. I couldn't watch the whole thing. And it's only a few minutes long.


There. I said it. And what I am about to write is not very easy, but I feel it is very important.

Like everyone else, I have been following the events of the #Cosby case unfold in the media. But it wasn't until the last few days, when disgusting details of the case were confirmed by the words of the man himself spoken under oath in an unsealed deposition given 10 years ago, that the pieces began to fit together and the stories of 49 'accusers' began to crystalize. It happened. This man is guilty. He is a sick and perverse predator who carried out attacks over 4 decades... that we know of. This is no longer speculation and accusation. While he may never face any jail time due to the statute of limitations, the case has been made and the verdict is guilty.

I watched the video this morning. And it did something to me that I know it will do to others. It 'triggered' some deep emotions. I write what I write today in hopes that it helps even one person out there who might be suffering through pain silently. Because as rarely as sexual assault against women is reported, rarer still is the reporting of those same assaults against men. The stigma is even worse. I was watching this video while eating breakfast and as the accounts went on, one by one, all the same, start to finish, the details so familiar to me, I started to panic, my pulse quickened, I lost my appetite, and had to stop the video. I had to sit back and let myself feel this, to take some deep breaths, and to write. I am not nearly as famous as many of my friends. However, I know when I speak on certain topics, a fair amount of people hear me. And I feel at times a certain responsibility to speak out on topics, even when, and perhaps especially when they are personal to my life.

From the age of 12 through 17, I attended a summer camp for the Performing Arts in Upstate New York. In many ways, it was a wonderful and magical time and place. It cultivated long standing friendships and relationships in my life at a time when my home life was in ruins. It gave me a creative outlet to explore and expand upon that I wouldn't have otherwise had access to. But there was a very dark side that not every camper was exposed to. Those vulnerable male campers like myself, the 'targets', the boys who came from homes that were falling apart, the boys with depression, the boys with substance abuse problems, the boys aching for attention and love from adult male figures... we were at great risk there. Little did we know or understand at that time, but mixed in among well meaning caretakers and counsellors were many older predators, drug pushers, sexual abusers, sadists, and physical abusers. They got me high when I was 12. They touched me inappropriately when I was 13. The owner of the camp took sexual delight causing extreme pain to the young male campers; sometimes alone in his office, and other time openly, in full view of a group of other campers, as if to display his dominance and control. I thought they were my 'best friends'. I thought 'they accepted me' and thought I was 'their equal'. I will not name names here; Not the abusers, and not the other male campers I have spoken to over the years who have shared with me eerily similar experiences.

And yes, I have wondered at times if by remaining silent, I have caused other children harm over the years. I carry around that burden as well. But sometimes the memories of that time are hazy. And at other times, like when watching the video linked above from CNN this morning, a memory from 24 years ago is crystal clear, as if it happened yesterday. The memory of being drugged and abused by a popular director and conductor who was well respected at that camp.

24 years ago, I was trying to 'make it' as an actor in NYC and this particular person had a lot of connections. We had first worked together for years up at the camp and stayed in touch. He invited me up to have dinner with him north of the city. I was just 18 at the time. He was 50 something. I was auditioning for roles and competing with actors in NYC and LA who were in top shape so I went to the gym daily, took supplements, ate very healthy and wore tight clothing to show off my progress in the gym. We went to dinner at a little out-of-the-way Mexican place. The topics jumped around wildly, but strangely kept going back to his sister's sex life and his fascination with bondage practices. As strange as this was, my instinct was to just go along with the conversation since he was doing me such a great favor. Helping me break into the business... (sound familiar yet?) After dinner, he invited me back to his house, 10 minutes away. He wanted to show me some videos of recent shows he had directed. Sounded innocent enough. We went back, he offered me a beer. I watched him open it. Felt safe enough, nothing to set off my alarms. He popped in the tape. It was a show about insects that he directed at a high school. And he kept rolling to scenes of the insects having sex with each other on stage. Bondage type of stuff. He had a strangely excited look on his face while watching the scenes. I remember thinking that was a bit odd, but he did direct that same show at the camp. He offered me another beer... I watched him open it. I had to go to the bathroom, and asked where it was. As I stood up to go, a long conversation happened in my brain within a split second: "take your beer with you" - "no, don't be rude! you are being paranoid! he will be insulted and not help you!" - "he is going to do something to you!" - "why would you even THINK that???" - I went to the bathroom. I left the beer. Open. On the table.

I don't remember coming back from the bathroom. I don't remember taking the next sip of the beer. I don't remember the next hour of time. But what I DO remember next will stay with me in horrifying clarity forever. I am slumped back in the couch I was on. Sweating profusely, just soaking wet. I can barely see anything except a small blurry circle in front of me. Everything else is moving and dark. My host, now seemingly not wearing anything is over me/on top of me. I remember him looking scary or scared and saying in a slow or affected voice (by the drug) "Russell, you don't look so good... why don't you come with me to the bedroom? lay down with me for a while..." I was so sick. I remember it was pouring rain outside. I remember feeling for my pockets and feeling my keys. Trying to stand up, falling down... He tried to keep me there. I tried to speak out as loud and controlled as I could that I felt absolutely fine... that everything was fine. I just needed some air for a minute. I saw the front door... grabbed for it. Opened it. Ran, falling, stumbling, in the pouring rain and found my car. Locked it. And somehow drove. It was a short drive by distance, but of course it was dangerous one and in my condition and in the pouring rain, it took forever. I was too terrified to go to a hospital, or to go to the police. I went straight home.

It took me many years to speak about the experience to other campers. First some male campers that I knew had similar childhoods to mine. I was surprised to learn that while some of my experiences were unique, not all of them were. And some of the same abusers that had preyed on me, had targeted other similar young boys. I was also somewhat relieved to learn that the girls from the camp knew nothing about this stuff. None that I spoke to had ever experienced anything like this there. And the truth is I took great comfort in that. Women experience such pain throughout their lives being victimized at the hands of men, I didn't need to know this happened to them there as well.

Anyway, I am sure there will be some of you that will be utterly turned off by the fact that I chose to share this information. But I didn't share it for you. In fact, I didn't share it for me. I shared it in hopes of reaching someone else out there who might be suffering. I spent years as a silent suffering victim. Feeling like something was wrong with me. Like I had done something wrong and that I brought certain situations and victimizations on myself. I wish I could go back and do things differently. But I cannot. I share this today, inspired by the 49 women victimized by #Cosby and in hopes that my story can help someone else out there.

I wanted to add that I haven't let this experience define me more than any other experience has. I have always taken every experience as another piece of what makes us who we are. And despite overcoming a batch of adversity, I'd like to count myself among the pretty well-adjusted and high-functioning members of our society (even if my friends might laugh at that). I live the hell out of every day and I don't really look at life as having limitations. It ends one day, but until then, I like to think that nothing is out of reach. :-)

-Russell Wolff