Wednesday, December 7, 2016



There are certain moments, brief but oddly significant, when I take a step back and look at where my life is. It is humbling to realize how truly lucky I am and how far I have traveled on this path. Today, after a not-so-fun trip to the dentist (seriously, don't forget to floss), I went over to Blackbird Studio. For those who don't know, Blackbird is one of the premier recording studios in the entire world. And it is one where I have had the honor of working several times. Today, I was handing over some files from the upcoming Rachael Santos record I produced to my good friend & Grammy award-winning mixer, Steve Marcantonio.

Blackbird Studio to someone like me is like the Vatican would be to a devout Catholic. And walking in today took me full circle to ten years ago when I produced my first album there. They recognized me at the front desk. They pointed me down the hall to where I was meeting Steve. This priviledge was not taken lightly. I belonged there. I was welcome in a revered place in my industry.

Blackbird is where I really got my start in Nashville. Where I first met John and Martina McBride (the studio owners). Blackbird opened so many doors for me in this town. And the friends I have made along the way are spectacular. Steve is a mensch and he knows it. But he is also one of the greatest engineers of all time. I am so incredibly lucky to work with him on this project and truly grateful to call him a friend.

It seemed very fitting today to walk into Blackbird (the studio John McBride named for the Beatles song) to hang out with Steve (who was working with John Lennon the day he was stolen from this world).

I take nothing for granted. Especially now. But as I look towards the future while firmly planted in the present, these words ring true:

I stand on the shoulders of giants.
I walk on a path cleared by legends.
I humbly create art in the presence of masters.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Donald Trump: the perfect President for the United States of America.

Donald Trump is the perfect President for the United States of America, a country I am deeply ashamed of, and one that for the most part seems to deserve no better.

I have spent the last week of my life mourning bigly, drinking bigly, dreaming bigly, and making plans bigly, folks. I no longer have the strength to be the loud New York voice of reason and equality screaming out to the deaf angry ignorant ears of the confederacy. I have fought my heart out for nearly a decade here and it is time to pass on the baton. Luckily I have seen the future in the beautiful voices of young black America. They will never give up. They will not be silenced.

As I speak to my black friends, my Jewish friends (who still have a shred of humanity in them), my Muslim friends, my Hispanic friends, my immigrant friends, my female friends, I wonder to myself… How in the holy pho could this happen? How did it happen here? This is supposed to be America, land of the free and home of the brave (though we know that phrase has always applied mostly to affluent white christian males). This is not Nazi Germany, right? But, after a week of reflection I have come to an inconvenient and unpleasant conclusion…

Donald Trump is the only logical and proper representative of these <never truly> United States of America, even as his rise signals for many of us, the death of our nation. May she rest in pieces like the tattered flags left on many a bloodied battlefield.

The great veils of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ have been lifted and the infection that has been festering underneath them this whole time is too grotesque and awful to look at. But I ask all Americans to look at it anyway. And never look away again. Take a deep breath and approach slowly, with a steady gate and with eyes wide open. Understand that complacency and blissful ignorance brought us to this place we stand and to this sobering moment in time. We took certain things for granted: that the civil war was over, that slavery had ended, and that all Americans have access to freedom and equality. However, this was all a great lie and brutal betrayal of our national trust.

Fueled by racism, bigotry, sexism and white nationalism, capitalism and greed have been taken to their most gruesome & horrifying end (by design of course). That is Donald Trump. Stepping on everyone in your path and destroying people's lives on your way to the top of society to grab infinite, unfettered and unchecked power. That is Donald Trump. Raping and pillaging, both in the literal and figurative sense, to fulfill your ‘god given potential’. That is Donald Trump. Corruption, racism, classism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, islamaphobia, and xenophobia of all kinds. That is America, and THAT is Donald J Trump.

Capitalism and entrepreneurship in and of themselves are great. They stimulate the economy, inspire innovation and invention, advance science and healthcare, they make a life in the arts possible, and they bring about social change and progress, etc… But take them to their darkest inevitable place, and that's where you will find America today; the land of the free (while having less freedoms than many other countries and incarcerating more than all, including the institutionalized imprisonment of so many black men, our new slavery); and the home of the brave (couldn't possibly be less true right now as the fear and ignorance of so many Americans brought them secretly to pull the lever for a fascist president and his Nazi sympathizing white supremacist cabinet); America is the land of the have everythings and the have nothings. And yet somewhere, hiding in the middle, are the people like me and you, who grew up being fed a steady diet of a lie that was known as 'the American dream'. While this dream exists for affluent and privileged whites, it is systematically denied to everyone else.

America has always belonged to and been governed by rich powerful white men who want to control everyone else who doesn't look, think, or pray like they do. Our founders of course wanted none of this, but to the original point, they themselves were free, white, landowning men. They wrote the rules which set in motion what could have been a beautiful experiment. However, I ask America today to look in the mirror. If you keep your eyes open, and are honest with yourselves, what you will see is Godzilla. A terrible toxic monster born out of years and years of a failed experiment. And right behind those eyes, sitting at the controls of that mechanical beast, is Donald Trump. He is wearing a gold-plated crown, sitting on the throne, and dare I suggest, he sits exactly where he belongs. Don't think so? Ask Vladimir Putin, James Comey, and other foreign and domestic players who had a heavy and corrupt hand manipulating uneducated whites to place him in power.

There was another option of course, but after decades of abusing her, you decided to pass on electing a lifelong public servant. A fighter for children and women, a former First Lady, a Senator from New York, and a globally respected Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was too good for America. Many of us Americans are. We fight the good fight year after year, we help each other, we build communities, we give to those who have nothing, and we bring hope to those who have none. You America, you rejected all logic, reason, and compassion, and instead embraced lies, conspiracies, racism, and egomaniacal serial rapists… you elected the worst human being America had to offer. Hats off to you America, you know what shoe fit.

Growing up in and around New York City, I was led to believe that someone's religion, skin color, or socioeconomic status did not dictate their station or potential in life. However, this was a lie like so many others I was told about our country. The United States of America could have been a great place; a land of opportunity for all; a place where we educate our young people and provide healthcare for all of our citizens. But instead, this country became a shameful place. And now, with the veils of democracy and freedom finally and completely lifted, America has been exposed for all to see. Everyone around the world now knows who she is and what she stands for. America is a selfish place filled with hateful people who care nothing for anyone but themselves; they care only for what's right for THEM, THEIR religious views, and THEIR families, without regard for others who don't share their beliefs or look like them. They apparently have no compassion for others. Am I painting with a broad strokes? Fuck yes I am… But America, fuck yeah!

Donald Trump's America is the one you have been fighting for since 1776.  And I'd like to share with you just a few short examples of what has become of America since you decided to support this monster. I work with kids in the Nashville Metro school system. There are daily incidents of Muslim children being attacked verbally and physically (Hume-Fogg, Vanderbilt undergrad, others), of immigrant children being threatened by students and teachers alike to be turned in to immigration and returned to their country of origin. (Oh the irony involved there Murica!) The black children I work with feel more disenfranchised than they ever have, yet their voices WILL be heard. I know of several girls and women who have been sexually assaulted while their attackers scream things like "I am just grabbing a pussy!! USA!! USA!!"  And sadly, I know many Jews, both teachers and students, who have endured antisemitic attacks the likes of which haven't been seen for decades. And that's just within the last month.

THIS is finally AMERIKA, unfiltered. THIS is finally the real world. And THIS is just the beginning. If you have any hope left, cling tightly to it. If you have a moral compass, may it guide your path. If you believe in a god, pray to him or her for strength. If you have a soul, reach out to blacks, gays, women, Muslims, hispanic people, refugees and immigrants. Open your minds, your hearts, your doors, and your homes to them. Talk to them. See what they need and how you might be able to help them. To my white heterosexual male friends: please don't assume they automatically see you as part of the oppression. They can tell the difference. They need your love, compassion, and support at this moment more than ever. Take a stand. Reach out. Be an ally.

If you have a fight left in you, fight like hell for this place. Fight until your voice is merely a gasp for air. Fight until all of your blood has spilled onto those streets our ancestors paved and that the oppressors now walk on with comfort and safety. Fight until you can fight no longer. Fight as if your life depends on it. Because frankly, it does.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This is 9/11. Or something far worse... like Kristallnacht on THIS VERY DAY in 1938.

Full text from my blog for those who don't like clicking.

This is 9/11. Or Krystallnacht which occurred ON THIS DAY in 1938.

Friends, famiy and haters alike, I reluctantly write to all of you this morning. You know I am and will always be a New Yorker. I spent significant portions of my life in New Jersey, in Boston, and now in the very red city of Nashville. Don't listen to the people who tell you this place is liberal/blue. Or progressive.  It isn't. It is simply red. Only without the cheesy 80s lyrics and cover art.

As I finally mustered the energy to go outside and walk my dogs this morning, I entered the New World. Here is what struck me: This indescribable feeling I had as I look up at the perfectly blue sky is earily familiar. And it is not a good sign. I have only had that feeling one other time in my 43 years on this planet. And that was when I awoke to a loud noise and head up the street to get a bagel... on 9/11/2001.

My country is not what I thought it was. The people in it are not who I thought they were. And if you are not white, wealthy, and christian, I have genuine concern for your health, your safety, and your future. Nashville was never home for me. I am not a conservative. I believe in equal rights. I don't believe in guns or gods. I am not 'a Christian' though arguably neither is any Christian I have met here. In fact EVERY atheist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist has been
more Christian than any Christian I have encountered in the Bible Belt.

So after nearly 10 years, Nashville still isn't home. I came here to advance and continue my career in music and I have no regrets whatsoever about that. The friends I have made here, the records, the greatest musicians and artists in the world, the many tours around the globe, my Music Row recording studio which has become a sacred space for me, my work with underserved kids in the teen center of the Nashville Downtown Library.

But it has all come at great price. Living here has destroyed my soul and obliterated my faith in humanity. It is time to move on. For some people, that means leaving Nashville. For others, that means leaving TN, and for yet another group of people, that means leaving America. And as I contemplate my next move VERY carefully, I support and stand in solidarity with all of them. Also I stand in conflicted tears thinking of those who will be left behind. I have spent decades fighting for them. I will never stop fighting for equal rights, financial equality, education and healthcare, but I can no longer do it from the south with a clear conscience.

My friends in the south who have always counted on me to be that loud New York yankee atheist Jew they hear fighting for what's right in a place where so much is so wrong, I am sorry. I truly hope you can forgive me. I will never stop fighting for equal rights. I'm a Jew. It's in our DNA. But I can't fight all the time. I need to strike a balance. I hope someday you can forgive me.

I just had my first American experience racial profiling: I went to the doctor and a nurse was about to take my vitals. She looked like one of Hitler's super babies: beautiful, blonde hair, blue eyes, flawless skin, perfect white smile. I asked if she had voted for Trump. She looked at me like a 'christian' deer in the headlights and I heard a southern black woman say from around the corner yell, "OH SHE SUUUURE IS". I said it that I wouldn't allow someone who voted for Trump to touch me and had that other nurse who turned out to be black came around and we shared a moment. She did NOT support that monster. I said I would only allow her to touch me. Escape can't come soon enough.

After that interaction, we hugged, we cried, she told me about her kids and what she said to them this morning. I have already had three similar  conversations with black women I didn't know. Each of those long and difficult conversations about what just happened in America ended in tears and hugs. These were strangers. Good Americans. But we found ourselves instantly bound by grief and mourning for our country and fear of what this means for our future.

My future is bright. Perhaps that is foreshadowing. But no matter where I land, I promise
you I will fight for the rights of women, Jews, minorities, Muslims, the gay community, and black lives until I can no longer draw a breath. I WILL NOT REST. But I have lost the strength to continue this fight from Tennessee, a place I never fit in from day one.

Over the next few months, I will be in Israel (where I am
afforded dual citizenship), LA (which it's own country after all), Holland, and Tokyo. I need to connect with kindred spirits and forge a new path that makes some sense of the great American tragedy that just unfolded before our very eyes.

Trump, while being a truly vile human being, has never been the cause of the problem. The true problem remains the millions of Americans willing to support such an evil racist bigoted misogynist child rapist and the conservative/religious ideology that created that monster. I had no idea how many of you are out there. I am deeply ashamed of America today. And I don't have the answer to the question on everyone's mind: What now?

I still have a studio for now. Come see me. Have a drink or
five. Make a record. Money is meaningless at this point. Pay what you can. It's a limited time offer as my time here has become limited.

I love my country. Deeply. But unfortunately, it no longer exists. And for blacks,
Immigrants, and other non-whites, it never really did. As an atheist, I lack faith, but I believe in hope. I lack god, but I believe in love and kind acts. I used to believe this country was worth fighting for. Now it feels like a scary place to escape from.

As a Jew, we are taught to never forget the lessons and horror of the holocaust. We are taught to learn from the past, to never forget. I am reminded of this very famous poem:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

Pastor Martin Niemöller

The end of the world as we know it and I feel sick.

Thank you to all who came to the wake and funeral of the United States of America. She entered the world with such hope and promise. But she left us after a decades long battle with cancer. I love you all and could not have survived last night without you. I am planning my next moves on this earth carefully and thoughtfully, but also rapidly. It began the minute the Nazi rise to power was complete and our country was lost forever. Reach out publicly or privately whenever you need and I will do my best to be there for you even at this moment when I can barely move.

With love and compassion for humanity,
Russell Wolff

Monday, November 7, 2016

Dear comrades: It's the end of the world as we know it.

And I feel sick!

My comrades: Be like a mensch. Be braver than all of your haters combined. Be a beautiful soul.  Have a strong spirit and compassion for others. Please vote. Please see reality. Hillary Clinton is the only logical, sane, and uber qualified choice for president. May #JamesComey face treason charges for what he might have done (single handedly end the USA with lies and propaganda for an entire week before the election while early voting was already in progress)

Our end of election Tuesday night event at my recording studio will either be an 'END OF TRUMP' celebration or an 'END OF THE USA' mass suicide. But we will need the laughs either way.

I have snacks, tissues, water bottles, and seating for a batch of folks. But bring some booze and be ready to go in for some pizza or something. Remember, Domino's Pizza corporate colors are Red, White, and Blue. Come Wednesday morning, our flag may truly be all red with a long hated yellow symbol on it.

If you still support Trump, maybe you don't follow history. One of his nicest early campaign promises it to wipe out healthcare for millions of Americans. (That directly impacts the poor and minorities) But among his truly terrifying promises is 'mass deportations' of undocumented immigrants and certain other groups like Muslims. After imposing surveillance upon free Muslim Americans simply for praying and practicing their faith in their houses of worship. One other man rose to power with promises akin to these. Adolph Hitler. Not only did he wipe out one third of my race of people worldwide, but he personally convinced millions to follow him and take part in the torture and murder of parts of my family. NEVER FORGET! NEVER AGAIN!

Misogyny, sexual assault, child rape, decades of racist crimes and payoffs to avoid them. Nonstop lies that constantly contradict other lies or things he has said. If you support him, do not DARE call yourself a Christian. You aren't. If you support him and you are a Jew, shame on you. If you support him and you just don't know any better, I wish I could reach you, but I know I can't. None of us can.

Before you vote (if you haven't already) go into that booth and imagine that YOU are a girl or woman (if you are a man). Imagine that you are a Muslim. Imagine that you are a Mexican. Imagine that you are an immigrant (undocumented or not) who contributes to our great and diverse society. Imagine that you are every person around the world who is terrified at the prospect of this thin-skinned aggressive and unpredictable evil orange dictator gaining control of the most powerful nation and military on the planet.

Whatever reason you might dislike Hillary Clinton, if you allow yourself to align yourself with actual facts and documented record, you have no choice but to concede: she is a powerful hard working accomplished woman, respected around the world, who knows exactly how government works both locally and globally, and who has a decades long record of working her ass off for YOU America. Despite all the bullshit and abuse you continue to throw at her, she wakes up, goes to work, and continues to serve YOU. She and ONLY she deserves your vote. She and ONLY she has warned it.

The way you have behaved as a country over the last several years, it is YOU who don't even deserve her. But you better wish, hope, and pray that you get her anyway!

Long live the land of the free. Long live America. Long live real estate websites with listings all over the world.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Welcome to November 2016.

This has been one of the darkest years of our collective American existence. The true character of a large part of our nation has been exposed to the entire world and played out tirelessly on the media circuit. We Americans have some deep soul searching to do and for many of you, I hope you do it before you step into the booth to vote for our next leader. I don't have to tell you who the only real choice is: Hillary Clinton, a woman who has spent her entire lifetime in public service and has the scars to prove it. Don't listen to me. Do your own research. Look up the facts, not the theories. Look carefully at her opponent's record and compare it HONESTLY. But also listen to the opinion of calm and experienced republican as well as democratic sources; to major news outlets and respected newspapers; and to many of them who have never endorsed a democratic candidate. But believe it or not, I didn't wake up today thinking about the election.

I woke up today thinking about triggers. I realize that while this might be a common concept to many of us, still others see the word used on Facebook and don't fully understand it. Once you have been the victim of and subsequently a survivor of assault, discrimination, physical or mental trauma, have been on the battlefield, or dealt with any other abuse, you are the recipient of triggers. They are unavoidable and can happen at any time, place, or setting. Sometimes 'appropriate' sometimes embarrassing. Always a personal burden. They hit like a lightning strike then drown you in a tidal wave of panic, emotion, tears, dread, terror. With the flight or fight response in full gear, you just want to escape. I know you do. I do.

The past couple of years have been riddled with triggers. As far as I can remember, mine began with the Bill Cosby case and continue to this day. If you have been raped, you have had to deal with triggers. If you have been abused, you have had to deal with triggers. If you have had an angry boss or other male authority figure talk over you, scream at you, demean you, you have been dealing with triggers. If you are Mexican-American, you have been dealing with triggers. If you are a recent immigrant (documented or not) you have been dealing with triggers. If you are a Muslim, you have been dealing with triggers. If you are a woman, you have been dealing with triggers. And if you are black in America, you have been dealing with triggers, both from words and from guns.

When I hear Donald Trump talk with intense rage over Hillary Clinton during a debate, I hear my father screaming at my mother as my brother and I cried and banged on their door to get him to stop, then ran away to hide from him once he did and shifted to come for us. When I hear Donald Trump talk smugly about how smart he is, I see the familiar and sadistic smirk of a camp director who abused me and countless other young boys. He knew he would get away with it. When I hear Donald Trump talk about women, including his own daughter, I hear the voices of older men who raped young female friends of mine growing up; and I also hear the voices of the older men who saw me as an easy target as well. When I hear Donald Trump encourage his millions of supporters to take violent actions against minorities, I am reminded of how people were encouraged to take violent actions against me as a child, simply for being a Jew. When I hear Donald Trump talk about mass deportation of immigrants and Muslims, I hear the voice of Adolph Hitler deporting my family to other countries, then later to their deaths in the concentration camps. And when I hear his supporters, foaming at the mouth, screaming things like 'Killary' 'Lock her up' and 'Jew-S-A', I am frozen in a state of shock. When I am working out at the Christian-based Green Hills YMCA and I hear white women and men responding to yet another murder-by-police of an unarmed black civilian by saying 'Well if he just listened to the officer like we do, he would still be alive', I know deep in my soul that we are a nation beyond repair.

This was once the United States of America. It shouldn't take a massive terrorist attack to draw us closer to that place. I am simultaneously embarrassed of and terrified of my homeland. Who are we? What have we become? Regardless of who wins this election, I challenge all of you to search your souls and your conscience for answers. Please walk up to a mirror, look yourself directly in the eyes, and ask yourself: Am I really ok with all of this? Am I 'proud to be an American'? Or, is my 'patriotism' really a cloak for racism, bigotry, fear, and hatred? I would imagine it is hard to face these questions, especially for those out there who would have to answer yes. But this is the situation we are in and those are the most pertinent questions one can ask themselves this morning. If you survive those questions, go deeper: Am I helping matters by speaking out against racism, bigotry, fear, and hatred when I see it? Or am I going along with it? Am I remaining silent at a time when doing so means direct violence against blacks, Muslims, immigrants, Jews, and other minority groups?

In the 1980's, as AIDS took the world by storm and ravaged the gay community, an activist organization emerged called ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). I marched with them several times in Greenwich Village as I was in NYC and NJ at the time. I was already living a life in the arts; specifically theater at the time. I am certain that to many in the south, this group seemed radical. But to those of us in the arts, watching so many people we loved dying all around us, as our President Ronald Reagan remained silent about the epidemic, the movement was anything but radical. It was a moral imperative. Not so different from the moral imperative we face right now as a nation. ACT UP came into my mind as I awoke this morning, November 1, 2016, a week before the most important Presidential election of our time. I was reminded of ACT UP due to the direction our nation has taken; specifically because ACT UP chose to use the Nazi symbol from the uniforms of homosexuals in the death camps for their logo; and specifically for their slogans calling the public to action: IGNORANCE = FEAR, SILENCE = DEATH.

Ignorance and fear fueled the rise of the conservative movement and led directly to Donald Trump. SILENCE now means DEATH to so many of your fellow Americans. This is not an exaggeration. This is happening right now, and in real time, right here in these once United States of America.

I beg all of you who have not yet voted to read this before you go out to the polls to vote. I beg you to consider these words and to take on that mantra. For those who have already voted, please share these words with any undecided friends, and with any supporters of Donald Trump. Please take this all in and may it guide your lives. Otherwise, this country of ours, it might be finished, for good.


Be safe. Be strong. Be courageous. Do the right thing for our country.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Yom Kippur 2016 - Reflection to action

Greetings to all my fellow #Jews and other humans. Yom Kippur is a solemn but deeply meaningful day on the #Jewish calendar. It is the holiest of all days. #YomKippur has gone from something I ignored for 30 years to something that helped clarify and empower my life last year after going through one of the worst crises I have ever faced.

What is Yom Kippur TO ME? Yom Kippur is a time for quiet rest from work, prayer for some and meditation for others, for mindfullness, for brutally honest reflection, and for fasting (which quite honestly enhances all that I previously listed)

Those who know anything about me know I am an atheist Jew. Racially and genetically, I am as much a Jew as my black friends are black. You just don't see it in my skin. (Though arguably the nose is a dead giveaway) I care deeply about my place in this world as one of very few Jews left alive. For this reason, most of us are a lively and active bunch hell bent on making a difference. Religious or not, Jews tend to feel strongly about social justice and repairing the world around us whenever possible.

I went to a Kol Nidre service last night. There are times I have live streamed that service from Central Synagogue in #NYC. #KolNidre is a beautiful, holy, deeply moving service. It touches the hearts of believers and atheists alike. At the service last night, I heard something from a rabbi that gave me pause. Now, before I go any further, and without naming this rabbi, I will say that I truly love and respect him and his family. They are wonderful members of the community at large and just great people.

I am paraphrasing here, halfway through my fast, but this was said: of the three things one must bring to temple and to the Yom Kippur holiday, the first and most important is a faith in god. And without that faith, everything else is just a show with good music, it would have no meaning. I didn't know how to react. Yom Kippur is a time when I do things to heal my soul. Whether it is picking up a guitar and writing songs; or writing a letter to my father disclosing everything I have ever wanted to say to him (as I did last year); or looking back at the failures of the last year of my life and not simply owning up to my part in them, but vowing to change my behaviors, responses and actions in the future.

Yom Kippur is good for ALL Jews. Even ones like me who have no faith in a god. I have faith in others, and I have faith in myself. And while I struggle constantly with those two faiths, they were the other two pieces of the three things one must bring to this holiday. For people who have been mistreated, abused, molested, beaten, stolen from, discriminated against, raped, mugged, or verbally or physically assaulted, trust comes about as easy as winning the lottery. My story is my own and I share it from time to time, but in this, I am speaking universally.

We exist in a time marked by hatred, mistrust, violence, greed, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-semitism, islamaphobia, gun violence, racism, poverty, bigotry, and so on. Many times over the past 8 years, I have wanted to give up, pack all my things, and leave Nashville. But upon honest reflection, I can see, even as an atheist, that my life has purpose and meaning here. When I encounter hatred, I combat it with love. When I encounter greed, I offer generosity. When I encounter xenophobia and bigotry, I counter with calm conversation and questions about why someone might hate. When I encounter poverty, I offer my services and volunteer to help children who have very little hope. I can do much more of this and I certainly hope to.

Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday, but the concept of reflection and vowing to improve our lives and our positive impact on the world around us is a beautiful notion that all humans would benefit from. I could write a list a mile long of everything I have done wrong over the last year, everyone I called an asshole and worse (despite them earning it) everyone I felt the urge to retaliate against who had wronged me instead of simply letting it go. On Yom Kippur more than any other day, I am in touch with the reality that in those instances, it is I who suffers, not them. There are things I can do much better. Things I want for my life. They aren't material. They are love. Companionship. Family. Peace.

While I spend the next 12 hours of this fast reflecting on the last year; how I can change and grow over the next 12 months to become a better version of me, I want to share one thing I have shared before and one thing I haven't:

First, the greatest moment of the last year that stands out. It has nothing to do with any celebrities I worked with, nor with any personal commercial successes. Over the summer, thanks to my friend Lij Shaw​​ , I had the honor of working with underserved teens in the downtown Nashville Library. On the third floor, they have a little recording studio that is free for the kids to use and they bring in recording industry professionals from the community to mentor them. Nothing could have been more personally rewarding than one particular day. I was working with a 15 year old black girl. Her family lives far below the poverty line and they do the best to fend for themselves, but have very little in the way of resources. Well, it turns out, that girl was an incredibly talented singer and I absolutely let her know! We sat together and wrote a song. We recorded it. By the end, she was in tears. When I asked what was wrong, she responded, and I will never forget these words:

"No one has ever told me I was good at anything".

I relate to her on so many levels. And I am so grateful that I was able to be there for her. This is the very best of what I can do on this earth in my lifetime. To help kids who grew up in very abusive situations and are taught they are worthless, that there is no hope. Even when I still struggle with my own lack of hope, I can provide it to them. And in doing so, that brings great purpose and meaning to my life. I hope to do more of that this coming year.

The other thing I want to mention is very relevant especially as we come to the end of the most divisive, violent, and horrible election cycle this nation has ever experienced. This notion I share appears in many forms in all religious texts. But having traveled the world, and being especially sensitive to Islamaphobia during this election year, I will paraphrase from the #Muslim text, the Holy Quran...

'whoever kills a soul - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.' - Quran 5:32

I often explain to people that NYC is the greatest city in America. Perhaps in the world. It is a place where people of all nations and all faiths came together and became one thing: New Yorkers. There were no divisions besides good or bad and they all lived together and worked their differences out. Yom Kippur drives home this concept of good and bad. While atheists like myself take the karma approach, there is no right or wrong way to arrive at right and wrong, nor good and bad. Just know that those are real destinations. Whatever gets you there gets you there. Some take an Uber, some drive their own car, and still others hop on public transportation. But at the end of the day, we are all the same and must treat each other accordingly.

If we see a woman begging on the side of the road with a sign, that is OUR sister. If we see a man berating a woman in public, that is OUR brother berating OUR mother or friend. If we see an old woman trying desperately to hold onto both her dignity and groceries while getting to her car, that is OUR grandmother. If we see a child with bruises running aimlessly down a street, scared, confused, hungry, alone, that is OUR child. And when we see bombs fall in far away lands that wipe out entire families celebrating a wedding, that is OUR family that has just been murdered. This is my Yom Kippur. I don't have god, but I will try as I always do to not be a dick in the coming year. I will try to take personal ownership of the suffering of my fellow humans. I will without prejudice call those people out who would seek to harm or oppress others.

If you are a Jew and fasting, may you also reflect on these things. If you are NOT a Jew (as most of my friends are not... we make up only 0.22% of the world population) please consider these things anyway. As far as religions go, Judaism is mostly concerned with social justice and personal actions (mitzvoth) to help others and the world around you. I wouldn't tell anyone to fast, though I find it meaningful. But I do wish for all people in the world to consider deeply the things I have touched on here.

Peace and love to you all
Russell Wolff

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tonight we lost a great Jew. RIP Shimon Peres.

Shimon Peres - A fierce warrior. A beloved peacenik.

There aren't many Jews left on the earth. My people now make up less than one quarter of one percent of the world's population. Maybe that's why we are so loud, why we make our presence felt, why we live boldly with a sense of urgency, why we stand by others and why we work so hard to make a difference in our communities and the greater world around us.

Tonight we lost one of the greatest Jews we had. It's been a tough year for that. Shimon Peres had his flaws, as we all do. But unlike so many people in this world, he dedicated a huge portion of his life to love, peace, prosperity, and understanding. To bringing people together at a time when the world is being torn apart. Along with Bill Clinton and Yasir Arafat (who seems like an angel compared to some of the people we have seen since he passed), he was forging a path towards peace and stability in a region most infamous for land disputes, war, and terror.

There aren't many Jews left and no single man or woman is perfect. But Shimon Peres was one of the best we had. He gave hope to the world. He brought light to the darkness. He brought love to the hate. May his beautiful soul rest in peace.

#RIP #ShimonPeres #Israel

Shimon Peres - Dies at 93

Monday, September 12, 2016

#15thAnniversary of #9/12: The Golden Age of Blind Patriotism

The 15th anniversary of 9/12
- The Golden Age of Blind Patriotism

A lot of polarizing things happened yesterday. Some involved me, and in the same vain, some involved highly paid football players that have decided to use their fame and visibility to advance a cause we should all be fighting for in America.

Let there be no confusion: The first responders who ran full speed into the burning towers without any regard for their own safety to attempt the impossible [saving the lives of people on the top floors] are heroes. But regardless of the circumstances or scale or loaded emotions going on right at this moment, activists are heroes as well.

I carry much grief from 9/11. Not more than others. Not less than others. I don't compare my grief. But I was close enough to see many of the events of that day and the aftermath unfold with my own eyes, not a TV set.

With that said, I spontaneously did something yesterday quite different than I had done in previous years. My 'protest' of celebrating survival, resilience, and the continuance of life was not expected of me. While it was viewed as genuine, strong, and heartfelt by some, others viewed it as self-serving, insensitive, and disingenuous.

Instead of my normal annual somber reflection, 15 years felt like the right time to shift. I looked at life today. I posted examples of living, loving, and surviving after getting through the 11th, and what that looks like 15 years later. The day after the trauma, the 12th in this case, will always be the bigger story.

While the response was mostly positive, as noted above, some questioned my motives, my compassion, and attacked my character. So today, I ask a series of rhetorical questions:

For those who were offended by my response to 15 years of gratuitous trauma mongering and snuff porn that plays out annually in the media on 9/11, and also to those who support 'blind patriotism', (which is patently racist) the kind that was on full display directly after 9/11 and led to so much war and hate, and who go along with the demonization of activist athletes who have been fighting for a cause we should all be fighting for...

What do you do to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day? What do you avoid doing on that day to avoid being disrespectful to the millions of Jews and others who were slaughtered?

What do you do to honor the 1,000,000 plus innocent Muslim men, women, and children slaughtered in cold blood in Iraq and Afghanistan by the United States you blindly pledge allegiance to?

What do you do to commemorate the genocide carried out against America's indigenous population by the Europeans on the very land you own your split-level ranch on? Is Columbus some sort of hero for you?

What do you do when a white police officer takes out his weapon and murders an unarmed black person because of a simple wrong turn or tail light being out? Do you say: 'well if those people would just follow the instructions of the officer, they'd still be alive!' (I hear that a lot from the treadmills and bikes at the Green Hills YMCA)

What do you do when a mentally unstable white supremacist is very close to becoming the president of your country and runs for office on a thinly veiled platform of fear, paranoia, xenophobia, violence, sexism, and hatred against non-whites, Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, and others? Do you remain silent then? Do you view him as a patriot?

Do you understand the principles and ideals this country was built on? What the words liberty, freedom, and equality actually mean?

There are so many more examples as EVERY day on the American calendar marks a tragedy... 93 dead from guns, Virginia Tech, Columbine, the 1993 WTC bombing, OKC bombing. 3,000 Americans were murdered in one made-for-tv attack, one one single horrifying day, but 385,000 have died from guns since then. Everyone in the world is outraged and traumatized about those deaths except American gun owners.

It is very easy to criticize brave people from the safety of your couch and the warm glow of your iDevices. But the people you are speaking out against are the real heroes.

They are standing up or sitting down, speaking out and remaining silent. They are taking risks without regard for their safety in order to do what is right in a most dangerous time for our nation. What you think or say about them has very little bearing on what they do. It does not deter them. It fuels them. And on some days the 'them' is 'us'.

Blind patriotism is shameful, racist, and disgusting. One of the greatest performing acts of all time made a single statement of apology and compassion for the horrible war crimes our country and president were carrying out. How did America respond? Their records were burned and their careers were done for many years.

So if the actions of terrorists are supposed to change what we do and say for an entire day every single year, haven't we let them win? Where is your patriotism then? Where is your resolve? Where is your strength? Where is your courage? Because America  needs it right now more than it ever has. True patriotism, not the fake stuff on tv.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Suicide Prevention Week


Sometime shortly after the turn of the last century, in a modest apartment in the Bronx, a family fight broke out. There was high drama, screaming, and no doubt things were thrown and broken. A young girl then watched in horror as her own mother in a desperate attempt to end her pain jumped out the window falling several stories to her death. This played out in front of the whole family. And it was rarely spoken of again. That little girl was my grandmother.

Depression is not a character flaw and suicide is not a weakness. These things are hardwired into our DNA and science has proven that they are passed on like other genetic traits. The grief of depression and trauma is violently forged into our DNA and takes a lifelong struggle to unwrite. For more information on this, read the recent studies on holocaust trauma being passed down to survivors that were born generations later.

#Depression is no joke. I've spoken about my struggles with it many times publicly and privately. I have suffered from a host of depression-related issues since I was a young child. It is one of those very dark and serious conditions that seems to get worse and worse as you get older. The stakes get higher, the internal pressures grow stronger, and the voices get much louder until they rise to the level of a football stadium filled with angry fans.

I am no good. I am worthless. I am a defective piece of shit. My life has no meaning. I am a detriment and burden to all those around me. The world would be a better place without me in it. These are not slogans or phrases I picked up off a depression website or Lifetime movie. No, these are the daily mantras that the darkness of a depressive brain insists on repeating over and over and over again. For decades. Until they are so loud, you can no longer bear them.

You cannot fight depression by lying to it (though that is one major psychological strategy and treatment approach). This is our truth. This is our reality. Is it inescapably home.

In those dark silent moments of the night, we are all alone with our thoughts, each one of us. No matter where they start, the thoughts are guided along a prebuilt track towards the inevitable: what we are not, what we have not, who we are not. That is that a familiar and comfortable place. But that comfort gives way to an addictive danger zone where a gravitational spiral drags us down into an ever-growing black hole. It is in this unenviable place that 'ending it all' seems to be the only logical, sensible, and dare I say merciful choice. Mercy upon oneself, mercy upon those around us who we feel we are a burden to, and mercy on the greater world at large.

I will never know the full effect of a life in the arts on these things as it is the only life I have known. But I watch my friends accept Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, Emmy and Oscar Awards, and I am truly proud of and happy for them. But that's not enough for the depressive mind. It has to compare. I watch other friends save people's lives and again it compares... 'What have YOU done that comes even remotely close to their impact on the world?' It loudly shouts in a mocking tone. Even recently, I found out that someone whom I know was a horrible person who did inexcusable things to me had a child. The depressed mind has to compare, even then.

However the chips fall, the depressed mind feels the same after every split. No matter what the circumstances are, there is always this sense that the other person can bounce back. That she can go on to have a normal and happy life, while you are left with defective, worthless, and broken you.

You wake up alone as you always do. You have to scream at yourself at the top of your lungs that you're worth something and that your life has meaning; that if you were suddenly gone, people would be affected; that there are people out there who count on you who you aren't even aware of. These people count on your existence and you will never know it during your living years.

You see, when you suffer from this type of depression, no amount of medication, solution from science nor religion or other magical thinking can help. Though, dogs help. And of course, that same science you rely on has shown in multiple studies that people who have a faith in a God or a higher power are far less likely to suffer from this darkness.

But when you do suffer from this flavor of depression, you walk the earth with a dark cloud hovering over every achievement and a torrential monsoon drowning your every failure. Your BEST days are a normal person's worst. As performers, we get the benefit of an occasional opiate-level high when we walk out on stage and perform. But the rest of the time, we walk the earth wearing a 500 pound lead suit we can barely maneuver in.

All the slogans in the world don't change the overwhelming sense that suicide (the relief of this darkness and an end to the pain) is the fair and just resolution. It only seems right. It is a relief that we, the depressed, have earned through a lifetime of existing in that heavy armor.

People who have known me for decades know some of the reasons for the darkness. It goes far deeper than garden variety self-hatred. I was taught those things about myself and those lessons connected with the darkness that was already pre-wired and waiting in my brain for the right code words and reinforcement to activate it like a trained self-assassin. It is simply exhausting for anyone to exist in this condition.

To put it more bluntly; being me is exhausting. Being Russell Wolff is a full time exhausting balancing act. There is no break. The life of an artist is a strange one. If I get an idea at three in the morning I don't have the option of ignoring it.

[Tangent alert, followed by bringing it full circle]

This morning, I started out writing some words reflecting on the world we knew before 9/11/2001 as the 15 year anniversary snuck right up on us. I feel that the world changed that day. I know America changed on that day. And while Patriotism sure looked good on paper for a short time, we are now watching the horrifying ripple effects of that change as it destroys our nation 15 years later.

Since that day, we have become a lost and violent people. Armed to the teeth and full of hatred and mistrust for one another. A country that doesn't even deserve the unity that party leaders promise. Have we helped each other? Or have we instead sought to destroy our neighbors and every ideal we claimed to stand for? That is indeed a question for another post…

But, back to the main point... There is a simple equation that applies here: the deeper the depression, coupled with the absence of relationships and children, correlates to a higher likelihood of this dark sense of low worth. This might seem a bit obvious to some of course, but worth repeating for reference. The sense of irrelevancy felt by a depressed person on a regular basis is palpable. The folly of life is seemingly unbearable.

The best thing I've done in my life in this realm started recently. As some of you know, I have been working with underserved, at-risk teens at the Nashville downtown public library. As it turns out, I ended up with the opportunity to work with many kids who in their early teens fantasize about suicide, and with some who attempted it, as I did.

I keep these kids in my mind always. When the image of me helping these kids wants to run away, I chase after it, grab it, drag it back and throw it the fuck back in its seat so it stays in the room where I can always see it. In this role, I have been given a chance to help kids who grew up like me, kids that suffer and who were told their whole lives that they were worth nothing. And so they believe they are worth nothing. Why wouldn't they. The people who told them those terrible things are the people we are all taught to trust: Our parents, our teachers, our friends. I have a chance to do for them what I have never been able to do for myself, and that brings me a certain kind of satisfaction, meaning, and purpose.

To be suicidal is to suffer from a very dark and dangerous sub-section of depression. Suicidal ideation is to depression what hard-core shock pornography is to making love. It is dark, it is violent, it is ever present. Instead of the reality it presents itself as, it is a complete distortion of our soul, our spirit, and our potential as humans. And as far as I can tell, the only way to fight it is with evidence, truth, purpose and acts of generosity and kindness that positively impact other human beings.

There is a reason I am still alive. I don't know if that reason is the work I do at the library, or to help young artists at my recording studio, or writing my book, or telling my story, or speaking to groups of young people that are dealing with these issues. But I can recognize it's worth even when I can't sense my own.

It was recently suggested to me that I consider coming full circle with my book. To go from finishing telling my story into working with someone to make it a musical. It made good sense to me. After all, at age 7, musical theater was the first place I ever felt safe, and found hope, purpose, and meaning. Being on the stage entertaining people, made others smile and feel joy even when my soul didn't understand what those things were. But it brought me a certain kind of deep satisfaction to be able to bring that to others.

I don't want to end my life today. I want to live. I want to create meaningful art that is helpful to other human beings until the day I can no longer breathe or stand up. Every day, I set out to make a positive impact in someone's life. I have a full understanding after nearly dying myself, then after losing so many friends over the years: THIS is all we have. THIS moment, THIS day, THIS very second.

The greatest moment I ever had on stage was recorded, December 4, 1999 near Albany, New York. One year after that, my album 'Roadkill Americana', was held ransom by a 'friend' in New Jersey, who eventually erased the entire album out of spite and greed. As you may know, I recovered the album from some old rough mixes made close to the end of the recording. I managed to record some missing parts, 'mix' what I could, and release it. It was nowhere near what it was supposed to be, but it was released. One year after that, the towers fell and I left New York for Boston. One year after that, I was laying on my presumed deathbed, six weeks in the hospital, with tubes in me to breathe, facing the very real prospect that my life was over, my singing career was done, and I that even if I did manage to live, I might never talk again let alone sing. It took two years and two additional surgeries to feel like a human being again, which I couldn't have gotten through without the love and support of my friends in Boston and New York who know exactly who they are. But on the other side of that, I found a new life helping others.

I know that any of us can die any second for any reason. It is so easy to die for any of us, and it is so logical to commit suicide for any of us who suffer from this darkness. Living is the hardest thing of all. Thriving in the face of 1 million voices telling you you're not good enough. Somehow shutting them all down and walking forward through that angry mob in your mind heckling you at every turn. THAT is the true challenge and struggle. And for those of us struggling with depression, it is all the more challenging.

The title and theme of my book have shifted a bit since I started. As soon as I get close to the end, I can share more information about it. But everything I've spoken about here is related. For those of you who had the patience to read through all this, I thank you.

Keep in mind that right now, you know someone besides me who is suffering under all of this darkness, while they do their best to hide it from you and the rest of the world. You can't save them, but you can encourage them to find something to fight for. Please do.


Friday, July 8, 2016

DALLAS: My most controversial post yet.

I will keep this short and sweet. Here are my thoughts on this latest tragedy. They are threefold and they will piss you off.

1. No one should be surprised by ANY death by gun in America. DISARM AMERICA NOW including LAW ENFORCEMENT!!!

2. No one should be surprised to see white police officers murdered by armed blacks. CAN YOU HONESTLY BLAME THEM??? Put the scenario in a battlefield, and they are just taking out their enemy.

3. The is the same concept as ISIS. No one should be surprised at the terrorism of ISIS against western targets. After all, our military went over to their countries and slaughtered over 1,000,000 innocent Arab men, women, and children.

Don't like the results? CHANGE THE FUCKING GAME!!!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I have Turkish friends. I have been in that airport before. I remember being amazed at all the different people traveling through the place. It was a giant bridge sitting between Europe and the Middle East, I thought... and I have the privilege to walk across it. That was then. This is now.
The world is so very dark now. For all of us.
All we can do is live. Let the forces of evil do what they will. Let the armies of the world try to destroy them. And in our own lives, in our own quiet moments, hold those we love. Hold them tightly. And pretend.
The best any of us can hope for anymore is to pretend the world is not as awful as it appears to be. Pretend that people in our own country can get along with each other. Pretend that we have a bright future. Get lost in a movie, an album, or a hike in the forest.
I am so grateful tonight for friends (old and new) who I was fortunate enough to spend time with over the past week. Larry and I don't get to hang out as often as we should, but he is a shining light who emits rays of joy and love into the world as far as the eye can see. If you are in his orbit, you cannot help but feel it and smile. John Kurzweg and I only recently met, but the two of these characters just brought so much joy into my world, both on the stage and off. I am truly grateful. Deeply moved.
My heart is with those in Turkey, those who dared to walk in the most pedestrian of places, an airport; that airport where I heard so many languages I couldn't identify, and where I ate a delicious meal I couldn't pronounce while waiting on my next flight.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

How to end gun violence in America, but first: FUCK YOU AMERICA!


Another morning. Another tragic shooting. And this time it gets the label for HIGHEST BODYCOUNT OF ANY MASS SHOOTING IN AMERICAN HISTORY! Mazel tov America! You have so much to be proud of. This is in fact one of the few areas the USA is ALWAYS number 1 at. Never the important ones like healthcare, education, quality of life, or life expectancy. But I digress.

Today's news will bring out all sorts of responses that change absolutely nothing: this can range from emojis, to prayers, to shock, to outrage, to tears. From the top, we can expect finger pointing (always in the wrong direction): towards Muslims (the shooter, even though the vast majority of shootings in America are by armed white conservative males self-identifying as christian), towards gays (for bringing on god's wrath), towards gun control (laughably). But at the end of the day, there are in fact things that will reduce and prevent gun violence in America: (wrote some of this after yesterday's post but hadn't planned on posting it for a while... until this morning).

I get tired of people saying there's nothing we can do to combat gun violence in the United States of America. While I would support an all-out ban like the one that exists in Australia and the UK, short of a ban, here are 10 commonsense changes to our CURRENT laws that could save TENS OF THOUSANDS of lives every single year.

1. Annual licensing and testing to get and keep those licenses. Just like registering a car, this would be mandatory once a year. If you don't have a license and you are found to have a gun, you go to prison. If you are convicted of a violent crime during the year and do not turn in your gun, you go to prison.

2. Mandatory gun buyback for anyone that does not require a license. Give some incentive to those people willingly following the law.

3. The licenses and laws regarding firearms will be identical for all 50 states. This change will be on the FEDERAL level. They cannot change from state to state, and all law enforcement agencies will work together under the same legal guidelines

4. Limit on bullets. If gun ranges want to have more, that is fine. But from now on, gun ranges are regulated by state government like those state liquor stores. Not owned by private citizens/business owners. And also gun/ammunition stores.

5. Along with the annual skills testing, safety test, and criminal background check there will be a psychological profiling and temperament tests. If someone does not want to take this test, they don't get a license nor access to guns. If they are found to have a gun in violation of this policy, they go to prison.

6. Limit on the number of weapons allowed. No one may build an arsenal.

7. Gun owners are forever responsible for any crimes committed with their weapon, even if they are lost or stolen. Especially in cases where the loss is not reported.

8. Purchasing guns for someone else or lending a gun to someone else is a crime punishable by license revocation and prison time.

9. Anyone convicted of any type of violent crime loses guns forever. Whether the crime is actually committed or terroristic threats are made, that person forfeits their right to own a weapon for the rest of their life as a citizen of the United States.

10. Anyone using their weapons to intimidate others people in public or private, loses their license and has to give up their guns. If they do not, they're in violation of federal law and will face prosecution and jail time.

11. Metal detectors and wands in all public places that we can put them. Especially in our hospitals, schools, colleges, malls, movie theaters, nightclubs, restaurants. Build them into door frames. We have the technology. This is no different than when we go to an airport. People will get used to it. And as a result, our children and frankly all of our citizens since will be safer

12. A national database of ALL GUNS and ALL GUN OWNERS must be maintained at all times. This must be cross checked in real time with crime databases of local law enforcement all the way up to the FBI, CIA, and NSA. To get on the database, no one is 'grandfathered'. Anyone already owning a gun MUST register. If they are found not to register with their guns, they lose the right to have them, must surrender them, or face possible prison time.

Alternately: 13. Implement gun technology whereby guns can only be fired with fingerprint of owner. 14. Ban them altogether. It works. Do the research and travel the world. It works.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

RIP Christina Grimmie. RIP America

America, lets be honest, ok? It's just us talking. It's getting a bit tough to defend, isn't it? But my gun owning friends defend it. 300 million plus guns in America. Other countries think we are nuts. And they are right. They don't have guns and they don't have 33,000 avoidable gun deaths every single year. And no, they don't simply replace those gun deaths with knife deaths. Getting rid of guns SAVES HUMAN LIFE!

I emphasized that last part because so many gun owners I know also claim to support the pro-life movement. It is absolute hypocrisy.

I have been in entertainment professionally for 31 years. I have performed all over the world. I remember touring in the USA in the 1990s and having stalkers following me from show to show. Some would drive 500 miles from night to night. They were dedicated, enthusiastic, but unstable and a bit unhinged. I wasn't entirely sure how to handle it. I treated them with respect and approached them with fear; a fear that I kept to myself. From all indications, that was part of the deal and 'these were my fans' I thought. I owe them something.

Some fans would show up at my concerts with gifts, posing in pics with me, telling others they were dating me, and whispering in my ear nonsense about things we were going to do together this weekend. From whimsical pursuits like 'antiquing' to activities that were over-the-top sexually provocative. Again, these were people I didn't know. They left notes, hotel keys, tried to kiss me, full mouth in front of their friends. They would grope my crotch, front and back while desperately making eye contact, saying 'you can do anything you want to me tonight'. And this was a time before the reality TV boom, before Facebook, before Twitter and Instagram. And certainly before American Idol and The Voice.

One time, one of my regular stalkers came to a show. I had started dating someone close to that time. When she saw me kiss my then new girlfriend and get onto the stage to perform, she became enraged. She was inconsolable. She began screaming obscenities at that girl, harassing her, interrupting my show, sobbing loudly, yelling incoherently, and causing a big scene. It was terrifying. Someone escorted her out and walked her to her car a few blocks away. They wanted to make sure SHE was safe. She obviously was not. No one was.

Years later, I was on tour with Liz opening for Sugarland, Little Big Town, Eric Church, Michelle Branch, LeAnn Rimes, etc... As the opener, we got very little security compared to the main acts. After our set, Liz would go out to sign autographs and meet her fans. My (unspoken) job among other things was to size everyone up and try to distract or redirect anyone who might be a threat. We had a few shows where a fan would bring gifts and act inappropriately possessive or jealous of her. I remember one fan who came to several shows. He was 'in love with her', 'wanted to be her singer' and 'wouldn't take no for an answer'. He demanded I introduce him and take him backstage to sing for her. (He was no singer) 'She NEEDED to meet him' and 'she had NO RIGHT not to make him her singer'. He became more angry and aggressive over time.

Those were a couple of examples among so many others. Far too many to recall.

What strikes me this morning of course is how easily ANY of them can get a gun in America. And how much a high visibility murder-suicide would play into their ultimate fantasy to be recognized by any of us artists, then suddenly gain relevance to the world by killing us followed directly by killing themselves.

I am furious. I feel helpless. I cannot believe this is how we exist now. I know, am close friends with, and have worked with MANY artists who gained prominence and visibility on American Idol, The Voice, and America's Got Talent.

I woke up to the news this morning. The awful, the shocking, the gut wrenching, but ultimately the entirely predictable news about Christina Grimmie. I watched her pre-show video on social media. She was so excited. So full of life. Someday, hopefully in my lifetime, people will learn that this sort of tragedy is COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE.

Private citizens don't need guns and this murderer should never have had one. We have failed as a country. Yet again. This is a story that plays out over and over again. Every single day in America until we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!

The second amendment does NOT give anyone the right to do these things. Nor does it give anyone the right to BE ABLE to do them. And if a court can honestly find that it does, well we need to take a moment, study some other countries, take a deep breath, then GET RID OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT or at the very least CHANGE IT DRASTICALLY.

Gun violence needs to be treated like the public health epidemic that it is. It is an epidemic that claims the lives of 33,000 Americans every year and injures another 100,000. It is cancer, it is AIDS, it is ALS, it is no different than any other disease except in one significant way: WE HAVE A TESTED AND PROVEN TREATMENT! Using this treatment can greatly reduce deaths from this illness! And after enough years of treating it, it will look like a CURE.  I don't have to sit here and name the countries you can look to as an example. You are all smart. You have google. But please do the research. And become advocates on this matter.

The NRA is a racist hate group (use the google). Worse than that, they go out of their way to keep guns available to private citizens with the greatest of ease, and no restrictions. And who are 'they'? Again go to google, as this is readily available information: but 'they' are the very people who sell the guns, who sell the bullets. They are literally funding, lobbying for, and profiting from the deaths of 33,000 Americans every year and the serious injuries of 100,000 others.

Christina Grimmie had a bright future ahead of her. As entertainers, we are tasked with making all of your lives more manageable. Yes, we make art for a living and that can sometimes seem like a selfish pursuit, but we share our art with you. We open our lives, share our pain, and invite you into our world so that your pain doesn't feel so alone. We hold you in the darkest moments of your lives. When you meet us after our show, in tears, telling us how much a song saved your life, or changed something, or made it ok to be who you are... We feel that to. We share in that moment and it gives us deep meaning and purpose. Our art is supposed to reach you. It is supposed to have meaning. But you do not own us as a result. And you cannot kill us to write the headlines in your fantasy.

I have some hope this morning mixed in with my shock, rage, and numbness. Last night, I was discussing the concealed carry case in the Texas federal appellate courts right now. If that law is upheld, it would prevent 'concealed carry' for the vast majority of Americans. It is a little piece, merely a start, but last night, it would have saved Christina's life.

This murder hits close to home. This preventable murder hurts. They all do. Every single one.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Southern Comfort


Folks, I've just about had it. Like many of you, I am about ready to throw in the towel. While I love the country I grew up in, America has become a place I no longer recognize. And at the same time, there is a certain darkness I feel in the pit of my soul. I have this dark sense that America has always been this way. Maybe you have to get to be a certain age to see the world and America for what it really is. The good, the bad, and the downright shameful.

Some of you will read this piece as an attack on the entirety of the South. While I paint with a wide brush, it is absolutely not that. I know many good southerners that are as outraged and embarrassed as I am that the region continues to earn the criticism. It is a statistical fact that certain states have lower IQs, lower test scores, higher obesity rates, and a lower age of life expectancy; certain parts of the country put less emphasis on education and more of an emphasis on religion. These are the same states. These are states that have ignorant policies, policy makers, and people that I could have never known truly existed. Some of these states even establish laws allowing teachers in a public school setting to teach from the bible. A Christian bible. In a public school. In a secular society founded on equality and the separation of church and state. In 2016. I live in one of these places. I am surrounded by them.

I have just about had it with the conservative movement's religious tyranny. The so called 'religious freedom’ bills and laws sweeping the country are nothing more than a legislative license to hate, to discriminate, and to deny equal rights to certain Americans in favor of other white heterosexual conservative Christian Americans. But more to the point, these laws are about restoring their comfort. Southern Comfort. Why in 2016 are we writing laws catering to people's comfort? Why are we willing to perpetuate then ameliorate their deepest fears?

Here's the deal: If you have white skin color and you feel uncomfortable standing next to or providing services to someone of dark skin color, you are a racist. This is true whether you like the sound of that or not. And to me, it truly doesn't matter. You are allowed to be a racist; there's no law against your thoughts and feelings. If you are uncomfortable being around a Muslim, and believe all of them to be terrorists, you are at best ignorant, but in most cases, you are a hateful bigot. That's all there is to it. You have no right to deny people equal rights because they're different than you. If you are heterosexual, and you feel uncomfortable providing service in your public business to a same-sex couple, too fucking bad. Move to Saudi Arabia where they have the Sha'ria law that you claim to fear (but in your actions desire). Just don't pull that shit here. I am so sick of it. So is the rest of America and the world that watches our every move. (You remember, that whole Internet and TV thing right?) America used to be the example. The shining beacon of hope; of freedom and equality. That ship has long since sailed. And it carried the Statue of Liberty back with it. Or at least it should have.

Shame on you America. Shame on you, some of whom are my friends, who believe these hateful laws are righteous, and thus support them. You voted these horrible people into office, you lobby them relentlessly in favor of these discriminatory laws, and you rally behind them when they appear. You don’t even try to hide it. In fact, you are proud of this.

On a daily basis, I hear that people are worried about Muslim Americans becoming radicalized in mosques. (See yesterday's news on the Pastor-made and TN State Rep. distributed DVD "Mosques Exposed!”) However, rarely do I hear a very real threat to our nation discussed: White Christian Americans that have been radicalized in their churches by hateful bigoted pastors. And therein lies the nugget of Southern Comfort. Go on and take a sip. Hatred and bigotry fueled by ignorance and fear is being dressed up in it’s Sunday best as ‘religious freedom’ laws. It starts in the home, the church, and the schools. Just like any other form of hatred.

So today I address a strong and clear message to the people and legislators of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee: take a deep breath! Sit back in your pew and get ready to go to church: You are not entitled to nor guaranteed personal comfort in the United States of America. I will say that again. It is that important: YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO NOR GUARANTEED PERSONAL COMFORT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. There it is, you heard right. Now give it a moment to sink in. You do not get to pass laws that make you comfortable. You do not deserve them. And if those laws happen to impinge on another citizens’ equal rights in any way, shape, or form, those laws are unconstitutional and morally wrong.

I have many friends who have gotten married to people of a different faith, or, as much as I hate to speak in terms like this, have married outside of their race. Not so long ago, this was illegal in America. It was this way in many states that now surround my home and as we all know, it is still frowned upon. ‘Interracial couples’ are discriminated against every day in America. It is insidious. But the fact that this discrimination existed anywhere in the United States (and does to this day) is sickening. If you have the very hint of a conscience, you are sickened as well.

Let's look at some of the news coming out of Tennessee and other Southern states this week alone. Make no mistake, no matter what they call it, the 'religious freedoms’ being sought by conservatives are nothing more than hate and discrimination laws against non-Christians, non-whites, and non-heterosexuals. The essence of these laws is: if you make me uncomfortable by your very existence, I don’t have to provide you services, medical or otherwise. Let us not forget the long and sustained war that right-wing conservatives have been waging against women's rights to have domain over their own bodies. But those fights never go away in a patriarchal religious society like America is desperately trying to emulate. Ask Saudi Arabia.

Many people in the south don't seem to understand the meaning of racism and bigotry. When I bring those words up, I tend to hear phrases like 'reverse racism' and 'white minority’. And of course, I hear the endless stories about Christian persecution in America. Those are the richest tales of all. Christians being persecuted for praying somewhere in public, somewhere in our secular country, somewhere children are playing whom should not be exposed to one religion preferentially, or any religion at all for that matter. That's kind of how this country was made. Without religion.

During my first few years in Nashville, I witnessed so much hypocrisy; moral vacancy combined with self-righteous religion shaming. I tried my best to keep my mouth shut so that I could find more work. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Nashville’s not-so-secret ‘dirty little secret’. And no, it is not talked about on the hit ABC series of the same name. You see, countless non-Christian people move to Nashville every year. They are atheists, Muslims, Jews, and other. Here’s a spoiler alert: they don't always get the warm and welcoming southern hospitality that is advertised on the brochures. But, if they say the right buzz words (see ‘anointed’, ‘blessed’, ‘I’ll pray for you’, and ‘bless her heart’), if they put on the right cross (the bigger and shinier the better), and if they network at the right church (I think you get my pointe without naming that particular church), then they will gain access to all the opportunities Nashville has to offer. They join the club.

I recall someone making an off-handed comment one night to the effect of: ‘the bigger the cross the bigger the liar’. While I didn't exactly know what they meant at the time, it didn't take too long to figure it out. Without the slightest bit of hesitation, I can report that over the last eight years, the more someone talked about their faith, their church, their god, their Christianity and yes indeed, the larger their cross was, the more likely they were to screw me over in a business deal.  In fact, and I never told this story, I was once 'fired' from producing a record for a ‘christian’ client when, after digging around on Google, they discovered I ‘was not a Christian’ and, now this is a direct quote: “He's not a Christian, so how can we know what his moral character is? We wouldn't be comfortable working with someone like that.” How does one even respond to that nonsense? I came to know myself, the atheist Jew, to be considerably more of a christian than most 'christians' I encountered in the Bible Belt. There was a far worse episode I experienced in the music business a few years after that involving a relatively famous award-winning producer who made his name and reputation in the Christian music world. Today is not the day to tell that story.

Having been born into this fair skin color, and outside from looking a little bit Jewish with this here nose, I can never know how it feels to LOOK LIKE a person of color in America. However I do know how it feels to be treated like one. I am never quiet anymore about being a Jew or being an atheist. I know that when people encounter me visually, especially in the Bible belt, they see a white Christian male. This mistake has led to many awkward conversations with much comfort, privilege, and racist comments on their part. Comments that never pass unchecked when spoken aloud in front of me. But they are there. Even among people I know personally who have black friends, gay friends, or Muslim friends. However, they feel comfortable exposing their racism and bigotry to me in private because they assume that I share it; that I am one of them. Little do they know at the time that I am what I like to call ‘invisible black’. They generally make that mistake exactly one time with me.

If it seems I keep returning to the time when I first arrived in Nashville, there is a big reason. I worried so much what people might think about my being a Jew or an atheist. Because in the Bible Belt, people equate religion with morality. However, most atheists/secular folks I encounter are more morally grounded than people of faith I know, certainly in business. Not that I was ever good at playing this little game, but at this point, I just don't care anymore. I stand up for what is right, regardless of who is being discriminated against. That is the essence of believing in America: believing that ALL people regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, beliefs or lack of beliefs, are entitled to the same basic human rights. The people who read my writing and hate me will hate me no matter what I say. The people who love me will love me no matter what I say. And the people who listen to my work will respect me on the merit of that work.

In New York City, as I often explain, there are two types of people: good and bad. That’s it. People on the whole are judged based on their character and substance. This is the polar opposite of the south, where people are judged on their skin color, their religion, and their position in society. A 'self-whitegeous' place where ‘religious freedom’ hate laws keep flying through conservative state legislatures. I can not and I will not sit on the sidelines while Muslims, refugees, gay people, transgender people, atheists, people of color, or any other non-white non-Christians get discriminated against. The whole notion of a secular society creating laws favoring one religion over another; creating laws making it legal to discriminate against people based on race, religion, or sexual orientation; creating laws that essentially provide comfort for people of one faith at the expense of other people's rights is as unfathomable as it is disgraceful.

Returning to the main point: Southern comfort. It has no place in the United States of America. There is a reason the Civil War was fought. However, it ended a long time ago and people need to start acting like it. The time has come for people to stop coming to the aid of the Confederacy. The time has come for people to stop embracing bigotry. The time has come for people to stop enabling ‘justified discrimination’ against their fellow citizens. As I say to my most evangelical friends: No one will force you to have a homosexual relationship. No one will force you to kneel and pray before Allah. No one will force you to have an abortion. And no one can force you to not hate other people. That is your right. But America, you need to get yourself in check. You do NOT have the right to deny other Americans their unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Tennessee. Shame on you.

I have never been more ashamed to be a taxpayer and resident of Tennessee. And that is saying A LOT!!! (remember the 'no gays allowed' signs after marriage equality passed the Supreme Court or the 'no Muslim zones' at gun stores, or the many pastors and 'Christians' who protested a Muslim house of worship being built in Murfreesboro or the 'Patriots' who lined President Obama's highway route from the Nashville airport with confederate flags and openly threatened to assassinate him?) Shame on you, supporters of this disgusting bill of bigotry. Shame on you conservatives who have spent the better part of my life trying to turn the United States of America into a radical religious state governed by Christian Sha'ria Law. Shame on ANYONE living in TN who considers themselves a Christian or an American and can look at themselves in the mirror and support this bill. While at the same time they talk all day about the dangers of Muslims living among us. Shame on all of you. This is a dark day for Tennessee and a dark time for America.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

BRUSSELS 3/22/16

First, let me say that my heart is overflowing with grief today for my friends in Europe, in France, and of course in Belgium for the unbelievable stress they have been under and for the tragedies that they have been forced to endure. Make no mistake, the "terrorists" that carry out these "missions" are complete cowards. There is no bravery to claim or pride to be taken from blowing up innocent civilians in a subway or an airport, none to be found while attacking innocent concertgoers at a live music venue on a street that I myself have performed on. There is nothing brave about blowing up a bus full of Jews, Arabs and Christians in Jerusalem, or at a market there. And while it might have been gutsy and ballsy, there was nothing particularly brave about crashing airplanes full of people into my skyline, shattering the heart of my city.

Dear world, I remember when we first met. I thought we knew each other pretty well. You were a safe and predictable place that I didn't quite fit into, so I 'marched to the beat of my own drummer' they'd say. Those early years of relative bliss were pretty great. And although I had a relatively traumatic childhood, I always believed it to be my own personal struggle. My own trauma that I was to bear; One that would fade away and that I could overcome by adulthood. 

The early years of my survival were marked by the strong influence of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and the laid back and stoned 1970's. I found the stage at this time through theater and music. It became my refuge and thought I knew what the world was. Frankly and without exaggeration, the arts saved my life. 

The 1980's were filled with Reagen, with Gorbachev, that damn wall coming down (which was announced to me by Ian Anderson at a Jethro Tull concert on Long Island). That was long before cellphones, smartphones, 24 hour news from ever angle. There was AIDS, space shuttle disasters, Pink Floyd & Billy Joel concerts, my first booze, my first joint, my bar mitzvah, my first girlfriend, my parents' divorce, a war zone at home, and at 12, an impressionable, troubled young kid running away and staying with older and inappropriate people in NYC.

The 1990s brought cars, college, more drugs, Nirvana, grunge, the start of my musical artist career, several albums and tours, George Bush, Bill Clinton, the Oklahoma City Bombing, Waco, friends going off to fight in Iraq, and something that hit very close to home. In 1993, there was a bombing at the World Trade Center. This was pretty shocking to me as I worked in those towers often. I was 20 years old trying to survive as an actor and musician in the brutal NYC market. I was doing singing telegrams that day in Manhattan. There were other similar days I recall... For instance, I was driving in a gorilla costume when the news of Kurt Cobain's death broke over the radio. I pulled over. I was gutted. 

But the Twin Towers. I remember the feeling before and after that day. While that event was trumped by later atrocities and unspeakable horror on that site, it is easy to forget on THAT day in 1993, the terror was immediate and profound. It shook us to the core, as New Yorkers and as Americans. I worked there many times after that bombing up to the point when I left in the late summer of 2001. I was back there in September 2001 mixing my 5th album. We all know what happened then. 

In the 2000's some great things happened and some sobering realities set in. The world I knew was dead. It had changed forever and we all knew it. But after the largest and most fantastic terrorist attack on US soil, followed closely by my almost dying the next year, my life drastically changed course. I couldn't sing or perform after my illness, so I slowly transitioned into producing and touring with other artists. On my presumptive deathbed, I had a few regrets that I vowed to remedy in the unlikely event that I survived. 1. I had never owned a house. 2. I never finished college. 3. I never got married nor had kids. Well I bought my first house in 2004, graduated Harvard in 2006, and well... 2 outta 3 ain't bad. 

In rediscovering my artistic life since then, so many amazing and unpredictable things have happened to and for me. Tours, albums, great loves, tragic losses, the company of my beloved dogs. But nearest and dearest to my heart are my many trips around the globe. I had always been terrified of flying and the events of 9/11/2001 didn't help matters. But after almost dying, you say 'fuck it' about a lot of things. And since then, as most of you know, I have become quite the world traveler. I go to the ends of the earth for art, exploration, creation of music, etc. One favorite destination has been Europe and within it, Brussels. 

Terrorism is pure evil carried out by the brainwashed minds of simple, uneducated, and disenfranchised people. While they celebrate tonight, we as citizens of the earth simply deepen our resolve to root them out. Killing and causing terror is their only ideology. They are programmed to think there is a higher purpose to their mission, but there is not. They are pure evil. Their main goal is destroying free societies like the United States of America, and turning us against each other. Through terror and fear, they enable the rise of tyrants like Donald Trump. These terrorists thrive on hate, and they want us to hate as well. A world full of chaos, violence, war, and hatred is the essence of their endgame. However, the world I grew up in and specifically the country I call home, was much better than that, I am much smarter. So are you.

There are ways to deal with terrorism, and I sincerely believe the Belgian authorities did their absolute best to protect the citizens of the country against these unpredictable brainwashed murderers. But this was not their first attack, and it will not be there last. Not by far. A generation of evil homicidal psychopaths with one purpose has formed over several decades. It was raised out of the ashes of war and inequity and knows only death as a means to communicate. The answer to this scourge is most certainly not more war against sovereign nations. I am no fan of killing, but most victims of terrorism would say that same thing if they were still living.

This evil must be rooted out, terrorists must be culled from society, and must be destroyed. This is not an American problem; this is a responsibility that rests heavily on the shoulders of all reasonable members of the human race. Flattening countries will not get us there. Attacking Muslims will not get us there. Squashing a radical ideology when it pops up is a decent start. However, that ideology is not ‘Islam’. Those who believe Islam is the problem are not 'intentionally' bigots but through fear, conservative propaganda, and programming, that is the only concept their minds are able to grasp. They are so terribly wrong and have a very short memory. 

The citizens of our country that are 'gun rights advocates', that are proponents of 'open carry', those who support hate groups like the NRA, the angry mobs at Trump rallies, the 'pro-life' protesters, the misguided souls who bring their rifles everywhere they go to 'exercise their second amendment rights'; they have been shown time and time again to be one trigger pull away from the insanity and brainwashed homicidal rage that the killers in Belgium and France were raised to believe in. It is no better and no worse. Hatred and fear is just that; hatred and fear. When you are angry and armed, you are just a ticking time bomb. However this moment is a time for a concerted effort between the intelligence agencies of the entire world. This is not at all a time for vigilantes. 

In the end, nothing changes until everything changes. The children of the world need love and education that doesn’t include justified murder in the curriculum. The poor living in all nations need help and equality. People out there have reasons to hate, reasons to resent and yes, some have been programmed with a divine justification for carrying out killings. However, our world has more than enough resources for everyone to grow up with food, healthcare, education, and without resentment and hate. Peace is not achieved through war. Nothing is. War brings more war. Revenge is futile, violence brings more violence, and killing brings more killing. Death is death. And today, I mourn along with the rest of the world, but especially with my dear friends in Europe, Belgium and beyond.

I have been a part of this planet since 1973. We have seen all sorts of great moments for humanity, and all sorts of evil men rise up to interrupt it. We must overcome the urge to kill and instead embrace ‘the impossible’. A new age in which we strive to understand each other's needs, and cooperate with each other. This in no way excuses murder, terrorism, the evil that has occurred today, nor that which will undoubtedly occur tomorrow following today's awful events. 

These are the thoughts I have upon waking up to this horrible news. While it is an election year in the United States, that was not the point of this posting. Although, I can see that our country is deeply in need of a commander-in-chief who will not listen to violent impulses and act with the knee-jerk brilliance of a schoolyard bully. That simply perpetuates the situation we have been dealing with for decades now. 

Brussels, as you sleep tonight, and I know it will be hard, please know my heart is with all of you. Every time a tragedy occurs in a place where I have spent time and have close friends, I take it very personally. I consider and feel these events deeply. I hope you can gather with friends this evening, share a bottle of wine and a meal, play some songs together on a guitar. Smoke a joint if that helps calm your nerves. You, ALL of you, are better and stronger than the cowards who did this to you and all of us know that. I hate to be so far away from friends when they're going through tragedies like this, whether they be in Israel, Europe, or in the United States. I will return to you as soon as humanly possible, but until then, my eyes remain open as do my mind and heart. 

I am absolutely 100% with you in spirit. With love, with tears, and deeply sharing your pain.

Your friend,

Russell Wolff