Anyone who knows me, even in the most cursory fashion, is likely aware that I spend a majority of my day on the Internet.  I love the Internet.  I have since before the web had graphics.  (Anyone remember Gopher?)  I love the vast stores of information, both relevant and trivial, that are available to me free of charge, with only a few taps on a keyboard.  I use YouTube to learn new skills all the time.  I use it for my entertainment, and for most of my social interactions. Even my Masters’ degree was completed entirely on the Internet.
 
One of the things that I love most about the Internet, though, is the ability it provides people to gather on issues and topics that are important to them.  Support groups, editorial columns, discussion boards…all valuable resources.  I can see what my friends are concerned about, what they believe in, what their hopes are, and their ideas about how they can achieve them.  The transparency and availability of information on the Internet can heighten discussion by providing insight and a varying perspectives.
 
The Internet, as wonderful a tool as it is, also has a negative side for me: The trolls, haters, and most importantly, the fear-mongerers.  The trolls have always been a part of Internet life.  There’s something about the relative anonymity of online interactions that assassinates all sense of decorum, sensitivity, or even decency for some people.  But it feels as though, over the last couple of years, this phenomenon of haters has expanded.  As the Internet becomes more pervasive, people have started using the ‘net, not as a means of expanding horizons, increasing enlightenment, and seeking truth, but instead as a means of finding the most echo-y of echo chambers. 
 
As I’ve watched the nature of the Internet change over the last two decades, I have noticed that many people have now spend their time online seeking out only those outlets that will reinforce and strengthen their existing beliefs in a never-ending circle of increasing closed-mindedness.  The quest for new knowledge, especially true knowledge, is utterly unimportant to an increasing number of Internet users, who instead are interested only being told that their beliefs are the right ones.
 
Taking up residence in an informational echo chamber has a few side-effects, though.  It actually narrows your horizons, obscures your information field of view, stifles thoughtful and intelligent discussion, and breeds an intense intolerance for anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the way you do.  All of these things lead to what I consider to be the single-greatest downfall of the self-reinforcing point of view: irrational fear.
 
Within an echo chamber, anything that contradicts your beliefs gets repeated and magnified into a cataclysmic event that foreshadows the end of everything you hold dear.  Any small slight, any misspoken word, and conflicting thought: they are the signal a coming apocalypse.  That fear, so often based in fantasy and exaggeration rather than in truth, causes people to do and say things that they would not often say or do.  Especially face-to-face, in real life.
 
For instance:  The day after the 2012 US Presidential Elections, I logged into Facebook as I usually do each morning before work.  As I was scrolling through my feed, I came across this post, by a young woman with whom I attended church during my teenage years.  (This is paraphrased.  I don’t have access to the original post for reasons that will become clear in just a moment.)
 
“I feel sick to my stomach.  I can’t believe that Obama got re-elected again. What he’s doing to this country is criminal.”
 
This, of course, was not a unique sentiment amongst many that I have “friended” on Facebook.  For most of my life, I associated with people who would be considered extremely conservative.   After Obama was re-elected, there was a great deal of hand-wringing, and “end of the world” talk.  People had delved so deeply into their own echo chambers that they truly, truly believed that Obama being re-elected for a second term would be the worst possible thing that could happen to the world. Many expressed the belief that it was a harbinger of the end of times…and no amount of reason, no pile of facts, no reasonable discussion would cause them even to consider a different standpoint. 
 
I’ll interrupt my narrative here to say that I think getting that up-in-arms over a presidential election is ridiculous.  I loathed George Bush as a president.  I believe he was uniquely unqualified to lead this country, and I also believe that many of the economic woes with which we struggle now were caused by policies that he put in place.  However, even while he was president, I understood that  his presidency was not the end of the world, nor would it last forever.  Nor do I believe that Obama has been a Savior of all things America.  He’s done some good things, some bad things.  But he’s just a man with a limited amount of time to try and drive policies.  In a few years, it will be someone else’s turn.  One man getting elected over another is not the end of all that is good and holy in this world.
 
In any case, after my friend posted this status update on her timeline, one of her friends left this comment:
 
“I know.  We just need the KKK to rise up and take back our country for us.”
 
WHOA!  What?  You didn’t like the fact that Obama wins a fairly-run, legal election , and as a result, you invoke the name of a widely-loathed hate group to storm the White House, and hang our “nigger” president and his family from a branch of the nearest tree while you burn crosses on the lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Because, realize it or not, that’s just what you did.
 
This young woman, a pretty, blond, petite girl based on her profile picture, was so upset by the election of someone who she had been told was bad for the country, that she decided the best way to deal with it was to post, essentially, hate speech on Facebook for all the world to see.  The direct result of fear-mongering.
 
I was, to put it bluntly, not pleased.  In my worldview, there is never call for such a level of hate.  I responded:
 
“WHOA!  Really?  You didn’t like who got elected, so you’re going to call the KKK in?  You should be ashamed of yourself.  You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but that comment is completely unacceptable.  I would be willing to bet that you call yourself of a Christian.  I highly suggest that you do a little bit of reading on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ before you do so again.  I make it a point not to speak for Jesus, since, you know, I’m not perfect or anything.  But I would be willing to bet that, were he here right now, He’d not be all that pleased with you for saying something so hateful.  It goes against pretty much everything He ever taught.”
 
Far from allowing the anonymity of the Internet to grant me bravery, I wished I could have expressed my anger in person, to help her understand how utterly inappropriate such a comment was.  I soon realized, however, that attempting to shame her into self-reflection was a futile task. After a few more exchanges, I eventually unfriended and blocked my former friend, so I no longer had to see her posts or the posts of her friends. I found the whole experience solidified a feeling or mood that I had been struggling against…this mood of apocalyptic fear.
 
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that far too many people base their decisions around fear.   Fear was (and frankly, still is) at the center of the Republic Party platform for this last election.  “If we allow immigrants, they’ll take our jobs.  If we regulate assault rifles, it’ll be a slippery slope to banning all guns.  If we don’t repeal Obamacare, the economy will collapse.”  It seemed like a never-ending cavalcade of “If we don’t (fill in the blank with some political agenda item) then (fill in the blank with some catastrophic outcome.” 
 
It’s precisely this incessant fear-mongering that is causing so many young people to flee conservative politics.  Nobody wants to live their lives, especially those just starting out their lives, assuming the worst will happen.  Fear is being used as a motivational tool.  (See this infuriating Stake Conference talk that has been circulating around the internet lately…a supreme example of fear-mongering.)  Fear is being used as a marketing tool.  Fear guides the emotions and actions of too many people.  It is everywhere.
 
I have lived a lot of my life based around fear.  Fear of being broke, fear of being “found out,” fear of being fired, fear of being rejected, fear of being injured, fear of dying alone, fear of being too fat.  It’s exhausting.  And here’s the thing: it’s completely unnecessary. 
Living in a state of fear is a terrible way to live because fear and hope cannot co-exist.  If you’re afraid of what might happen, you can’t hope for something wonderful to happen. 
 
A couple of years ago, I made a conscious decision that it was time for me to live based on hope, and not on fear.  Hope that I would find the right someone with whom I could share my life instead of fear I would die alone.  Hope that my company would begin to take off instead of fear that someone would sneak in to compete with us and drive us out of business.  Hope that I would actually pay off my debts instead of fear that I would never be free. 
 
I’m not perfect at it.  I still have moments of fear.  There are days where the fear of having to put my dog to sleep when he gets older almost overwhelms my ability to enjoy his presence now.  There are days where I look at my bank statement and get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach where I don’t know how I’m going to pay all of my bills.  I still see an attractive person on the street and worry that I’ll never be able to find someone to whom I am attracted.  But if I allow those feelings of fear to take root in my life, they end up paralyzing me.  I’ve lived like that.  Well..inasmuch as living like that is not really living.
 
Which leads me to my newest song recording.  Entitled Some Days, this song was written by Steve Marzullo, using the poem Some days (For Paula) by James Baldwin as the source material.  For someone who is trying to move past living in fear or anger, these lyrics speak to me.
 
Some days (For Paula)’
James Baldwin
Jimmy’s Blue’s: Selected Poems (pp. 45-47)
 
1.
Some days worry
some days glad
some days
more than make you 
mad.
Some days,
some days, more than
shine:
when you see what’s coming
on down the line!
 
2.
Some days you say,
oh, not me never–!
Some days you say
bless God forever.
Some days, you say,
curse God, and die
and the day comes when you wrestle
with that lie.
 Some days tussle
then some days groan
and some days
don’t even leave a bone.
Some days you hassle
all alone.
 
3.
I don’t know, sister,
what I’m saying,
nor do no man,
if he don’t be praying.
I know that love is the only answer
and the tight-rope lover
the only dancer.
When the lover come off the rope
today,
the net which holds him
is how we pray,
and not to God’s unknown,
but to each other– :
the falling mortal is our brother!
 
4.
Some days leave
some days grieve
some days you almost don’t believe.
Some days believe you
and you won’t.
Some days worry
some days mad
some days more than make you glad.
Some days, some days,
more than shine,
witnesses,
coming on down the line!
©1983, 1985 James Baldwin
 
What I love most about this is that, despite the fear, the failures, the worry, the anger, looking ahead always causes the light to shine.  It’s a little sappy, yes, but it should be true.  We will all have good days and bad.  We will all have moments of fear and moments of hope.  There will always be elected officials who espouse ideals in which we don’t agree, and elected officials who we support wholeheartedly.  But the real truth is: It will be okay. You have power over your own destiny. The world is almost never as catastrophic as echo-chamber fear would lead you believe.  The real key is to treat others with love, respect, and kindness.  Because regardless of who’s in office, how angry you are, or how lonely you are, the future takes care of itself if we treat each other with love.
 
 
I first heard this song on Andrea Burns’ album A Deeper Shade of Red.  Andrea is a well-known Broadway performer.  She performs on a couple of my favorite cast albums, Songs for a New World by Jason Robert Brown and It’s Only Life by John Bucchino.  Her performance of the song is very good, and pulled me in immediately.
 
It turns out, though, that the more well-known version of this song is performed by the incredible Audra McDonald.  She has used this song to close her concerts, and sang it regularly during the presidency of George W. Bush as a gentle “protest” song .  (Ostensibly reinforcing the message that, “It will get better.”)  According to another YouTube video of Audra performing Some days, the music was written by Steve Marzullo, who was a pianist in the pit orchestra for the musical Ragtime, for which Audra won a Tony award.  He also happened to be her neighbor. 
 
Those of you who are familiar with my theater performance history know that I was in Ragtime back in 2005.  It was, by a significant margin, the single greatest theatrical experience of my life.  Beautiful music, a beautiful book, a wonderful cast, a great director, choreographer, and music director, a role that I loved, and two of the greatest songs I ever had the opportunity to sing on stage.  If that production of Ragtime was still running, I’d still be acting for a living.  I could have continued doing that show for the rest of my life.  The connection between Some Days and Ragtime made this song even more potent for me.
 
There isn’t sheet music for this song that I can find, so I transcribed it from Andrea’s recording, and then transposed it into a key that better fits my range.  The recording process was a little tricky.  I knew that, for this song, I wanted to do something a little more “produced” than I usually do, so I asked my neighbor, Tseno, to come and record the video for me.  He’s a very accomplished photographer (and a constant reminder to me that you don’t always need the latest and greatest equipment to do very good work.)  I recorded a piano scratch track to a click, then Tseno came over and we did seven takes of me playing the piano to the click.  Once that was done, we recorded three takes of vocals with up to three different cameras simultaneously. 
 
Then Tseno took all the footage and cut it together for the video.  I used his rough edit to cut together my audio.  (I couldn’t have the piano part from take 4 playing over the video for take 7, for instance—the audio and video wouldn’t be in sync.)  When I finished my audio edit, he took the footage to finish color correction and clean up the editing a bit, and I went to work on the audio.
 
While he was doing that, I smoothed out my edits on the vocals and piano, then I orchestrated the entire thing in Pro Tools using Native Instruments Kontakt.  Once that was done, I spent a few days trying to mix the audio.  This one was really tricky for me.  Getting all of the instruments to play together nicely while not overpowering the voice was not easy…and I’m not sure I ever really succeeded.  I actually ended up mixing it three times before I got something I was okay with. 
 
Then we combined the finshed audio and the finished video, and that’s what you see above.
 
I hope you enjoy this one.  I’m pretty proud of the way it turned out.
 
And remember, some days are good, some are bad. So don’t live with fear; live with hope.  
  • Megan

    Matt, I LOVE this. So beautiful. And I love the message of the song…I needed it today :-)

  • Matt, I stubled across this as I was preparing the song for a class. What a lovely version. I thinkyour voice is terrific. Keep singing! You seem like such a great guy. I clicked the link on FaceBook and “friended” you. Hope you will accept.

  • Hey Joseph,

    Thanks for the kind words. When it comes to Facebook I tend to be a little careful, and only “friend” people on Facebook who I know in real life…it’s a privacy thing. But you’re certainly welcome to “Follow” my public posts on Facebook or on Twitter. http://twitter.com/DrChumley. Best!

  • Chris

    I don’t know you, but your version is beautiful. This made me so happy.

  • Thank you, Chris!

  • Gina B

    I am truly grateful and blessed that I came across your version of this song today! You have the complete package. It is beyond singing words to a song. I came across it as I was searching for the sheet music for this song. I first heard the Audra version on Youtube and it spoke to me.

    Thank you for sharing your voice and message. Have you made any albums?

    (and now my search for the music continues…)

  • Davidneville7@msn.com

    Can you send me sheet music? Davidneville7@gmail.com

  • There is no sheet music for this, as far as I know. I just did it all by ear.