matt davis’ aerial photograph and the ‘city of Philadelphia, 2008’ project
I once believed that I was one of those people who could talk to just about anyone. I think that most people believe they are like this. Whatever background, age, race, religion, whatever… we hope that we can converse with anyone on some level and feel comfortable, non-judgmental, not threatened, etc. In 2008 I learned that I was not as good at this as I had previously thought. For the most part, yeah, I think I’m fine to shoot the breeze with most people. But that year I found myself in a lot of conversations that made me feel uncomfortable and forced me to examine my own thoughts about people and how I interact with them. This was an unintended consequence of a project I undertook that involved meeting people every month from diverse backgrounds and perspectives and writing music about them. The music on this collection is from that project – “city of Philadelphia, 2008”.
I started in January and spoke to several elderly individuals who had lived in Philly their entire lives. The music I wrote which was inspired by them was called “city of age”. Then, in February, I decided to talk to people who were dealing with drug addictions and recovery. I spent the day at an Alcoholics/ Narcotics Anonymous facility in the Kensington neighborhood. The music from that month was simply called “city of addiction”. Through the months of that year I ended up spending time and talking with immigrants (city of arrivals), children (city of youth), religious believers (city of transcendence), veterans of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan (city of service), homeless people (city of want), incarcerated populations (city of amends), teachers (city of thought), victims of violence in Philadelphia (city of loss), community volunteers (city of gifts) and finally, artists and musicians (city of creation).
It’s easy for one to believe that they are “culturally competent” and perfectly comfortable around different kinds of people, when, in truth, they never actually interact with them. But talking to people who are different from us, and actually engaging them in a conversation to learn about their life, can really help to define the parameters of one’s own comfort zone. It’s an act which I have found to be incredibly effective at illuminating the misconceptions and insecurities that we carry around with us and that we don’t even think about. There were a lot of times in 2008 when I had experiences which took me out of my comfort zone. I’m really thankful for these. In the end I think it helped me to learn more about myself, more about others, more about creating meaningful music, and, most importantly, more about what really matters.
When the entire project finished in December of 2008, I though a lot about the experience and what I took away from it. Here is a list I compiled in no particular order:
1. People share far more similarities than differences.
2. Family and friends are the most important people in our lives.
3. Children are hilarious.
4. Anyone can start over and re-invent themselves at any time.
5. Most of us have to start over and re-invent ourselves at some point in our lives.
6.One of the best ways to see what doing drugs is all about is to spend a day at a rehabilitation facility in Kensington and watch someone going through physical withdrawal.
7. Inspiring people who do inspiring things are everywhere.
8. Our job and position in life isn’t our identity.
9. Everyone goes through hardships in life.
10. Everything can change for better or worse at any moment.
11. Just because someone is sick, homeless, has a criminal record, addicted to drugs, uneducated, etc. , doesn’t mean that a) they will always be this way, and b) are any less worthy of our respect because of it.
12.“Vitmo” is a popular soda from India and is common at Indian grocery stores in West Philly.
13. Everyone everywhere loves music.
14. Teachers who love to teach are a blessing to their students and to everyone around them.
15. Teachers who have no interest in education but teach anyway do a disservice to themselves, their students, and society.
16. Children grow up a lot faster in the city.
17. The murder rate is decreasing in Philly, but someone is killed here almost everyday: 331 in ‘08, 392 in ‘07, 406 in ‘06 and 380 in ‘05.
18. There are good people who do selfless acts everyday in Philly that we never hear about.
19. People who go to war are never the same.
20. A lot of barriers between two people can disappear simply by talking.
21. The high school drop out rate in Philly is 42%.
22. 68% of prison inmates don’t have a high school diploma.
23. Few people make it into their 90's and remain bitter or angry.
24. Recording sessions go much better with coffee.
25. Everyone has a story.