Music, Movies & Moods is a regular free-form column in which Editorial Director Matt Melis explores the cracks between where art and daily life meet.
It’s 1:00 a.m. in Milwaukee, and I’m woken by gunfire. Well, not exactly. By reports of gunfire. All’s well here as far as I can tell. There’s a crick in my neck from falling asleep on the short couch again, but my fiancée’s asleep, my brown tabby’s dangling from her condo, and outside my office window are only country darkness and early morning quiet. The news is now reporting 20 dead and many more injured in Las Vegas some thousands of miles away. Someone, something happened, and the world spins on. We already know the what – a shooter 32 floors up took target practice along the Vegas strip as a music festival let out – but I want to know the why. But the why won’t come tonight. It seems like the why never comes, does it?
I’m still waiting on whys from Charlottesville, from Puerto Rico, and now Las Vegas. Fuck, my whys stretch back to November.
I live two floors up. I have double-locks on all my doors. Chains. Bolts. Nothing bad ever happens here – remember that saying? – but I remain on lockdown anyway. It’s safe. We’re safe. It’s okay here. But I can’t sleep, and I want to get out. I need to get out.
I moved to the outskirts of Milwaukee from Chicago in mid-July. I’m a mile from the Milwaukee county line. It’s relaxing here, and green. Green parks, lawns, forests, farmland, medians. All the speed limits I’ve seen are 45 and below, and the roads all have turn lanes, legal U-turns, and even blinking yellow arrows to give me the go-ahead should the coast be clear. And the coast is always clear. If I climb in my car, within five minutes I can pluck an apple from an orchard, pick fresh sweet corn, or cut down a Christmas tree. For a country boy, that feels like a life preserver, especially on mornings like this one.
Lately, I’ve been waiting for the bars to shutter and the drunks to swerve and stumble home. Then around 3:00 a.m. I roll out. I turn on music – R.E.M., Tom Waits, Phoebe Bridgers lately – and I just go. I aim for the dark horizon and feel myself gliding just above the earth. I drive slow, but I drive far. As far as anybody can drive. I drive much farther than Washington, D.C. Well beyond Charlottesville. I wave to recovered friends in Houston and Florida – some who write for this publication – and keep going. If I don’t stop, I’ll be well past Puerto Rico and even the Vegas strip before it’s light out.
And when I roll back in before anyone even knows I was gone – maybe a Julien Baker song still humming in my head – the odometer will show I’ve only gone about six miles. But, see, that’s all an odometer understands. Cold, hard miles, clicks measured in the alternating gray, white, gray pattern of the road. It doesn’t understand how a back road and a song, if only for 20 minutes, can outrun and outpace a sham of a presidency, ideologies of hatred, island-decimating storms, and even bullets flying over the Vegas strip.
It’s not a solution, of course. Those issues are still there when I pull back in. Millions of Americans still don’t have clean drinking water in Puerto Rico. Athletes are kneeling, if not for their own lives, than the lives of others. Heather Heyer still rests in peace. Now, they’re reporting 50 are dead on the strip and 200 injured. So, no, it’s not a solution. And the whys might not be coming down the pike anytime soon either. Actually, I can promise you they aren’t. All my late-night drives to music do is help me endure. That’s all. But that’s something.
Listen, most days I write about the arts – music, film, television. I edit other people’s work. I just published a Primus album review and another critiquing the new Miley Cyrus record. I also reposted a ranking of Steven Spielberg’s entire filmography. But 50 are dead in Vegas this morning – lives senselessly snuffed out and many others shattered forever. It’s hard to pretend that what I do from my safe, little apartment in Milwaukee with double-locks and a couch that’s too short matters.
But maybe someone scrolls through that Speilberg ranking – maybe even watches a movie off that list again for the first time in years when they get home from work tonight. Maybe they let go for a couple hours. I hope so. And I hope others continue doing whatever it is they do, whether it’s sing in the shower, binge Stranger Things to get ready for the new season, or take a drive at 3:00 a.m. listening to some of their favorite music.
My emotions only come in bursts anymore – anger, disbelief, despair. I’m punching walls. I’m ranting on social media. I’m donating to every relief fund I come across. I’m dialing loved ones to make sure they’re out of harm’s way. I’m politically active for the first time ever, but I’m a fucking wreck. And the more I do to find some peace, to make sure I’m doing my part, to satisfy myself that I’m being vigilant, the more I need to get out before I burst, before I’m consumed.
So, I do.
I’m rambling. I’m lucky enough to have a place to ramble. But I just wanted to check in with you. There are 50 dead in Vegas right now, and that’s not alright. And it’s okay for you to not be alright on a morning like this one. So, please, scream, cry, and throw your hands up in the air. Do whatever you have to do. Go for a walk, read a book, listen to music, hug everyone. Just promise me one thing.
That you won’t let your heart get broken by this world.