Inauguration day is right around the corner and whatever drug you took to ease the pain after the election just wore off. We are faced with the seemingly inevitable reality of the backwards path we are about to embark on as a nation, and visceral feelings may resurface. Where do we go from here? Michael Blume knows. A musician with boundless talent, his message is so important and the music, while always beautiful, now more relevant then ever.
My first impression of Blume upon meeting him is that his eyes take in everything, and on this day his eyes didn’t want to see. It was quiet in New York. Not since 9-11 had the city been shaken quiet like this. His mind reminds his ears that his ears must remain open. It is November 9th, 2016. The day after the election, the day Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States of America.
Michael Blume came to the interview because he knows that the work has to start happening, now. His music has already been influenced and affected by his life. As an openly gay man he has faced his share of discrimination. He knows that there will be more a head of him but what makes Blume inspiring is his awareness of his gender and race. He accepts that he is a white man with privilege and has chosen to use his privilege to facilitate change.
What sets him apart is his willingness to do what most of us have forgotten to do. Listen.
As an artist who has a platform to reach out to others, it is the day after the election, is there anything that you’d like to say?
I feel like it’s still day zero… or day one… and I’m mourning. I also feel inspired though. It’s both [.] It’s definitely mourning and grievance, I feel like someone died and I’m scared. I’m afraid for my personal safety. I’m afraid for the personal safety of all kinds of marginalized groups: women, Muslims, people of color, LGBT people … like PERSONAL safety; like violence. I mean, I just watched “The 13th”, a documentary on Netflix, and it’s basically watching the way that slavery fed into the prison industrial complex that locks up millions of people in this country, particularly black men. Now seeing Trump win, they should make an epilogue because it just fits into this narrative of business and government coming together to create different systems to oppress people. Particularly, in this documentary, black people and black men, and changing the label of slave to the label of criminal which then allows rights to be stripped away. Because when you’re a felon in this country the government is allowed to take away your rights. So … I know I’m all over the place. I feel afraid.
Do you think this is going to influence your music?
YES. I feel really inspired. I feel like I have work to do, particularly as a white man. I have so many privileges that a lot of the people who are nervous about their physical safety don’t have and it’s my job to use my privilege to get people to understand and hear me… because people will listen to me more then they will someone else. That said, I look gay and have long hair and wear funky jeans, so I forfeit some of that. The people who really have privileges are the straight male, white allies. Those are the people, or straight passing at least, those are the people who can really have conversations with their families and make differences.
There is a quote, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” How do you make someone understand that they aren’t being oppressed and they are just being treated equal?
That’s the work. This morning I started writing a song called “Echo Chamber” which was inspired because a friend of mine posted on Facebook about how I don’t know, personally, a single Trump supporter. I have friends who’s parents and family voted for him, but no one that I’m interacting with has voted for Trump which makes me ignorant, if I’m going to be critical of myself. There is a whole half of this country that I’m personally so removed from …. I don’t know a single one of them. That’s insane. So I want those people to hear my music.
Are you hoping to meet people, talk to people through your music? Or is it more of a shared ideas through music?
Frankly, more then anything, I’m hoping to listen with my music. Which is funny because I’m the one saying things in music, but I feel like [it’s] the culture of liberal elitism, which I definitely am a part of. I went to Yale University, I grew up in a comfortable white Jewish household outside of New York City. Our problem is that we aren’t willing to listen; we think that we have is right. Believe me I do think that I largely have it right (laughs) and that the progressive movement in this country and the people that I’m surrounded with, the queer liberal left wing voice, is the direction that I want to move in, but I want everyone to move in that direction. I don’t just want to take my half. I want to go to these people and say,”Yo, I want to listen to you. Let me listen to you and then also listen to me.” There just needs to be more listening and more conversation instead of, “No, I’m this and you’re that and end of conversation”. Let’s fight about it, let’s vote for our thing.” 49.9% verses 49.9% I don’t know, I want to be more hopeful than that, but then again, you can just take a pessimistic look at this and just be like,”OOOOH.”
What song do you think best expresses the views that you have?
There are two songs that I have that speak to different issues. One is called “How High” and that’s more of a personal one for me about my experiences as a gay man and what I called catching up on love, and the ways in which love is a part of our intersectionality. I imagine this pyramid of intersectionality in my mind when I think about social issues and sort of like that privileged straight white dude at the top and if you’re a woman but you have money and you went to college then you’re down this way cause you’re a woman. If you’re also ethnically ambiguous maybe you’re a little further down and if you are a gay man but you can pass as straight, you’re over here.
I imagine a complex web of intersectionality where all of the pieces of our identity are informing how we traverse the world and one of those pieces identity is access to love and access to traditional romantic partnership that we place so much value on, which is it’s own thing. Why do we put so much value on it? [L]ets just put it aside for a second and say that there is  inherently some kind of value in a traditional romantic partner. I feel like I haven’t had access to that and that’s a way that I have been made to feel “less than” and made to feel worth less, not worthless, but worth less. That song is just honestly openly sharing that experience and it’s one of the things that has been so nice for me is that I’ve had gay men come up to me and say, “Thank you so much and I totally resonate with this and it really means a lot to hear another persons voice saying that on a stage in front of seven hundred people.” But I’ve also had straight dudes come up to me and say, “Dude, I have never thought about that. Thank you.” and that is like OK, that’s the work.
Now where it gets tricky is I think because I’ve been friends with diverse communities of people[.] The other song is “Fundamentalism”, which is a song that I wrote about just fundamental, extremist ideas in general. I wrote it around the death and murder of Eric Garner and so the song has an explicit reference to the murder of black men by the hands of police. But I’ve gotten important push back from black friends and activists, who challenge me and say, “Well how much do you know about the black experience and our black relationship with police as a white man?” The fact is I don’t. I’m not a black person. I have not experienced what it feels like to be black. But I want to listen. I want to learn. I want to learn as much as I can because I think that my being white just gives me a power that black people don’t and I don’t think that change is going to come from only black people. We need white people, just like I need straight people to be my advocates and my allies. Black people need white people to make the changes and it is my responsibility as someone who really actually does believe in change and does believe in equality and wants to fight for equality. It’s my job. White people fucked this country up and it’s my job as a white person to fucking fix it. It’s not on black people, they didn’t do it. They didn’t fuck it up.
So, I’m constantly trying to listen more, but at the same time that I want to listen to the experiences of people of color and other LGBT people who have identities and intersections that I do. I also need to listen to straight white people in the mid west and the south and fucking everywhere apparently that voted for Donald Trump because they’re people, their lives matter. Their fears matter. Their emotions matter. Their hopes matter.
Clearly they feel the system has failed them and I don’t want to believe that they are inherently bad. That’s a Christian thing that I’m not down with. I’m down with a lot of Christian shit, I love Jesus. Jesus is cool. The idea of this one guy that loves everyone, I love it. But the idea that we are all sinners; that you can be born bad, which is kind of how the left has categorized these people. They’re dumb. They’re stupid. They’re deplorable. I wouldn’t use those words. I don’t want to write them off.
The biggest hearted version of myself, which I’m not always, like about an hour ago before this coffee. I wasn’t a big-hearted version of myself who wants to include them and to facilitate conversation between me, between black lives matter activists, between them, between Muslim communities, between LGBT community. It’s so cliche, you know but when Hillary Clinton would say during her speeches “Let’s believe in a big hearted goal,” I want[ed] to believe that and it’s a privilege for me to believe that too. The system has largely worked for me so I’m aware that everything that I’m saying is coming from my very privileged perspective which is why I invite push back and I’ve gotten push back and I’ve gotten feed back and I certainly don’t know everything. I want to learn and keep doing stuff but I do think that I have a gift as a community facilitator and that’s why I’m doing this work.
I think I’m a good listener. I am a fucking good listener and that’s why I want to do this work. I’m not here because I think that I’m the best singer, I mean I sing, I sing very well. I can write songs, but that’s not really what’s driving me. What’s driving me [is that I] I see myself as a community facilitator and community leader … and music is really, I think, the tool through which I want to do that. [It’s] tricky because well ok, do you want to make cool artsy lefty music or do you want to make a hit so the most people will have your attention? This is the ongoing question. And I love hits. I love pop. I think that there is good music and not good music and I think the stuff on the radio, largely is good music. Maybe it’s auto-tuned and maybe it’s simple chord progressions and simple hooks, but that’s cool, that’s good music, there are simple messages that resonate with all of this. “I love you and you broke my heart.” We’ve all been there. I want to try to find a way to tap into things that we’ve all been through but also challenges us and shines a light on the dark corner that no one is looking at. A lot of us are, another place that we’ve all been is a lot of us are ignoring a lot of the same stuff. One of the challenges that I’m working on, is finding what for me is the right balance of accessible and challenging music to present to audiences.
We will be listening.