We are releasing a video for our song City Lights from our red EP. The song is pretty significant to me in a couple of ways so I’m happy to see what Benzo has done with the video.
Not long after moving to the Portland area, Roma Bilko, of the band Jet Force Gemini, started playing guitar with me on my solo music. Roma is an amazing guitarist and made my music more interesting. One afternoon he came over to the apartment with an piece of music he was working on. We worked on the arrangement of the song, I contributed a couple of chords and in an hour we had an incredible song. It was during that songwriting session I realized I was a much better songwriter with someone than on my own. That session was the birthing of what is eight53 today.
As we were working on the music, I had this visual image of someone being desperate and looking over their shoulder. The line, “the city lights are fading from my rear view mirror, my headlights stab the night” came to mind. I wrote it down but didn’t make it any further in the writing process.
A few days later, I attended a weekend workshop hosted by Daniel Work and The West Coast Songwriters. During that workshop, I had a one-on-one session withJason Brawner. I played some tracks from my solo CD, A Single Step. He complimented me on aspects of the album, but told me I needed to start writing in stories and stop writing about myself (there is a Tim Minchin joke in there).
Later that evening I went outside and thought about what he said and how it might apply to the new tune. I went on to change the chorus to “the city lights fading from his rear view mirror, one headlight stabs the looming black. Up ahead is a road that’s much less traveled, is there any turning back?” I had successfully changed the existing lyrics to a story while giving a nod to The Wallflowers. In my moment of triumph, I realized, I still didn’t know who the song was about.
Not long after, I saw an article about James Anderson. Anderson was being released from prison for a crime that he did not commit. He had been placed at the scene of the crime by eye witnesses and was convicted and sentenced. He had maintained his innocence and was finally exonerated. The article didn’t go into much detail on the circumstances of the crime, outside of mentioning it was a robbery.
I found myself question why someone would accuse another person of something they hadn’t done, knowing the price that might be paid could be very high. I wondered what I might do if I had been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and I thought there was no chance of beating charge in court. In my mind, I decided I would run. It was in that moment, I had clarity on what City Lights was about.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of people behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. There is a disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated. Almost always, these same people come from a place of little means. The spirit behind the US justice system is supposed to be "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." In fact, Benjamin Franklin doubled down and said "it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer." Sadly, much of what we do collectively is driven by fear and misinformation and we have lost that spirit. Many do not realize that the best way to reduce recidivism is rehabilitation, not retribution. Many are ignorant to the damage that the war on drugs does to all of us. Many think the world is getting worse, when in fact it is getting better.
But there is hope. There are many out there who are battling misinformation. Carl Hart has written about drugs and drug policies from a unique position in his book,“High Price.” Steven Pinker has addressed the issue of violence in “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” There are groups like the Innocence Project fighting for the wrongly convicted.
As more people are educated and more information is available we will see many of these problems continue to be diminished. Take some time yourself to become more informed on how we can do things differently to make the world better for all of us.