So Long, 2017

What a year.

But I don’t have to tell you – you were right there in the trenches with me. With all of us. Is everyone OK? Did we lose anyone?  Does anyone need anything – a little help, an encouraging word, a jump – anything?

I’m here for you.

You know what happened. Right. The election happened.  Damn. My wife Amy and I were numb. Dumbfounded. Walking out of the convention center November, 2016, we just couldn’t bear to stay to the end once it became clear what was happening, right up there on that big screen – with that big, uncaring, technicolor jackass of an election map.

Took us a while to remember where we parked the car. Hell, it took us a few minutes to remember we were actually going somewhere.

Home. What could we do from home? We’d campaigned, for Hillary. We watched all the debates. We posted articles. We knocked on doors. We gave money. We talked to our friends. We had the bumper sticker, the yard sign, the lapel pins. We were all in.

But it wasn’t enough, and there was nothing, now, to be done.

Well, not totally nothing, I guess. I had a gig the following night – so that was something. (I play oud in a traditional Middle-Eastern ensemble every Wednesday night, for belly dancers.) But when I contacted Michael, (the bandleader and one of my closest friends), that morning, (the morning after), he told me he “wasn’t feelin’ it.” He was as down as I’ve ever known him to be. He felt like I did, and he had decided to cancel the gig.

I was right there with him. How could we blithely go on, playing music and dancing, when this horror, this stench, hung in the air all around us? Us and all those we cared about? Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel everything. Welcome to the abyss, come on in, dinner’s ready.

And then it clicked. No. DAMMIT, no.

I called Michael back and we talked. Talked for a good half-hour. I don’t remember any of what was said, just that we decided (with some trepidation) to go ahead and do the show that night.

So we checked in with the rest of the band, good to go. We checked with the venue, just in case. And we checked in with the scheduled dancers to make sure everyone was still on board. Yup. And then the most brilliant thing happened.

We had a dance ensemble scheduled for that night (Gypsy Heart Tribal). They had originally planned to do something rather unusual: dance to the Neil Young song, Rockin’ In The Free World – a song not generally thought of as a belly dance standard. It was, honestly, kind of a goofy choice (I love you, Gypsy Heart!), and they were wondering if it would be appropriate, considering what had just happened.

It took us all of three seconds to decide that it was PERFECT!

So here’s what we did: We printed up lyric sheets to the song, and we handed them out to everyone at the show. Everyone. And when it came time for Gypsy Heart to dance, we let everyone know that it was now time to for them TO SING.

And sing they did. WE did. The piece went on for a good 15 minutes, and we were ALL singing along, singing beautifully, terribly, at the tops of our lungs, singing like we were in a room full of deaf people. I was crying, Amy was crying, everyone was crying – but we kept singing.

That’s when I realized that I was wrong. Something COULD be done. That, at least in this case, we weren’t without recourse. We could be together. We could comfort each other. We could even sing together. And it kinda worked.

Now, I don’t know that this is the answer to anything in general, but it was, for me, the perfect answer for that night. And that’s when the idea for While Rome Burns was born.

Our first show was in March, 2017. We’ve had so many amazing artists and beneficiaries since then, we’ve made so many priceless friends and connections this past year – it’s really quite humbling. I’m eager to dive into 2018, and am especially looking forward to our one-year anniversary in March. Please stay in touch, join us at our events, get to know some of the amazing people who have become the heart of the While Rome Burns community, and above all, let us know if we can help.

Oh – I almost forgot the best thing: I got to play with my brother-from-another-mother, Michael, in our little band Brothers of the Baladi at our last WRB event – our year-end benefit for Cool Islam. You’ll NEVER guess what song we finished the night with.

Clark Salisbury


Rockin’ In The Free World
Neil Young

There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’ we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan, but I am to them
So I try to forget it, any way I can.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

I see a woman in the night
With a baby in her hand
Under an old street light
Near a garbage can
Now she puts the kid away, and she’s gone to get a hit
She hates her life, and what she’s done to it
There’s one more kid that will never go to school
Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

>We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler,
Machine gun hand
We got department stores and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people, says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

* Original artwork by Jennifer Taft



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