On May 1, we settled into our chairs at The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina, waiting for Mandolin Orange to take the stage. Mandolin Orange, a folk duo comprised of Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin, is well known for their introspective, often sad, songs and precise harmonies. We, like our fellow concert-goers, were sipping beers and chattering lightheartedly, expecting our fair share of sad songs—the duo has plenty of those—but not anticipating the grief of their newest song, “Blue Ruin.”
Frantz introduced the song, saying, “We’re going to take you to a dark place… but I promise we’ll bring you back again.” She told us that Andrew wrote the song after the tragedy of the Newtown shooting in 2012, and that they were unsure that they’d ever play the song live. The crowd immediately went silent, and the whole atmosphere of the room changed. I’ve never heard such silence in a concert hall—the couple’s music went uninterrupted even by a sneeze.
“If Jesus had been born just eleven days before, would the world have stopped to see—at least those on the street headed for Newtown?” sang Marlin. “And of all those on their way, could the miracle have made one lay his guns down?” The song covered heady ground in just a few minutes—anger, sadness, and society’s role in the tragedy, among other things—and included the heartbreaking question, “Well for now, who’d like to tell me that, on that morning when 27 fell, how any lesson and count could ever, ever amount to watching them fall? And why, worst of all, come Christmas morning, they’ll still be gone?”
A stunned silence followed the song until, sure enough, the pair led us into a happier place with their next song. But the gravity of “Blue Ruin” stuck with me, and I think it’s an especially important song now. On Mandolin Orange’s website, Marlin explains the purpose of the song:
I was thinking about all those kids who wouldn’t be there on Christmas morning. People can get so heated and so serious about change and addressing gun violence when something that traumatic happens, but a month or two afterwards, they've all cooled down and it's not in the forefront of their thoughts anymore. But two years later, those kids still aren't around on Christmas morning and their parents are still dealing with that.
It’s an important reminder, especially now that there are so many other tragedies in the public eye. Police brutality, shootings, murders, bombings, civil wars, and other tragedies of every scope imaginable dominate the headlines and 24-hour news channels. It’s easy to get caught up in placing blame, passing legislature, and hotly debating nearly every aspect of each calamity. I catch myself doing it, too. It’s hard to remember that the events we’re discussing affected real people—that they still affect real people—and that responding to those events with animosity instead of compassion won’t fix the issues.
By all means, please discuss the tragedies happening all over the world. Think of ways to help. Think of ways to prevent those tragedies ever from happening again. Keep them in mind as you prepare for the change in leadership here in the States that is coming next year. But do it earnestly, do it compassionately, do it with the human victims of each and every disaster at the forefront of your mind. Discussion and legislature and opinions are important, but it’s easy for us to forget that those victims are real people who are still dealing with the aftermath of each tragedy in a very personal way. Don’t forget.