Rock Beyond Belief
Last weekend Mr. Simmonds and I traveled to Fort Bragg, NC for Rock Beyond Belief, the historical first on-base rock concert for military non-believers. The day got off to a late start due to a morning downpour, which was gloated over by the spiteful devout but only until about 1pm, and after that the clouds blew over and we had beautiful sunshine all day, although we had the good sense not to take it personally. The turn-out was estimated at around 1500 by one of the organizers I spoke to, and the day was one of highly-rational family fun. Here’s a news report on the local TV Channel 14 that makes ample use of our performance.
Once the rain stopped and after a brief soundcheck Jamie and I rocked a set of Darwinian rap songs, followed by a speech from headliner Richard Dawkins. I had met Dawkins a few times before but until Rock Beyond Belief he had never been exposed to the Rap Guide to Evolution experience. He told me with typical exuberance that he “enjoyed the performance.” The Associated Press reported positively on the concert, and their article – which quotes me as eloquently shouting: “We got any Darwin fans in the house?!?” – was syndicated far and wide. Here it is at military.com, complete with endless comments expressing outrage that atheists woulddare to unapologetically make our existence known and even seem to enjoy the experience.
Christopher Hitchens In Memoriam
One of the soldiers I met at Rock Beyond Belief is an ex-Navyman, a gay atheist who was discharged for coming out (as gay, not as an atheist) under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell a few years ago. His job after leaving the Navy was as an administrative assistant to Christopher Hitchens, and back in 2011 he (the assistant, not Hitchens) wrote me an email to say that he had played the song Darwin’s Acid for Hitch during his illness and it elicited this response from the great man: “More! More!” That was one of my favourite bits of feedback I’ve ever had, but even better was when he wrote again to tell me that “Christopher is ‘planning’ to promote you in a piece he’s writing” on the subject of “popularizing science and free-thought.” The imagination of this humble rapper was boggled.
Alas, the world lost a lucid voice for reason in December, 2011, when Christopher Hitchens passed away, depriving us of all the future books he might have written and the future debates he inevitably would have won with flair, not to mention the planned article promoting yours truly. I regret that I never got to meet Hitchens, but his writing has emboldened me to speak my mind even – or especially – when the ranks of the dogmatic and their defenders are sure to take offence. Given the fact that some of us are offended by timidness and banality, it is logically impossible to completely avoid offending anyone. The best we can do is choose to offend people for the right reasons.
New Darwin’s Acid Video
So the newest Rap Guide to Evolution music video, Darwin’s Acid, is dedicated to Hitch’s memory. The video was illustrated by Silvie Van Schie and Animated by Joep Veldhuis, a very talented visual design team from the Netherlands, and it captures the awesome majesty and depth, and yes, even the inspirational quality and deep solace offered by the Darwinian worldview, in which each of us is the inheritor of evolution’s billions-of-years-old legacy, and in which we are the conscious and collaborative architects of many aspects of its future. Inspired by Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, the song presents a 100% naturalistic vision with no place for gods or fairies, angels or demons, and yet it is about as far from hopeless and nihilistic as any philosophy or religion you might choose to probe, with the added bonus of being supported by all of the known evidence. Click here to watch the “Darwin’s Acid” Music Video.
Next Stop: NIMBioS
Next week I depart for Knoxville, TN, where I will spend four weeks as a guest of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, as a songwriter-in-residence. The challenge, now that I’ve chosen to accept it, is to visit with and learn from the researchers and PhDs there and write a collection of songs to popularize their work. My algebra is a bit rusty, admittedly, but I’m there as a lyricist not as a mathematician, so I’m sure they’ll help me to brush up. If any of you are based in the deep South and want to set up a local gig while I’m in the ‘hood (roughly April 11 – May 6), just message me to let me know.