I thought I'd share with you all something that I've been thinking (and crying) about recently. In April I had my dear friend Brie over for dinner. We got Indian take-out, watched Broad City, and caught up. During our conversations she brought up that her roommate had attended a concert for The Angel Band Project, a group of musicians who raise awareness and money for victims of sexual violence. Brie knows I love Broadway, and she mentioned that one of the musicians was a famous Broadway star. Through a quick process of elimination we figured out that it was one of my all-time favorite actors, Norbert Leo Butz. Norbert formed the group with siblings and friends in honor of his sister, Teresa. In 2009 she and her partner were violently attacked and sexually assaulted in their Seattle home. Teresa did not survive.
I had no knowledge of the crime, much less its connection to Butz. That evening I decided to burn the soundtrack to The Last 5 Years and Norbert's songs from Wicked onto a CD for Brie (yes, I still burn CDs), but after it finished I forgot to give it to her! So for the last few months it's been playing in my car. Hearing his voice kept reminding me of this musical project/foundation, and so I decided to google the Angel Band Project. Not only had they given concerts, but had also released a benefit album, so I headed to iTunes and bought two songs, one called "Take You With Me" and Norbert's song "Goodbye." (UPDATE: guess what song I heard on my iPod being sung by Patty Griffin? This one. I'm assuming she wrote it, but I have to say I like Norbert's version better.)
I love them both, but after only one listen the melody and lyrics of "Goodbye" haunted me. I feel it so powerfully conveys the specific grief and confusion of losing someone far too soon and under tragic circumstances.
Occurred to me the other day
that you've been gone now a couple years
I guess it finally takes a while
for someone to really disappear
and I remember where I was
when the word came about you
it was a day much like today
the sky was wide and high and blue
And I wonder where you are
if the pain ends when you die
and I wonder if there was
some better way to say goodbye
Today my heart is big and sore
It's trying to bust right through my skin
I won't see you anymore
I guess that's finally sinking in
Early last week I decided I wanted to find out more about Teresa and how she died. I found several articles written by Eli Sanders of Seattle's The Stranger, including one on Teresa's partner's court testimony, (WARNING: very graphic) "The Bravest Woman in Seattle," all of which he ended up winning a Pulitzer prize for. Norbert was actually in Seattle that summer premiering a new musical that he would end up winning a Tony for his role in, Catch Me if You Can.
Today on tumblr I came across a Commencement speech Norbert gave in 2013 at his alma mater, Webster University, where he talked about the Angel Band Project, and how in his career he now refuses to take roles in projects that use violence against women for entertainment's sake.
(Norbert begins talking about his sister at 10:20. Here is an excerpt transcript that takes place from 15:11-19:47)
"One is apt to freeze or shrug one's shoulders, in a gesture, 'what can I do?' And I say to you Webster graduates of 2013: plenty. It can start with this simple idea: when watching your favorite television show, or building a queue on Netflix, or heading to the AMC multiplex, or downloading games or films or web series or even just channel surfing at 2AM from your sofa...say 'No!' to violence against women in so-called "entertainment." Change the channel at the very least. Write the producers, the writers, the creatives of violent, exploitative imagery and let them know it's not allowed in your home.
I have also done some work in TV and films and just last year I finally took a stand with my agents and manager: I will not audition for material that uses the rape, mutilation, or murder of a woman for the purpose of adding suspense to a plot, to tease or titillate an audience when a narrative gets boring. Guess what? I had to turn down almost all the scripts I received. Because the fact remains women worldwide are still thought to be the inferiors of men. And their bodies--especially the bodies of the young and the poor--are believed to be made for the sole purpose of enhancing the power or the pleasure or a twisted combination of the two--of men. This deep-seated oppression must end. We all know it must end. And you, as college graduates, literally know better. Your degrees are proof that you have been taught to know better. To recognize oppression, and call it what it is. To treat all humans with dignity and respect, to empower your fellow man and your fellow woman.
I have 3 daughters as well, 2 of whom are teenagers. Both of whom have had to deal with unwanted sexual innuendos from boys in the halls of their public middle and high schools. Both of whom who have been groped or grabbed in their public school cafeterias. I cannot afford to be ambivalent about the issue of sexual violence. When 1 in 4 women will be the victim of an unwanted sexual assault on a college campus, and I have three daughters, I'm guessing I'm a lucky man not to have had one more. If I had one more I suppose I'd really be sad. I don't sleep well with that math. These are my girls, my babies. This is what they will deal with as women in the culture. 'What are you going to do about it, dad?' That's a question for all dads, and future dads out there. And moms. And boyfriends, and husbands.
What are you going to do? How are you going to treat the women in your lives? How are you going to help end the culture of violence against women on television? In music? In homes and public parks and backseats of cars all over America. In brothels in India and Cambodia, in villages in Africa, in dorm rooms and Greek houses and libraries at our best colleges and universities? If nothing else it's a question well worth your time.
And to the women out there, those of you who are survivors, but silent. Those of you who have become discouraged with the system that routinely practices an inequitable distribution of justice, freeing rapists for political reasons or because monetary privilege allows them to buy the law, and victimizing women a second time, making them relive deep humiliations and traumas in court rooms to satisfy defenders, or judges, or juries. You're not alone. The Angel Band Project shares your grief. We share your fear. But we also offer validation, hope. We think music is a great place to start the healing."