Imagine Something Else Than This
How to escape the horror without leaving? Chris Sand traces his own steps from Montana to Olympia and back.
In the Post-Truth world, truth still might, if we’re lucky, set us free. So might dharma, death, and Donald Glover. The only thing that definitely won’t free us anymore is freedom. Freedom is a bison in the Bronx Zoo sitting on an eagle egg. Nothing good’s gonna hatch here. Not soon, at least. Democracy served us up a doozy last year, and on January 20th we’re gonna smell a rancid dingleberry omelet, from St. Petersburg to St. Paul, whether we like it or not.
The past is destiny. We adapt. We search for elegance and meaning in life like it’s an increasingly complex and stimulating video game. As formerly innocent words like “truth” and “freedom” become their own antonyms, I can’t help but ponder the legacy of that silver-tongued harbinger of The Donald – The Ronald. For those born after the ‘80s, Ronald Reagan was a celebrity President who thrilled angry whites with “welfare queen” putdowns and a racist drug war. He illegally sold weapons to Iran, massively defunded mental health institutions, and “schlonged” the poor again and again. He ramped up the military and, with true Orwellian steeze, named nuclear missiles “Peacekeepers.” It was during Reagan’s second term, just after his landslide reelection in 1984, when reality got really nasty for inner cities and the people in them. Tracy Chapman, in her eponymous 1988 album, sang: “Love is hate / War is peace / No is Yes / And we’re all free.” Kindness was retrograding in the USA in the ‘80s, and every rebel girl and b-boy knew it. I was young. I was waking up. It was time to break the chrysalis . . . and fly.
In 1989 I graduated from Ronan High School on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. A century earlier, my Irish and Croatian great-grandparents had homesteaded (OK, colonized) a couple quarters of rocky reservation land there and set up shop as hardscrabble ranchers. In due time I inherited this lifestyle, and it mostly aggravated me. In 1992 I extricated myself from scenic Big Sky Country and cruised, in a green van, 500 miles west to the artistic mecca of Olympia, WA. I was still in the USA, of course, but it didn’t feel like it.
With newfound zest and creativity, I started a DIY record label in Olympia and cranked out cassettes and compact discs for years. Olympia was a paradise for my kind of no-limits music. My stage name was Sandman the Rappin’ Cowboy: folk singer, rapper, farm boy refugee, prankster, and libertine. There was a niche for my weird, political style, and by touring regularly and living simply I squeezed out a career. As soon as I became comfortable in my role as a neo-Woody Guthrie-esque troubadour, however, the two elections of George W. Bush, in 2000 and 2004, sent me reeling.