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On the Boston Marathon, Doctors Without Borders, and Ellis Paul

Boston Marathon Bombing

Amy Malkoff, my web manager, and a fine musician in her own right, suggested that it was probably time to update my blog/rant page. She sets no deadline, doesn’t beg, but just suggests that it’s time. Well, she didn’t have to ask but once this time. I wanted to hurry up and say a few little things before the four lunatic fringe mad groups of people inevitable dominate all with their First Amendment guaranteed of free speech Godhelpus. I’ll outline them later.

Boston Marathon. Vivian, my upstairs neighbor, bless her, woke up before the birds peed on a chilly April Monday morning, grabbed her raggedy yellow VW Beetle (which in a year I would eventually own - hence the song, you really old Vance fans..) and drove my then skinny 165 pound black ass out to Hopkinton, MA for the start of the race. No, I wasn’t going to watch.

See, a year earlier, 1981, I had watched a machine-like guy from Japan named Toshihiko Seko win the Boston Marathon, breaking Bill Rodger’s record by 1 second. I remember how he held his hands like razors to the wind down by his sides. Man, was he efficient and fast. I started running the next day.

In between this, the Boston Athletic Association had a symposium somewhere in downtown Boston for those interested. I knew that people ran the Marathon unofficially - “legitimate” runners are such that have qualified somewhere else in the country at another marathon, or are “bequeathed” an honorary entrance number via their work, doctor, etc. - but I was interested in just running with the pack - the thousands of others that just ran. I approached some official looking representative and asked how I could, uh, I guess, officially be unofficial.

A bandit.

“We don’t want to know about you”.

That was his response. This ”all inclusive race that draws runners from all over the world”, and that was his “official” response? I was never more infuriated and never more motivated to do something ever in my life.

So I ran more. I ran from my apartment in Brookline to an old college friend’s house in Newton. Lynn Cooper. Truth was I was madly in love with her. So then I would run with her. Then I’d change into the dress clothes I had in a backpack I had on when I ran and went dancing. With her. Then we broke up.

I kept running to Newton. Then I started running to Newton and back. Biggest training run would be taking the “T” out to Newton - to the end - then run home, tag my front door, run back out to Newton, tag the train, and then run home.

That all culminated in 1982, when I unofficially finished the 84th Boston Marathon about 4 and a quarter hours. I had 4+ hours of mix tape jazz and r&b on a Walkman that got me through.

I have stories. I was going to finish and I did. I wasn’t to be daunted. Al Jarreau’s "Roof Garden" played as I crossed the finish line. There are so many stories of that day I could tell. It has been and will always remain a high water mark of my life - forever.

And then somebody bombs the Marathon? The horror fazes me, hurts me, but doesn’t daunt me.

Without a left or right agenda, a religious conviction or anything else, I say thank you to all the emergency personnel, the police, the FBI, everyone that did their jobs and then much more during this mad, mad week.

Just thank you. Period. Yeah, there’s a lot wrong here, in the USA, lots. And there's a lot of wrong perpetrated all over the world. Like Cat Stevens says, “There’s a lot of bad everywhere...” I beg you to please ignore the four groups I mentioned that will crawl out from under moldy, fetid rocks to say:

“See? They’re Muslim, again. I say we strike first...”

“I’m not surprised this happened. We must take some responsibility for all we have done in the world to make us so hated - our chickens have come home to roost.”

“Sheep. Don’t you know a Left/Right/Grassy Knoll/Scully Mulder Conspiracy when you see one?"

“Bombing...Now we know how much of the rest of the world feels...”

Ugh. Today, just for now, just say thank you.

I still run. Between 2 - 3 miles a day, with my dogs. I am substantially heavier, but that could change. I’m thinking of organizing a Fall Non-Athon - tracing the Boston Marathon route, or maybe half of it (or both) and finishing where the Marathon finishes as a show of support, solidarity, peace, and as a dare to anyone person or group that thinks they can run us off from our proud tradition by terrorizing the city and maiming the innocent.

It’s just an idea. Maybe I’ll do it solo. Maybe raise some money for...something

Anyone else in? Here Amy, quick, post this.

An Open Letter to Doctors Without Borders, and why I won't give... -

Dear Sophie Delaunay, Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders,

Thanks for the note. You’ve been sending them like clockwork for about a decade now, after I had given some money to your organization. Thanks for remembering me. Thanks again for the nice world map. Thanks too for not placing the United States in the center of the thing. Thanks I guess for firing or re-educating all the old school Ameri-Centric cartographers in your fold.

The map is beautiful. Across the top there is a Medecins Sans Frontieres quote ”We find out where conditions are the worst - the places where others are not going - and that’s where we want to be”. It’s a commendable dicta. Accompanying the map is the form letter, and the phaux Post-it saying:

“We haven’t heard from you in a while and your support is so critical to us. Please help today if you possibly can!

It’s no more or less charming or fakey than the other “personalized” communiques I get from other organizations looking for me to give. I don’t fault you for that.

My problem with ever giving to your organization again started on September 1, 2005. Hurricane Katrina had just devastated most of the Gulf Coast of the US. You can look up for yourself all the stats. Many of us with little or no money were still hungry for information, anxious to donate somewhere, looking for a place to land. I thought to myself: “Disaster in the world. Help.” and I went to your website.


Your next mailer came with the cute “We miss you” on a Post-it equivalent.

Still nothing.

Now, I know that MSF is devoted to disaster in underserved, -read third world- areas. And I get that. But not even an acknowledgement that Katrina had struck the US.? Not a single link on your front page stating something like:

“Katrina and its devastation, while catastrophic, lies outside of the economic and geographic sphere of our work. However, we recognize tragedy when we see it, and here’s a few links to appropriate organizations... etc, etc, blah blah blah”

3 - 5 lines. How hard would that have been, Sophie? I’m guessing the US gives a substantial amount to your organization. Hell, you have offices in New York!!
We’re the richest place on the planet. But we have problems, yes, and there is much to our infrastructure that has rotted, gone fetid, remains racist, ignored, and will mark us badly for a long time. Because of that, we have many poor here. And they suffer first.

So while I didn’t expect your organization to land choppers and cargo planes full of supplies and medications at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, I never expected MSF to be so worldly myopic and idea-driven that they’d outright ignore tragedy based on world position and GNP.

Thanks again for the map.

Vance Gilbert


This blog will create a bit of a creative firestorm.

I’m not sure I’ll ever understand. And it’ll haunt me forever. I have steadfastly refused to believe that there is a general dumb down of the listening public. I refuse to believe that you want your songs so simple melodically and so unchallenged lyrically that their main MO is to accompany you and your 1/2 glass of wine after a long day writing code. So, that in mind, I ask you…

How come Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson are more famous than Ellis Paul?

How come Sarah McLachlan is more famous than Jonatha Brooke?

The latter of those people in the questions above are friends of mine. That does not guild my view of their work. Over the 25 years of playing with them, singing with them, having them on albums, having them in the living room, I know a difference. They are both wicked critics of my and their own work. The are unrelenting in their search for the right words, eschewing cliches, eternally melody fishing, kings and queens of metaphor and alliteration.

There seems to be no justice when it comes down to the final dollar as the previously mentioned artists to these two, well, when the song goes by, every song, I find it catchy, sweet sounding, and utterly without challenge.

Simple can be lovely. A critic said of Hemingway once “Why would I bother reading something that I never need a thesaurus to understand?” Wow, I get it, and I’m not saying we should have to go brain fishing every time someone writes a song, but even Ellis Paul’s foray into music for children contains lyrics that roll the tongue and two-step in the mind as they go by.

Thank God for Sara Bareilles, Ed Sheeran, and Laura Marling, as a few of the youngsters that prove the singer songwriter thing is in good hands...

Oh, and please buy a million albums each of Seth Glier and Liz Longley. They’re the next wave from where Jonatha, Ellis, and I came, and you’ll be in good acoustic hands. Don’t blow it with these kids, Mr. & Ms. Listening Public.

How far have we come?

April 18, 2013 12:37 PM EDT HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will sign into law a bill that decriminalizes gay sex, 16 years after the state supreme court ruled the law unconstitutional. The measure received bi-partisan support from representatives, passing its final hurdle with a 65-34 vote a few weeks ago.

Isn’t it a little spooky to to think that even in the light of this silliness being overturned, 34 people still think it should have remained a law?