Gunshots and Chaos

Gunshots and Chaos is not the song I sat down to write. Sometimes songwriting is like that. No matter your intentions, once the words start flowing it’s best to let them and see what you end up with when they’re done. This song tackles difficult subjects; domestic abuse and alcoholism primarily, and that is intentional. The song is based on a story from my mother’s childhood. The condensed version is she and her older sister were going, as they did several times a week, to visit with their aunt and uncle who lived around the corner. On this particular day, they were stopped before getting to the building and were not allowed inside. Their uncle, an alcoholic, had shot their aunt in a drunken episode. Her story ended as well as one could hope for. My mother’s aunt survived, recovered, and divorced that asshole. Too many people are not so fortunate. 

I wanted to tell the tale from the vantage of that elementary school aged child. To touch on those difficult subjects from a distance and through the filter of someone who couldn’t yet understand them though they certainly felt the effects. When I started writing and got into a rhythm, what came out was very different. It was the up close and personal perspective of the woman lying bleeding out on the floor. There was a lot to learn about her as she flitted from thought to thought in that seemingly random way we can all relate to when our minds wander. Mary’s been living with Frankie’s alcoholism and his violence a long time, to the point of it being routine and losing its seriousness. She and her husband have a special song, they have children, their lives have a cycle and a routine and Mary has to keep track of the mundanities because she knows Frankie won’t. 

Mary is well aware of Frankie’s idiosyncrasies, and how he does that thing abusers and addicts do where they try to make up for their bad behavior by doing something nice, but it never lasts. She has a secret. Maybe her life didn’t have to be this way but she desperately believes in Love and that it is the most powerful force there is and I think she hoped it could fix this broken situation. It could not, proving as ineffective as prayers and penitence or the law. In the end it was always a game of chance, and her luck ran out. 

Funny how it’s the little things 

That add up to make up a life 

The first line of the chorus conveys a simple truth. We have the tendency to define a life based on the big things, accomplishments and milestones, but it’s the little things that make up a life. Damp laundry, noisy neighbors, frayed pants, a floor that isn’t quite level. 

Funny what you find to think about 

On the last long drive 

Funny what we think about at any given point, really. However, humans do seem to have a morbid fascination with what a person’s final thoughts are. Their “life flashing before their eyes”. In the scenario playing out in this narrative, Mary has some time to contemplate. Though probably less time than the song itself takes. A gunshot in an apartment in the middle of the afternoon in an average neighborhood tends to get a quick response. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a drive when you need to think through some life altering circumstance. I know I have. And so too Mary, whether it’s for a few seconds or a few minutes, is taking the last long drive. 

There’s no happy Hollywood ending in this song. Although the events that inspired the song did end on a positive note, it was still horrific. And surviving, or even escaping is not the case for far too many people. Too many people are trapped in a cycle of violence from which they can’t find a way out. They come to accept it as “just how it is”. Maybe partly because society has come to accept domestic violence as normal. Something unpleasant sure, but if we ignore it and don’t talk about it then we can pretend it doesn’t exist. 

For people living with it the consequences are too often deadly. 

It’s past time to have the uncomfortable conversations.

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