In a river the color of lead

We were flying above the Atlantic when the Newtown shootings occurred, headed to Germany. Eberhard asked if I heard about it and I hadn’t, so he broke the news to us. Various Europeans we met over the next couple weeks asked what we thought, and offered their opinions. Most were angry, hurt, frustrated.

I had started blogging every day, and it was a topic I wanted to avoid on my vacation. But Dawn shared a thought with me on it one day, which inspired a poem, and I posted it.

I had misgivings about it for two reasons. First, I felt like I didn’t possess a mature enough voice to grapple with a topic so deep. To me, it required respect and distance. Second, it would force me to take a position on gun control, which would invite people from the other side into debate.

Our first morning in Germany, I got up well before sunrise and took a walk, up the vineyards overlooking the valley. By the time I came down, the sky was lit with mid-December tints of blue and grey. The river was high, the color of dark brown/grey, like glacial run-off. It reminded me of one of my favorite songs by The Smiths that starts, “In a river the color of lead / immerse the baby’s head / wrap her up in the news of the world / dump her on a doorstep, girl.”

This began a downward spiral of Smiths after Smiths on the iPod, which I exposed everyone else to, in my mom’s dining room. One night, we listened to the first record in its entirety, which ends with the song, “Suffer Little Children.”

From what I could understand in the lyrics, there was something very dark and grim going on in the song. Because I got into it in the days before Internet though, I had no idea what it was about. The lyrics were creepy, but I assumed metaphysical, not literal. But that night at my mom’s I learned it was about the Moors murders, and then went down a rabbit hole with Wikipedia to learn more.

What was most interesting was reading that the grandfather of one of the slain girls first heard the song on a jukebox in a pub, and later confronted Morrissey, accusing him of commercializing this awful act. According to the story, Morrissey explained the song was an honest exploration into the impact of the murders, and how it affected him as a young child, growing up in England.

Neither my mom nor Dawn were interested in discussing it further. But my mom informed me that the Boomtown Rats song “I Don’t Like Mondays” is also about a gruesome event.

What I took from this is that art is needed to make sense of bad things. As with any other kind of art, you expose yourself when you share it with the world. In the case of Morrissey’s song, you risk exposing others and making them feel worse.

I imagine the conversation he had with the grandfather, then the mother of the girl he names in the song. Accounts I read suggest he actually befriended the family, afterwards.

On the Internet, we can write things like this and conceal ourselves, if we want. It’s easier to talk through a box then it is directly to someone’s face.

Is the Internet a warm-up for what you’d say if everyone was listening? Would it change what you say, if everyone was listening?


This post was inspired by one I read yesterday, posing the question of anonymity vs. transparency, and personal security in the blogosphere. Thanks to the Green Study for inspiring me to write about it, and thank you for reading and sharing your comments.

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8 replies

  1. When the Newtown murders took place I also avoided writing about it. I did not want the long, drawn-out debate on my Facebook or Twitter feeds. I have both liberal and conservative life long friends and knew nothing good would come of that fodder when emotions were running so high.

    I did post the kids’ pictures because I believed that’s where my focus during that time was. I also have my opinions on guns. I am not a gun owner, nor do I think I will ever be. The Newtown incident, due to the specific details of the crime (legal gun ownership, legitimate access by a child who was raised to enjoy gun ownership, etc.) did not scream gun control to me. What resonated was that it was a byproduct of a broken mental healthcare system and in that conversation, many demons come out of the woodwork as well. Mental health is not a topic people people like to discuss because it draws attention to people’s own personal struggles with it. Once someone has shared they’ve had mental health issues, it is almost as bad as saying they were turning tricks for crack on the corner.

    If you’ve read my blog posts you’ll see I am all about transparency, to the point where I am cognizant of how it impacts me in a negative way, at times. But, I can’t be any other way. I have been this way all 39 years of my life and I wouldn’t want to change.

    So, the answer to your question (I was getting to that) is that I see the internet as a magnifier. For people with voices that struggle to be heard in RL, it gives them a platform on which to perform. To practice. To define. To perfect. For people with voices that are comfortable on a stage, it offers the gift of distribution: allowing access to more people with which they can connect.

    I can tell you that anyone that knows me on person will tell you virtual Let is just like real life Let – minus the heels and plus the personality. I actually tone down on the internet because it’s forever. 🙂


    • Lovely. Thank you for sharing. It adds a much more interesting dimension when I receive comments like this – in fact, you get “gold star” for most thoughtful, thorough comment I’ve received EVER: so thank you Let! I appreciate the time you spent; it’s precious. – Bill


  2. Love that Boomtown Rats song! I think it’s not exploitation, but exploration. If we kept our mouths, feelings shut all the time we wouldn’t have emotionally stirring art. Nice topic.


    • Thanks Lennon. It’s weird, but I post stuff and then I close down my computer and head off to work so I don’t get to respond or interact with people in real time…irregardless, I appreciate you reading and offering your thoughts. Subtle difference between exploring and exploiting, that’s good.


  3. . I think we do take a chance with the safety and so forth on the internet. Yet I do feel safe with WordPress. I suppose it is a 2 edged sword…


  4. By the way—I can seriously tell you I have probably said more on the blog that folks who know me in person had no idea I thought a certain way..I kept alot of stuff to myself….It is interesting for sure….stirring topic….


  5. I actually am heading to bed.. I am wore out today! Tomorrow topic is known in my head…should be a good one.. I think….haha


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