A Willy Mason song came on the FM radio in Mongolia today, sandwiched between a Mongolian pop song and a Russian trance song. Willy’s a folk/rock/bluegrass singer around my age from a close-knit community of creative, free spirited year-round residents of Martha’s Vineyard. I met him a couple times through college friends who hailed from West Tisbury. While inside the maelstrom of sudden-and-utter-fame-and-celebrity-privilege Willy behaved as decently as any young human being could be expected to, I guess. He certainly came through it all right; while his lyrics are often masterful, my hands-down favorite of his writings is the open letter he posted on his website (after suddenly quitting a whiskey-soaked tour in 2005) wherein he compared himself to a mangy poodle. A commitment to genuineness is hard to find in any person of any profession and of any age, much less a young music celebrity in today’s globalized environment, and Willy said in that letter that he didn't want to lie to his audience. Willy may not have felt particularly proud of himself at that moment, but that moment is the one for which I admire him the most.
Willy’s voice suddenly including itself in my day here in Mongolia was almost as surreal as the frozen, inexplicable desert of Mongolia itself. Especially after reading just this morning Friedman's article in the nytimes about how we “as a generation are so much more optimistic and idealistic than we should be." Willy rose to fame in Europe because the younger listeners on the continent connected to the genuineness and hope in his lyrics and stage presence. Fuck Friedman’s assertion, dude; we are as optimistic and idealistic as we MUST be to avoid Armageddon, it's the only way to move mountains we need to and send love over the very airwaves. I despair at a lot of the pop culture America’s given far flung corners of the world--songs like the one that goes “and possibly bend you over…watch me smack that” come to mind—whereas Willy’s first single features in its chorus the declaration that “we can be stronger than bombs.”
When I recognized Willy’s voice grinned like I was drugged. I was stuck in a traffic jam in Ulaanbaatar in the wintry freeze with the big desert sky overhead saying to myself yes willy yes! go willy go! Finally a Westerner sending a message to the rest of the world I can get behind. Willy might be the first one I’ve heard over the TV or radio here in the frozen outback whose status as a fellow American is one that makes me proud--and yes, even a little hopeful.