March 25, 2009: “Night Tree Necktie Party”

We’re back after a wonderful CA trip a little jet-lagged, a little weary—but robustly certain we’re blessed by an amazing family. Yesterday, a little jet-lagged, a little weary, I was walking to Union Square when I noticed a poster announcing an upcoming show at a neighborhood club; Night Tree Necktie Party is the name of the band to be performing.

My first (jet-lagged, weary) reaction: Well, that’s no more  shocking or attention-grabbing than the Dead Kennedys, I guess.

Almost immediately I wondered: maybe it’s 2 bands. Night Tree Necktie Party doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue, does it?

But then, despite being jet-lagged and weary, I remembered a story—a story about lynching—included in several of the earlier drafts of Way Opens which didn’t make the final cut. And here it is:

Since Lynchburg’s name is so inescapably intertwined with the word lynch, in the earliest days of my leading, I’d done quite a bit of research about “necktie parties.” Such research stirred up a vague, vague memory of a black-and-white photograph of a lynching I’d seen as a child—probably in Life Magazine. Naively, I’d assumed such a photo to be one of a kind and therefore easy to locate so I’d asked a research librarian at the Somerville Public Library for help. She steered me to the Without Sanctuary exhibit  which, at the time, was online. (Maybe it still is.)

Determined to find my photograph, I briskly went through the site’s slide show: “Nope.” “Nope.” Finally, thank God, the horror  of what I’d been briskly rejecting hit me. My God, I realized. There are hundreds of such photographs! They show us, again and again, a black man—there were a few black women, too—dangling from a tree, a train trestle, etc., while a crowd of white people—hundreds of them in locales all over this country—watch, laugh, eat. Some of those photographs had been made into postcards. My God, I realized. Lynchings were far, far more prevalent than I’d ever imagined. Chastened, I forced myself to look at those pictures again, this time very slowly, lingering over every scene as I’d done as a child. And praying.

So, yeah, I get why an up-and-coming band gives itself an edgy name. But as my Buddhist/Catholic friend Dolores says, “There’s so much hatred and evil in the world. Why add to it?”