Jason Robert Brown’s “A Song About Your Gun” Captivates following Orlando

Anthony Cornatzer

  • OnStage New Jersey Columnist

His fingers roll along the piano. What unfolds from them on the keys sound like a quiet mix of blues, jazz, and a mock spit on good ol’ Uncle Sam on the porch and his joke outfit of faded red, white, and blue proclamations of patriotism, pride, and constitutional rights. The songwriter and singer shakes his head in synch with those rolling fingers…as if somehow knowing nothing has changed and nothing will change once the song is said and done.

Within the week following the Orlando massacre on Sunday, June 10th, as well as the murder of singer Christina Grimmie, like many of us I found myself really just angry beyond measure and lost for words. It was the same thing repeated over and over and just getting worse during my adolescence into adulthood: Mass shooting. Too many innocent, ordinary people getting killed for no reason. And a disturbed killer that should have never gotten his hands on a gun in the first place. Bam. Repeat. Because politicians really don’t care to compromise gun pride for everyone else’s security. 

In scrolling through other headlines, and news, in my sadness and rage I found myself discovering a recent song written and performed by Tony award winning songwriter and composer Jason Robert Brown entitled “A Song About Your Gun” that he performed on April 23rd in the Greenwich Village club, SubCulture and had soon finally uploaded online following the recent shootings, according to Brown’s personal website.

“After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Fort Hood, after Tuscon, after Aurora, after Sandy Hook, after San Bernadino, and now, after two horrifying shootings over the weekend in Orlando, I have finally learned the words I need to say.

“I started writing this song after the massacre in San Bernadino last December, but I couldn’t really figure out how to finish it. The second verse came to me with startling clarity in April, on a day when gun violence had temporarily receded from the front pages,” Brown stated.

So, sure. I ended up not drowning myself in the composer’s equally as good musical soundtracks (because there’s plenty) as I normally do with everything else that disturbs me today, but rather my soul found--and still finds--rationality in listening to this one song…that just puts everything in perspective in what’s been going on and what continues to go on far beyond that horrific weekend in the news.

What I truly love about this song is the forced confrontation that Brown puts in front of us…to face the facts of headline after headline, obituary after obituary of lives taken far too soon to senseless and cruel acts of violence and mass shootings that to this day can be prevented by our politicians. It also confronts us with the even more glaring fact of how they all continue to do nothing as they just sit and watch as blood literally pours out into the streets, like Orlando. And yet, even worse, as the song only proves of who it’s really talking about—there are still so many of us ordinary citizens who still want that “song about [our] gun”, regardless. 

Needless to say, irony also plays such a huge role and looms like a ghost in this song. It serves as such an extraordinary leitmotif in listening to the main melody. In first listening, it almost sounds like another one of those self-indulgent, “patriotic” songs about how great the United States is when it can’t even owe up to its promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Brown’s song really does show us that it’s kind of hard to have those promises and to be proud like so many of us still are—oblivious to all of the death—when too many people in this country are just literally picked out and killed arbitrarily one by one because of some crazy guy with a gun. So, the irony really comes into play with the leitmotif yet again when the realization as an audience kicks in that it’s not at all just a mockery of pride and patriotism—it’s really a song for a funeral march.

Much like Sondheim, and really also much like such other unconventional songwriters like Bob Dylan or Billy Joel, Brown encapsulates the face and color of raw emotion and ugly truths that we have yet to acknowledge let alone address. Still, one can only hope that maybe this will become more of an anthem for gun control laws, and at the very least create a movement of awareness and activism amongst the rest of us…simply because, if it isn’t obvious enough, those in power won’t do anything. The song glares at us, really—waiting for what we’re going to do next (or rather not do) as another shoe drops, and more shootings will likely happen.

But really—don’t you still want that song about your gun, sir?