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Hello all of you at NPR Tiny Desk.
My name is Joshua Love and I was writing on behalf of the song, Be Still that I posted last week for the Tiny Desk contest. The back story of this song is a bit long, but I’ll give you the brief version. In 1998 I spent some time in Zimbabwe for a study abroad and it changed the way I saw the world. I visited an orphanage that rattled me deeply and drew me into wanting to understand the circumstances of poverty and alienation. The program was a psychology/communications dual discipline course and my major was philosophy. After this trip I was shaken at the core. My entire view of the universe had changed and knew that the only way to shape a better future was to begin by reshaping myself.
Upon my return to the United States, I grew intensely interested in the unspoken parts of the world, the areas most people knew very little about. Graduating from college seemed like a blur and before I knew it I was offered a scholarship to the graduate program at Cleveland State University. The academics deeply bored me and I wondered what good could come from debating semantics and phenomenology. After a year, I saved money and planned a Habitat for Humanity trip in Guatemala. We worked hard, building 5 houses in 4 weeks in Coatepeque. I just knew I couldn’t return to a “normal life” when I got back. I had seen the roads that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had walked. I visited the hotel that they stayed. My soul was on fire to know the silent voices of the world.
So, when I got back to the US, I began looking for positions around the world that would put me in touch with those voices. I sent letters to the United Nations, to volunteer for groups in Africa and India. I wanted to be at the furthest end of what was familiar to me. And then I received an offer teaching at Chengdu University of Technology in China. To be honest, I didn’t even know where that was and my friend Carl, the dishwasher at John Q’s in downtown Cleveland, ran to the public library on his lunch break to find out. He came back with a huge map, pamphlets and books. He told me that this is where the Chinese revolution regained steam, where currency was first used in the world, and he rattled off a bunch of facts. He said, “you’ve got to do this!” And I did.
I got rid of everything I owned. I left the graduate studies program at Cleveland State University, left my family, girlfriend, everything behind. All I had was one bag, a suit, some ties, journals and a few history books about China. I left everything behind to make $240 a month in the sub-tropical outskirts of Chengdu, the closest major city east of the Himalayas. Long story short, I lived there for 15 1/2years teaching history and philosophy at various universities and somehow started to make music. I met my Canadian wife there.
We started a band called 变色蝴蝶 (Proximity Butterfly) with another philosophy major from Sichuan University and an oil painter on drums. We toured the country many times, played music festivals in Inner Mongolia, Wuhan, Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai and were featured in Beijing’s Rolling Stone magazine as upcoming artists. We ended up releasing 9 albums, touring the country 2-3 times a year.
We even did an 18-city tour of Australia entirely financed by ourselves. Recently my wife and I performed on Tencent’s “The Next Big Thing” for what would eventually be over 10 million people. My wife and I have three children (10yr-old daughter; 6yr-old twin boys) and are fluent in Mandarin. We had lived abroad for so long that we decided to come back to North America to be closer to family and to provide our kids with a more creative education. So we have been back in North America now for almost 2yrs, relearning English and laughing with grandpas and grandmas.
The first year back was difficult because our whole network was overseas. We had zero credit score, zero history, no bank accounts, and next to no friends. After living far beneath the poverty line for over a decade, we now needed to be re-introduced into a society that functioned quite differently. It was a psychological battle as well as a financial one. We had saved money for years in order to be able to come back and have enough to pay just 2-3 months rent. And yet we would remain loyal to our endeavor; loyal to our dreams. I had just spoken to my mother about how hungry and ready I was to engage society here, to grasp any and every opportunity there was. And she calmly reminded me to “be still”. She reminded me that in our loyalties to these otherworldly dreams, we must remain calm and allow the gravity of life to come to us. I kept thinking, how can I get a job by just being still? And I took some deep breaths and did so. The very next morning, like an epiphany, the song started pouring from my pen and came together so fast. “Nothing is certain, so I tried my hand at a broken truth…” I recorded it myself in my house with whatever equipment I brought from China; I wrote and filmed the official video with a guy that I knew from Beijing. And it became the very first song I wrote after our return from China. I could go on and on, but I know you have other things to do today. I do, however, believe this is a unique and moving story and I appreciate the chance to share it with you.
I wish you all well. More pictures below.
Joshua C Love