Baffling sides for US to see

October 06, 2017

The quintessential American dream rocker — Tom Petty.

Once again we are left staring into the abyss and wondering at the labyrinth of darkness and light that makes up a human being.

We also wonder at the good, the bad and the plain ugly side of America.

The Las Vegas mass shooting makes us all shake our heads and ask — why?

There are the blindingly obvious reasons — such as the ridiculous statistic of 326 million guns in the US — more than one gun for every adult and that it’s easier to obtain a gun than a drivers’ licence in the US.

But ultimately, there is no rational explanation for the mass shootings at Las Vegas, Pulse Nightclub, Virgina Tech University or Sandy Hook or any of the countless and pointless gun deaths that have occurred during the past 50 years in the US.

The underlying motive that drives ‘‘kind, caring and quiet’’ Stephen Paddock to shoot a machine gun into a crowd of people remains a mystery.

What is not a mystery is the power of the US gun lobby and the deep-rooted history of America’s infatuation with guns and a conviction that the rights of the individual are more important than the rights of the community.

How many mass shootings will it take to convince Americans to give up their guns?

If the Sandy Hook massacre, when 22 children were shot at school, had no effect on the national gun psyche then sadly we must accept that nothing will.

Just as so many countries have not managed to shake off the manacles of theocracy and so live with inane rules about clothing and driving, so the US has not cut the chains to its frontier past and must live with the daily nightmare of gun crime.

The NRA slogan ‘‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’’ is a glib and empty one, because restricting access to guns plainly means less gun deaths.

Look at Britain, Canada and Australia for the evidence.

The US delivered more sad news this week with the sudden death of yet another music legend.

While the passing of Tom Petty is a chance for the over-40s to relive magic moments in the car or in a bar somewhere singing along to American Girl, Breakaway and Freefallin — it is also a chance to remind ourselves of just how great the US can be.

Petty was born to a small-town family with an abusive father, and like many before and after, he found refuge in the great American pantheon of pop music.

He went on to become a writer of solid guitar-driven ‘‘everyman’’ songs with his band the Heartbreakers with roots in The Beatles, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young’s country and garage rock.

His trajectory included all the rock music pitfalls of drugs and alcohol, a failed marriage, record label battles and band break-ups, but he weathered them with decency and honesty and he remained a loyal friend to his fellow musical journeymen.

His story shows that the US is still a place of dreams and golden possibilities — a place that has given the world so much treasure to share and uplift us all from Louis Armstrong to Martin Luther King.

In his last interview, with Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times, Petty said of his 40-year journey with his band the Heartbreakers:

‘‘It was about moving people, and changing the world, and I really believed in rock ‘n’ roll — I still do,’’ he said.

My dad always had a saying when he read about the fastest car, the biggest burger, the wildest parties, the loudest music, the ugliest killings.

‘‘Only in America — only in America’’.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.

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