haiti, and doing the right thing.

A year ago tonight, I was getting dressed to go coach a basketball practice, when the phone rang.  Sandy picked it up, and I heard the hushed, urgent tones that signified an important phone call.

I came downstairs and stood in the kitchen, staring at Sandy as I watched the blood drain out of her face, and quickly came to the realization that this can’t be good.

I waited until she hung up the phone, and said to me “You need to get to practice right now and get Rob,” she said.  Rob is my good friend.  We coach kids’ basketball together.  “There’s been an earthquake in Haiti.”

Rob’s wife, our good friend Suzanne, was in Port-au-Prince on a humanitarian mission.

“Is Suzie okay?” I asked.

“Nobody knows.  It was a bad earthquake.  It was in Port-au-Prince.”

We got in the car and raced to the school, hoping to intercept Rob before he got into the gym.  I went inside and started the practice while Sandy waited outside for him.

About ten minutes before we had gotten to the school, Rob’s phone started ringing with the news.  He had the presence of mind to bring his son to practice, but then turned around and went right home.  And after I was done coaching the practice, Sandy picked me up (I was limping around on crutches with a broken leg at the time) and we went to Rob’s house and sat with him for a few hours, trying to get some news.

During the next 24 really scary hours, the three of us – and a lot of our other friends – pulled out every stop, called in every favor, trying to make contact with Haiti, trying to reach Suzanne and find out if our good friend, my buddy’s wife, this young mom of four – was alive.  Fucked up isn’t even a phrase that begins to describe the feeling of reading #Haiti tweets for news, scouring message boards and leaving lost and found notes wherever you could find people gathering online, in hopes that someone would have encountered a red-haired American woman amidst the chaos and thought to remember her name.  It was an eerie reminder of trying to track down all our friends in the days after September 11, and being helpless – among tens of thousands of other helpless people, all trying to do the same thing.  There were 40,000 American citizens in Haiti on that day, all with loved ones in the US, trying to track them down.

An odd thing happened while we all searched for Suzanne on that day.  We learned a bit about the plight of the Haitian people, and how such a devastating natural disaster added insult to injury, putting millions of people in danger in a virtually lawless country that was already the most impoverished in its hemisphere.  Trapped in collapsed buildings, digging out by hand, no emergency services to speak of, Haiti was a country with an overwhelming number of people under the age of 14, a country devastated by disease and poverty, with little hope of improvements.  And they’re right in our backyard.

All those images stuck with me, those helpless tweets and snippets of news and info coming over the internet.  And when Suzanne came home safely, those images remained in my mind.

I’m like everyone else my age, I guess; I have a number of causes that I support, and I chip in whenever something unexpected happens.  So, having re-launched Dromedary (and knowing how strong a supporter of doing it Suzanne was), Sandy and I decided that there had to be some sort of way that we could use the label to somehow amplify whatever we were capable of giving on our own.

And thus Make The Load Lighter: Indie Rock For Haiti was born.  A digital compilation, with all proceeds donated to Haiti.  Sixteen bands, sixteen great songs from old friends and new – pulled together entirely in just about two weeks.  And I must say, it’s held up really well over the last year, still probably the best indie rock compilation I’ve heard.  For my tastes, anyway.

At the end of the year, we didn’t wind up donating a whole lot of money to Haiti.  We didn’t sell a million records, we didn’t get a ton of press.  I wound up making a $500 contribution to Vwa Ayiti.  Not a ton of money.

But it’s more than I would have donated myself.  And the record is still there, still available for purchase online.  You can get it on iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, or right here on our own website. It’s still just ten bucks, and all the money will continue to be donated to Haiti as we accumulate enough to donate – Haiti still needs help, with a cholera epidemic, tons of earthquake cleanup still required, and awful water/sanitation issues.  So as long as we’re around, we’ll keep donating the money you spend on this record.

And it got us thinking locally as well.  Because, you know, we just do this Dromedary thing for our own enjoyment now.  It’s not my desire to make a living off indie rock the way it was when I was in my 20s.  And so I’m looking at ways that we can use Dromedary to amplify a philanthropic message, contribute to a cause, and do something meaningful besides releasing great music.

For now, though, I’m just thankful that my friend came back, and also thankful that 16 great bands were generous enough to donate their work so that we could raise a little awareness, and contribute a tiny bit of cash from our corner of the world.

One of those bands, by the way, was Lions.Chase.Tigers.  Unfortunately, they broke up last year, but their guitarist, Fraser, joined another band called Penguins Kill Polar Bears (the animals in Scotland just don’t get along, I guess).  The friendship that Fraser and I built online over the last year facilitated the introductions that resulted in our signing PKPB here in the States, and hopefully will result in our releasing more of the fantastic indie rock that’s so prevalent in that great country.  Stay tuned for that; March is right around the corner.

~ by Al on January 12, 2011.

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