CURRENTLY, NSA WHISTLEBLOWER Edward Snowden is sitting, waiting, clipping his fingernails, maybe reading a book, and living on reheated borscht at the Sheremetyevo Airport McDonald’s. Something tells me this is not how the enfant terrible of government contractors imagined his escape from America.
Snowden is on the lips of many folks, both positively and negatively, after exposing some now-infamous Verizon phone tapping paperwork and also promising a suitcaseload of other juicy secrets speculated to be everything short of Michelle Obama’s fajita recipe. To say this man has made some cultural waves is an understatement.
But something tells me Snowden didn’t do much planning beyond those initial tsunamis. After sneaking away on a plane from Hong Kong to Russia Snowden seems have hit a snag. Supposedly, he is seeking asylum. However, it’s proving harder to get to a safe haven than he figured.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Snowden’s situation and have come to a conclusion: He reminds me of a Christian rock group I once knew.
Chances are you’ve never heard of the Jimmy Roots. The band was adorable, comprised of two wholesome but lightly-tattooed married couples and a baby-faced drummer named Teddy. As you can probably imagine from their name, the group’s music was sort of like a spiritually uplifting Dave Matthews Band minus anyone with dreadlocks. I don’t think it is a stretch to classify it as hippie-Christian-rock. Regardless, their music was not the issue. I have no doubt there are people who love them some hippie-Christian-rock tunes.
The issue was with the band’s master plan.
Much like Edward Snowden, they probably didn’t have one.
It was 2003. My girlfriend was college friends with one of the band’s singers, and they stayed in our apartment one weekend while they had a gig at the Portland Bible College. The band could not have been nicer houseguests, and everyone got along great.
Everything was all hackey sacks and rainbows until talk turned to how hard it was to make it in music.
The band lived cheaply in some RVs near Lake Tahoe. Recently, they had recorded an album and even had it mastered by a professional. They were all very proud of it and eager to share their art with the world.
This record, whose name I can’t remember, proved to be the Jimmy Roots’ Snowden-style suitcase full of top secret documents. They had a thousand CDs printed up and then simply waited for all the other details of fame and security to stroll through the door any minute.
“We recorded it in Boston,” I remember one of the guys saying. “We were lucky enough to get the guitarist from Stryper to produce.”
“It cost us everything we had,” his wife added. “We’re totally broke now, but it sounds great!” I remember them tossing out an astronomical five-figure sum for this guy’s services:
“Problem is,” someone said, “nobody’s buying the album.”
I was a rock critic and an intern at a small indie label called FILMguerrero, so I had a decent understanding of the music business at that point.
Did you guys make a press kit? I asked.
Did you guys mail some of the albums to magazines?
Mail them to newspapers in cities where you’re playing gigs?
Sent them to any managers?
Sent them to any booking agencies?
The answer to all my questions was, “No.” They had sent copies to their parents, but mostly just sold them at gigs and assumed they would get discovered that way. They enjoyed playing music and wanted to do it professionally, but never took the time to research how, exactly, that gets done.
As I said, the Jimmy Roots were all really nice people and insanely optimistic, so I bit my tongue. I was about an inch away from discreetly passing them a copy of Henry Rollins diary/indie rock survival guide Get in the Van, but my girlfriend forbade it.
As you can imagine, this band fizzled out, and they all moved back to the East Coast to be lawyers with about 333 CDs apiece.
The band knew they had a product people would potentially want: they knew who they wanted to become as artists, but they ignored the details about getting from Point A to Point Z. They just assumed serendipity would grab the wheel and steer them to the promised land.
Sounds awfully familiar.
I am not an expert on Edward Snowden. But can see from a mile away that this guy sitting in a Moscow Airport has suffered the same fate as the Jimmy Roots. Snowden got ahold of some really interesting information and wanted to share it with the world.
The head-scratching part is Snowden’s flee to Hong Kong. If he was just some bumpkin who accidentally fell into a puddle of top secret mud and started showing everyone the dirty laundry, it would not shock me to see him whisked him away to the Benedict Arnold Suite.
But Snowden knew enough to get the hell out of the country before exposing this information. However, rumor has it he intends to continue this global game of tag by moving to some extradition-free treehouse like Ecuador or Cuba. To me, the big question is: why didn’t you just go to Quito in the first place and then drop a bombshell that probably has CIA agents around the globe dusting off their poison blowdart pens?
The Jimmy Roots knew certain people would love folky Christian rock. Edward Snowden knew the internet would go ga-ga over America’s dirty spying secrets. Both fine starts.
In both cases, a little research might have helped grease the skids to get them where they wanted to end up. But details are no fun to think about when something is burning a hole in your pocket. So, what you are left with is not unlike a whirlwind romance that leads to a rocky marriage. It will be a miracle if it works out, but it’s a hell of a tale to tell either way.
For now, both Snowden and Jimmy Roots’ futures look grim. Washington is preparing to treat Snowden as a serious criminal, and the Jimmy Roots are little more than a dusty box of CDs.
As far as I know, nobody is threatening the Jimmy Roots with treason. Which is a shame because publicity like that would do wonders for their career.