This professor used music to address some of America's most pressing issues

Album cover art

Cover art for the album "Ghosts of Our Former Selves." Art by Associate Professor of Painting Joe Wardwell.

In the run-up to the presidential election, BrandeisNOW asked faculty to provide analysis and insight. For his forthcoming album, "Ghosts of Our Former Selves." Irving G. Fine Professor of Music Eric Chasalow composed a series of songs about gun violence, political dishonesty and the need for empathy. Here, Chasalow explains the track "Ghost of John William."

The history of our obsession with guns in the U.S. is long. Feelings about it run so deep that rational discussion about the horrific violence the obsession causes has been impossible.  

I chose a traditional folk genre to signify that long history and wrote a text that is purposely without a specific reference to any time period, remote or present.

The issue is not an artifact of history but urgent and ongoing. The cry, “This insanity has got to stop,” is meant as a kind of exhausted scream.

I wrote the song out of a deep sense of frustration and exhaustion.

The urgency that rises with each horrific incident recedes almost immediately, normalizing violence as something we are all supposed to accept for the sake of the rights of a minority to live without even reasonable restrictions.

I find this intolerable, even from my position of both economic and racial privilege.   

It is our communities of color that suffer most from our glorification of guns. It is crystal clear that gun rights and white supremacy are intertwined.  

The deeply entrenched, well-financed gun-rights movement is, at its core, a fear-driven reactionary institution for maintaining our racist and classist power structure. 

So the insanity I sing of in this song is about much more than unbridled gun ownership. It is about ever-present violence fueled by fear, greed and hate.


Eric Chasalow · Ghost Of John William


Categories: Arts

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage