It's about healing.
And if anyone knows about how slow the healing process can be, it's Ron Barber.
The district director of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office, Barber was shot twice—once in the cheek, and once in the leg—when a gunman opened fired on Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event on Jan. 8, killing six and wounding 13, including Giffords, who was shot through the head and is still recovering.
The dead ranged from federal Judge John Roll, who had stopped by on a whim to say hello to Giffords, to 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, a Mesa Verde Elementary School student who had come to meet her congresswoman. Retirees Dorwin Stoddard, Dorothy Morris and Phyllis Schneck were also slain, as was Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman.
The shooting captured worldwide headlines and rocked the Tucson community—which responded with an outpouring of grief and generosity that began with a candlelit shrine of flowers, photos and mementoes on the University Medical Center mall, and continued with a flood of giving to the Community Food Bank, the Red Cross and other causes.
Everyone, it seemed, wanted to find a way to help.
Jackson Browne and Alice Cooper brought a who's-who of rock 'n' roll to Tucson for a benefit concert in March. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers played charity spring-training games at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. A new playground opened last month at Mesa Verde Elementary in memory of Christina-Taylor. Scholarship funds were launched in Zimmerman's name. The Food Bank opened the Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center with donations from across the globe.
And this week saw the release of Luz de Vida, a 37-song digital download that debuted on Tuesday, Oct. 18, on iTunes, accompanied by a 12-song, limited-edition vinyl album. Proceeds from Luz de Vida—which features Calexico, Giant Sand, Neko Case, DeVotchKa, Spoon, Ozomatli and Robyn Hitchcock, as well as a long list of local bands—will benefit the Tucson Together Fund, which is dedicated to helping the victims of Jan. 8.
The songs on the album range from melancholy ballads to straight-ahead rock 'n' roll to blues to alternative country to Latin and mariachi, bringing together the range of cultures found here in Southern Arizona.
Barber is delighted by the effort.
"Music is a healing force as well as a unifying force," says Barber. "Anytime we come together around music, we get stronger as a community."
While he's gone back to work at the congressional office for four hours per day, Barber still has a lot of his own healing to do. He's waiting to see if his nerves regenerate in his left leg, which remains numb below the knee—except when he feels pain. He needs to wear a brace, because he can no longer control his ankle. There are deep psychological wounds that keep him from getting a good night's sleep.
But Barber is making a strong comeback. Besides his work on behalf of Southern Arizona constituents, he makes public appearances. He's created his own nonprofit, the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, to work on anti-bullying campaigns in schools and support programs for the mentally ill. He organized the March concert featuring Browne, Cooper and their friends; he's putting together plans for future shows.
And Barber plans to be down at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 22, for a Luz de Vida release party and benefit concert for the Tucson Together fund.
"People love to come and dance and enjoy music," Barber says. "This is a way for us to have some happy times in the midst of this tragic event."
It's about giving what you can.
The idea behind Luz de Vida came from Tom Beach and Nathan Sabatino of Loveland Recording Studio, which is located around the corner from Giffords' old office at Swan Road and Pima Street. Beach remembers driving past the office in the days after the shooting and seeing the crowds of people who gathered to pay their respects.
"Nathan and I thought we should do something—a compilation or a benefit show to raise funds to help," says Beach.
Beach reached out to Eric Swedlund, a Tucson Weekly contributor and former spokesperson for the Giffords campaign. Over the next few months, they would form a group that included Fort Lowell Records producer James Tritten, Rialto Theatre general manager Curtis McCrary (also a Weekly contributor) and Tucson Weekly music editor Stephen Seigel.
"The idea was to bring members of Tucson's musical community together and make something positive out of tragedy," says McCrary.
McCrary credits Tritten as "the glue" that held the project together over the summer. It was Tritten who suggested creating the vinyl album to accompany the digital download, which was a natural outgrowth of his own nonprofit, which is dedicated to putting the work of Tucson artists on vinyl.
"Through the art of music, we have a way to help people who simply can't find resources any other way," Tritten says.
It wasn't hard to find bands willing to lend a song. As steel-pedal guitar virtuoso Jon Rauhouse, who paired with Rachel Flotard for the song "Hammered Light," says: "If someone approaches me and asks me to do something that will help, I will always help. I'm an Arizona native, and this happened in my backyard."
Neko Case, a former Tucson resident who records at downtown's Wavelab Studio, came through with title track from her recent Billboard Top 10 album, Middle Cyclone. DeVotchKa, another Wavelab regular, contributed wistful gypsy romance "The Common Good." Ozomatli, who welcomed Giffords onstage with them during a show at the Rialto Theatre a few years back, sent in a sweet and stripped-down track, "It's Only Time." Austin's Spoon delivered "Vittorio E.," an underrated deep cut from 2002's Kill the Moonlight.
Robyn Hitchcock, a frequent Tucson visitor, called McCrary after he heard about the shooting to find out if his friends in Tucson were OK. Hitchcock—who contributed sly and mysterious "Light Blue Afternoon" to Luz de Vida—called out a hopeful "Gabby 2012!" as the Festival en el Barrio Viejo came to an end last March.
Calexico's Joey Burns has played at Giffords fundraisers over the years, and she's a big fan of the band. A few years back, she picked one of their mariachi-drenched anthems, "Crystal Frontier," as a wake-up call for the astronauts aboard a space-shuttle mission under the command of her husband, Mark Kelly.
Burns sees Luz de Vida as a prime example of how "Tucson's heart rose to the surface and rose to the occasion" after the shooting.
He's drawn inspiration from the way that Barber has thrown himself into his work after the shooting.
"For Ron to have lived through this, to have survived—not without great loss—but then to pick up the ball and start what he started and to inspire others as well, it's contagious," Burns says. "He wants to give back to the community that he loves. It's the same with Gabby."
Burns has struggled with writing a song about Jan. 8.
"I really wanted to write a song specifically for Gabby," Burns says. "But because I know her, and I don't normally write songs for people, or about people, I'm having a really hard time with that. ... There has to be some separation. I'm still working on it."
Burns says Calexico's contribution—"Absent Afternoon"—was inspired by watching funeral processions roll by his downtown house on Main Avenue.
"Everything stops," Burns says. "You can't help but feel something for those people who are in this procession of cars and close to the family. If you've ever been in a funeral, it takes you back and touches on something very personal within you."
It's about community.
Music and politics have intersected for decades, so it's no surprise that many members of Tucson's musical community have a personal connection to those killed or injured in the shooting.
Justin Lillie, who plays with the band HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS, had been a friend of Gabe Zimmerman, the aide to Giffords who was killed on Jan. 8, since high school.
Zimmerman was a fan of Lillie's old band, Chango Malo, which provides a cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" for the album. Zimmerman attended many of their shows, and Lillie remembers that Zimmerman once dressed like a rock star for Halloween.
"Gabe was the most absolute, genuine friend," Lillie remembers. "You never got in an argument with him. He really liked helping people out."
Alt-country combo Silverbell's Betsy Scarinzi was working as a nurse in the UMC emergency room on that Saturday morning.
"It started off as a nice Saturday," Scarinzi recalls. "We actually thought it was going to be a quiet day, because we came in to having available beds rather than the waiting room filled. ... And then we found out we needed to be expecting 20 patients with gunshot wounds from 30 minutes away."
Contributing the song "Why" was her way of "contributing toward some sense of healing," she says.
"It was not written for the CD, but I thought it was appropriate for the occasion," Scarinzi says. "It's about things we don't always get answers to, and things we don't always understand."
Support for the project came from many quarters. Patti Keating, the widow of Tucson blues guitarist Rainer Ptacek, contributed one of his songs, "The Oasis," allowing one of Tucson's most-missed musicians to be a part of the collaboration. Salvador Duran composed an epic ballad in Spanish, "Gabynda (Yolanda)," which serves as a stirring coda to Luz de Vida. Jim Blackwood of Arizona Public Media mastered the entire recording.
Local nonprofits and businesses stepped up to sponsor the project. 24 Hour Service Station, Betts Printing, Brooklyn Pizza, Dorado Music Packaging and Saywells Design provided support for the design and printing costs. Che's Lounge, Plush, The Shanty, Main Gate Square and Savaya Coffee pitched in for the manufacturing of the album. Sticks 'n' Strings paid for shipping. Golden Mastering and Sky Bar kicked in for the vinyl mastering. Cloud Microphones and Loveland Studio covered the production costs. KXCI FM 91.3, the Rialto Theatre and the Tucson Weekly gave promotional support.
As a result, all of the proceeds from the project will go to the Tucson Together fund.
"That fund is really important to sustain, because the costs of care and counseling and putting people through the trial process is going to go on for quite a long time," Barber says. "I know that people, particularly those who weren't wounded, are having a hard time paying for counseling, and yet in many ways, they were as traumatized as those of us who were shot. The fund is an important resource for those folks as well."
Bill Carnegie, the president and CEO of the Community Food Bank, says the Tucson Together fund has collected roughly $400,000 and has spent about $120,000.
Carnegie expects the fund will be vital in the future.
"The effects from the tragedy of Jan. 8 can span into decades," he says. "People that were affected by the shooting require different kinds of support and counseling. The fund is there for longtime use."
It's about recovery.
Giant Sand's Howe Gelb said it was "very, very, very difficult" to write a song about Jan. 8.
He almost attended Giffords' Congress on Your Corner himself. He'd noticed the sign for the event as he sped by the intersection of Oracle and Ina roads with his family; he was taking his daughter to a soccer game. If he hadn't been running late, he might have stopped by with the whole clan.
"Gabby's extremely easy to adore, and it just feels good being around her, and that infectious smile of hers," Gelb says.
A few days after the shooting, Gelb says he was deep in despair and plunking away at the piano in his old adobe house in downtown Tucson when a song began to form.
"I was trying to deal with how loud it was in my head," he says.
Not long afterward, he took a shot at fleshing out the song while in the studio with Giant Sand. The band got it right off the bat.
"It was one of those times when the music just came," Gelb says.
But it still fell a bit short, until a final burst of inspiration struck: Gelb recorded the voices of kids at his daughter's school singing "step by step" and "recovering, recovering."
He knew he'd found the missing ingredient.
"The sweetness and natural hope in a child's singing is just a relief," Gelb says. "So with the sadness of the event and the lyric, you have this wonderful, medicinal, sonic release. ... 'Step by step.' That's exactly it. That's the only way back from this."
The result is "Recovery Mission," a song that soars to both acknowledge the grief and celebrate the hope found in healing.
"The song was very cathartic, but it wasn't adding to the lament," Gelb says. "It's saying that it's going to be OK, no matter what. ... The thing that still works is that primal, simple utterance of your mother when you were younger and something bad happened to you, when she said: 'It's going to be OK.' It's going to be OK."