by Jason Bugg in Vol. 15 / Iss. 18 on 11/26/2008
The word “change” has been thrown around a lot these days as a slogan, an idea, a mantra for some and even a source of derision for others. But for singer/songwriter David LaMotte, change isn’t just a buzzword—it’s where he finds himself and his career.
“Changing countries, changing careers, fatherhood, it’s a big deal,” LaMotte says.
The performer, who over the course of a 10-album career has walked the line between heart-on-his-sleeve folkie and champion for social justice and human rights across the world is ready for his next step as a musician—retirement.
“[Retiring] is really poignant,” LaMotte reveals. “[Music is] basically all I’ve ever done. I got out of college and as an adult it’s been the only career I’ve ever had.”
Instead of hanging up his guitar and cutting his hair for a buttoned-up position in the real world, LaMotte has instead decided to pursue his work as a peacemaker. LaMotte’s work recently was noticed by the Rotary World Peace Fellowship and as a result he was made one of 60 Rotary World Peace Fellows.
Starting in February, LaMotte will attend the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, to pursue an advanced master’s degree in International Relations, Peace and Conflict Resolution. That’s pretty heady stuff for a guy with a guitar.
But LaMotte isn’t just any guy with a guitar. He’s a humanitarian who has devoted time to building schools and improving the quality of life for children in Guatemala, in addition to his touring schedule. It’s tireless work in a time when the notion of changing the world is something that is usually reserved for bumper stickers and flyers advertising punk-rock shows.
“What we’ve been doing in Guatemala for the last four years has been really powerful in showing me how many huge things can be accomplished with just a small turn in direction. It has stripped me of a lot of cynicism. I do believe that the world can change,” LaMotte says.
LaMotte’s passion for helping people may read like bleary-eyed hippie optimism to some, but the soft-spoken singer is looking at the world through anything but rose-colored glasses. Instead, LaMotte sees victories in little things, right down to bumper stickers and punk-rock credos.
“I don’t ever laugh at anybody who thinks they are going to change the world. I think they can,” he says. “Even if you are just playing bar chords really fast and talking about doing something, you might be helping to change someone’s mind.”
Those tiny gestures are part of LaMotte’s grand view of changing the world. At the moment, though, he’s worried more about people’s perceptions that it’s frivolous to want to help.
“I think we’ve come to this weird place in our culture where naïveté is confused with idealism and being cynical is confused with realism, and the truth is that the world gives many reasons to be hopeful and to be cynical,” LaMotte says.
But the cynicism is long gone in LaMotte. Instead, there is a bittersweet air surrounding his upcoming (and sold out) Grey Eagle show, which is billed as his last. For one last time, LaMotte will strap on his guitar and play the songs that have made him matter to so many people over the past 18 years. In the quiet moments before the upcoming show he still finds the time to laugh about the end of an era.
Muses LaMotte: “If you don’t want absolutely everything about your life to change radically, don’t put out a CD called Change.”
[Jason Bugg is a Sylva-based freelance writer.]
who: David LaMotte
what: Farewell concert from Asheville’s beloved singer/songwriter and storyteller. Concert is sold out.
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, Nov. 29