John Mayer
 

John had his honeymoon dinner at the top of the World Trade Centre and has been in love with American music and movies since he was old enough to go out on his own. He counts many Americans as his closest friends. So when he got the chance to tour the States for 10 weeks promoting his book, Nuclear Peace, he jumped at it. Fear of terrorism did not cause him to blink. It's not the American way. Is it?

John's first stop, in Texas, was all Good Ol' Boys in their big check shirts, V12 trucks and rifles in kwik-lok boxes proudly displayed on the dashboard. His taxi driver spoke in reverential tones when he mentioned the name 'Governor George Herbert Walker Bush' (the father). He sensed real venom in his heart when he explained to me that 'them Ai-rab folks had bombed the heart of America'. He meant The Pentagon and was certain that 'the young President will flush out every one of them ol' desert rats'. By the time John paid him he was in no doubt about his driver's support for a nuclear strike. Against whom, did not seem to matter.

On his way down Route 66 to a TV station in Roanoke, Virginia, in a roadside diner John was struck by the obvious intolerance of four old white men to their young black waitress. Their eyes betrayed their wish that they still owned her, as their grandfathers had owned her ancestors. He figured 'the young President' was still ahead on points. However, the people who called-in to ask him questions were genuinely concerned that America was sliding uncontrollably towards nuclear catastrophe. They fully appreciated that a 100 megaton nuclear explosion (the minimum held by Nato) physically connects the whole world.

Glasgow and Edinburg are the same. At least the two small towns with those names in Virginia are the same. Each has a convenience store, a gas station with micro-food and a Guns 'n' Ammo store. Two guys John chatted to in the parking lot over burgers and beer were as thick as mince, ignorant of all facts about the world and unable even to form rational thought. They sniggered as they told him they were 'raa-ight good customers of the Guns n' Ammo store' and showed him their punctured tabloid newspaper cut-out of Saddam Hussein stapled to a target board. In Glasgow the young President was so far ahead of the Democrats he was over the horizon with a mandate to do anything he wanted, legal or not. If their big truck radio receivers could have captured the signal, he was sure they would have tuned in to the station in Minnesota where the presenter seriously put the proposition to John that America should invade China, before it was too late.

In Washington DC John was impressed by the professionalism of the senior staff at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies - a think-tank which organizes war games for the White House. Here historians, international lawyers and political scientists think and talk openly about how to keep the world safe in the third millennium. They welcomed John's European perspective and were very receptive to his four-point message based on (i) excellent intelligence, (ii) smart weapons, (iii) elite troops and, (iv) most importantly, obeying international law. The ferocity with which the US homeland has been secured since September 11 has sent record numbers of people running into the offices of the American Civil Liberties Union. However, it is difficult for English speakers to grasp the full import of the complaints as much of the off-peak news in America is broadcast in Chinese or Spanish. John's five-night stay in DC allowed him to talk long into the night with his host and good friend Colonel Phil Anderson about strategy for homeland security and to his family about their fears for his life when the Pentagon was struck. Phil Anderson has the steely resolve of a man used to decades of special ops in the Marines, but every day his wife goes to work running a charity and his children go to school knowing that his name is on lists of high-level Americans whom Al-Quaida would dearly love to murder. That makes their opinions personal. We just don't have that.

By contrast, in LA-LA Land, floating in the rooftop pool of the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in 94 degrees dispelled all thoughts of nuclear strikes until a young woman spotted one of John's press packs underneath the LA Times on his poolside table. Immediately she began to read it and they were soon in conversation. Her brother had just phoned her mother in Arkansas to say that his Marine Unit would be 'gone for a while - maybe a long while'. They both knew that meant he was on the 'invasion run' near Iraq. John comforted her by saying that such news was, ultimately, a good thing for the world. Obviously, moving US troops into or near Iraq put the possibility of a nuclear strike out of the question. She began to appreciate just how massive and indiscriminate modern nuclear weapons really are. These are not of the same scale as those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The nuclear weapons used by Trident don't just fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets. They fail to distinguish between countries and continents. As she turned her moist eyes eastwards down Sunset Boulevard John left her to send her love to her brother as he prepared to do his duty on the front line.

Promoting a book called 'Nuclear Peace' in San Francisco is preaching to 'the choir'. On the corner of Haight and Ashbury (centre of the 'Summer of Love' in 1967) a 20 year old Child of God reads the bible aloud every day, rain and shine, for two hours before going to work as a website designer. She draws quite a pre-office crowd. When she invited John to read from Nuclear Peace he was cheered by young and old. In Berkeley he was hailed as a brother in peace. After he had broadcast to a syndicated radio audience of 12 million people, John lectured to a cross-faculty audience of staff and students, eager to learn about how the World Court Judgment of 1996 and the Nuremberg Principles make threatening or using nuclear weapons illegal under humanitarian law. In Seattle, where there is a large Trident nuclear submarine fleet, John was run ragged to every TV and radio station they had. He felt truly blessed when the Buddhist Centre in which he was staying organized prayers (puja) in front of the base for his success and the cause of nuclear peace.

Salt Lake City's skyscrapers are snow-topped mountains. However, John found the people warm and eager to hear the story of Nuclear Peace and The Trident Three - the women at its center. They listened carefully and phoned-in with intelligent questions about obliterating the environment, the illegality of such inhumane weapons and his hopes that we continue to live in a state of nuclear peace. A few days off in the crisp clear mountain air gave John the chance to chat to interested strangers, to reflect on a successful campaign so far and to prepare for the emotional wreckage I knew awaited him in his spiritual home - New York.

The World Financial Center is next door to Ground Zero. In New York that means one city block away. Remarkably, it was unscathed on September 11. Two Sundays before Christmas the vast atrium of this cathedral to international finance was lavishly wrapped in silks, decked with boughs of holly and a million little lights twinkled almost in time to the choir singing familiar carols to multi-colored shoppers who sat on the wide marble terraced steps holding their kids. These were well-to-do New Yorkers, many of whom would have been in the financial district at the time of 'the strike'. Sitting alone and singing along to the familiar songs, John was soon invited to join a black family who had champagne, orange juice and chocolate. Rather incredulously, they claimed Scottish ancestry and wanted to know if he lived near any castles. John's opinion is that we know as much about Americans as they know about us, and here was the proof. They listened open-jawed to his description of the festivities in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year. The mother, Annie, a vice-president in a large bank, then dabbed her eye and said quietly 'I hope we get to live like that again some day'.

The next day, New York was doing what it does best; bustling with humanity. On the sidewalks Armenians, Australians and Angolans swerved each other as they talked into invisible cellphone mics, giving the impression that everyone in the city is certifiable. Up on the top of 120 Wall Street John finished a syndicated radio interview that reached 46 million people world-wide and tasted what New Yorkers feel every day - to be at 'the very heart of it' as old blue eyes said. He hit the street running to his next appointment, but stopped momentarily to watch the world's mortgages, car-loans and pensions pass by in neon ticker-tape. The blinking reds meant that the markets were down but all around him he could feel that New Yorkers' spirits remained where they most always are - firmly up.

A few days later, as a guest of the President of the American Green Party John spoke at the mass Anti-War rally in front of the United Nations building and then did a bunch of interviews. His message of Nuclear Peace was well received but he was surprised by the barrage of questions from reporters asking 'what did the people of Scotland think about war with Iraq? Were they persuaded one way or the other? Did Tony Blair release more evidence to the House of Commons than the Bush administration did to Congress? Was the Trident nuclear submarine fleet on high alert in Loch Goil? As John walked away, an NYPD lawyer (they need such things) warmly shook his hand saying he'd enjoyed his book and asked if it would be ok if he spoke to his wife on the phone, just so she would believe he'd met the author of Nuclear Peace. She was a nice lady in Brooklyn whose main concern was that America was again charging into a war with no end and with catastrophic consequences for the world should 'that nut case Bush go nuclear'.

John's son Sam was working uptown for Sony on Madison Ave on September 11 and he will never forget his nervous call to him that day. John was tracing his footsteps on his way to a TV show when he turned and looked downtown, trying to imagine the dust cloud passing his 47 th floor office. John shivered to think of his beloved New York going dark in the daytime. An hour later he helped a young Jordanian cab driver with a legal question in the NYC Taxi Exam prep paper. In return John asked for his views on war with Iraq. To his astonishment he gritted his teeth and hissed a curse in Arabic upon 'Ossama Bin Laden, Mohammed Bin Al-Sheib and their whole Goddam crew. I was way downtown at Chambers Street and West Broadway that day, man. It cood-a-bin me, man. We can't let that happen again, man. We gotta git them all, man. An' we're gonna.' Quite obviously his young driver did not think of himself as an outsider in America but rather a proud New Yorker who'd felt the full force of 'the strike'. His feelings seemed to be justified as they stopped to allow a line of multi-ethnic schoolchildren to cross Sixth Avenue, or to give it its full title, the Avenue of the Americas. John asked him if he knew the Judaic teaching that the whole world is sustained by the breath of schoolchildren learning aloud the word of God. He replied with a shrug 'Sure, man. We got the same thing.' As John paid and left him with that thought he shook his hand and hustled a signed copy of John's book with the argument that he should 'get the whole thing straight, right?'.

At New York Law School one evening, as the after-lecture drinks and canapés were being circulated by girls on skates, the arguments for and against 'regime change in Iraq' were a good deal more sophisticated. However, once again John found a thirst for the opinions of us Europeans. Everyone agreed that the facts spoke for themselves. In the last Gulf war, America had paid only 12% of the cost. This time it was paying for all of it. These New York lawyers were glad that the United Nations was playing an increasingly influential role and congratulated him (as a token representative) pointing out that not even the British were coughing up money this time. In typical New York fashion the argument was summarized by asking a rhetorical question: What does that say about the opinions of the European governments and the legality of this 'regime change'? What everyone agreed upon was that any nuclear strike would be so massive and indiscriminate that it would murder millions of innocent people in various countries and would thus be criminal under international humanitarian law. There was much shaking of heads at the madness of such an act and nodding to the proposition that a Nuremberg style court would have to be convened to try those who ordered such a strike for crimes against humanity. One silver-haired professor whispered into John's ear that that was what you get when your President doesn't know the names of many world leaders and has never passed a history exam in his life.

As John left his apartment in the West Village, heading for the PATH train to the airport, he felt a definite tug on his sleeve. New York was asking him to stay. The golden thread running throughout his 10 week American sojourn was the kindness of ordinary Americans to a traveling storyteller. From those who had simply pointed the way to those who had prayed for his personal success and the safety of the world, John was remembering them all and wanted to shake every one of their hands. Instead, he did it the New York way - he blew them a collective kiss and said out loud 'So long. I'll be seein' ya'.