The Chicago Tribune website has a page dedicated to a weekly running total of shooting victims, both fatal and non-fatal, in the city. That such a total is needed is enough to tell you that Chicago has a very serious problem with gun crime. In 2017, there were a total of 3,386 victims of shootings – on average, more than nine every day. And it’s one of the reasons why blues singer and guitarist Rene Trossman, born and bred in Chicago, Illinois, hasn’t been back there since 2003.
“Another shooter’s gone out shooting. Today it’s breaking news,” sings Rene resignedly, backed by a five-piece blues band with an authentic Chicago blues sound. “Another shooter’s gone out shooting. They’re sending camera crews. Now we got more guns than people, and that gives me the blues. Now shootin’s on the rise, that’s what all the papers say. Politicians making promises, but the guns don’t go away. Instead of changing laws, they send thoughts and prayers your way.”
The story of Another Shooter goes all the way back to the Nineties. Rene spent a lot of time travelling in Europe. “I was very interested to try living abroad, before I got too old to do it,” he says. And after making a permanent move to Europe in October 1994, he recruited a saxophone player from back home in Chicago to tour with him.
“He had just lost his son in a drive-by shooting,” recalls Rene. “Straight-A student, and basketball star, walking home, caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting not far from home. Fast-forward to 2018 and I am watching a similar story on the news. I started thinking about all of the rhetoric and promises over the years, but how nothing’s really changed, except that the weapons get more and more sophisticated, powerful and deadly. After one news report, it was ‘We send out our thoughts and prayers to the families’. Same stuff for two decades. Woke up the next day and I had a hook line for the song.”
Rene now lives in Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic. “The pace is a lot slower, which suits me. Beautiful place that I still marvel at daily… There is a great sense of tolerance here that I like and it is, for me at least, very conducive to creativity,” he explains. “I was simply going to check it out for a year, and if I didn’t like it, I could always return home to Chicago. That didn’t happen. Still here. I guess when you find the right place, you know it.”
“Now musicians call me wanting to play with this band somehow,” he says, modestly. “Musicians have a knack of finding each other, especially in niche music like blues and jazz. Most guys on the scene speak English, and now I’ve caught up and speak crappy Czech. Tough language!”
“One of the reasons I left Chicago was violent crime,” he continues. “Here, that’s not happening. It took me a few years to stop looking behind me at regular intervals when walking in Prague at night. Force of habit. I broke that habit here. There is also a common-sense attitude about many things here, resulting in common-sense laws. Marijuana laws are very relaxed, prostitution is monitored, controlled by the government, which, in both examples, eliminates the mafia’s business and participation, and keeps everyone involved in these narratives a lot safer.”
Rene never had a gun in the house when he was growing up and is uncomfortable with any sort of domestic gun ownership, but he is realistic about gun control in the USA. “What I am strongly in favor of is much better background checks, and restricting the sale of assault weapons,” he says. “It would be a start and an attainable compromise with those on the other side of the argument. Baby steps.”
Of course, banning assault weapons won’t put a stop to gun crime and Rene makes it clear in the lyrics that the second amendment makes very little sense in the 21st Century.
“That ‘Right to Bear Arms’ was a long time ago, but it’s a different world now,” he sings, laconically, “You say that it’s your right. Try to tell that to John Doe”.