Jon Lewis is an astute singer-songwriter who wistfully bears witness to the quirks and foibles of this mortal coil. As a solo musician and bandleader, Lewis has been a fixture on the local music scene, playing marathon sets of music in coffee houses, gin joints, and night clubs. These protracted evenings of three or more hours on stage had Lewis looking for ways to broaden his sound and repertoire. He got a loop pedal and plugged in, totally unaware that he was opening himself up to a whole new world.
"Whenever you use a loop pedal, unless you're skilled at it, the songs come out a little quirky, poppy and kiddy," Lewis says. "I was writing songs about chocolate milk; it was just this goofy thing. Parents that saw me wanted to know if I did kids' parties. And I thought this could be interesting. It wasn't something I had thought about doing as a career but as a way to make money."
Lewis took a crack at it and Mr. Loops was born.
The potential audience made Lewis a little nervous; kids can be tough. No one wants to get booed by a pack of 5-year-olds.
"I didn't have any experience with kids at all," he says. "I didn't think I'd be very good with kids. So I took a year volunteering at nursery schools learning 'The Wheels on the Bus,' 'If You're Happy and You Know It,' and mixed them in with my peace and love folk songs. I discovered I was really naturally able to hang out with kids, play fun songs, and get everyone to sing along and dance. All I needed was an E major and an A major chord, and the kids were just frolicking and going crazy. They're the best audience I've ever had."
As Mr. Loops, Lewis stays busy with birthday parties and family nights at various parks department functions. He released an album, "Meet Mr. Loops," last December, which came complete with its own coloring book. The CD rides the fence between goofy fun and encouragement, all with an overall positive message that Lewis says he felt responsible to convey.
Lewis's responsibility tugged at him with several contemporary hot topics in the media, especially ones dealing with transgender rights. He decided to write a song and post a video, and almost immediately, "Me is Me, You is You" blew up in his face, unleashing a veritable storm of criticism, hate mail, and even death threats. That's right, they wanted Mr. Loops dead. The blogosphere went nuts.
Lewis had done his homework, felt around, asked some friends and decided the climate felt right. So he went for it. Although he says he had no agenda or aspirations to activism, Lewis found himself exploited by parties on both the left and the right.
"I've been used as a chess piece by both sides," he says. "A friend of mine wrote a review on an LGBTQ blog that boasts one million followers. The headline on the blog said 'Children's musician targets bigots.'" That's just what the other side needed to hear. Within a matter of no time, several Christian websites and the alt-right Breitbart began to weigh in, which was followed by fanatics with their vitriol and threats.
"It started right after the Breitbart article," Lewis says. "They aren't news sites. They weren't relaying news; they were deliberately propagating a target, making me into a target. They were creating clickbait out of me."
Lewis immediately took the video down, but I was too late. It had already been reposted.
"I was inundated on every social media front. Twitter, YouTube, then private Facebook messages and e-mails. It escalated quickly. It was really scary; I freaked out." Mr. Loops had gone viral. Lewis did the math: more than 15 million people had been exposed to "Me is Me, You is you."
Lewis was horrified. The point had been missed.
"I'm not a transgender activist at all," he says emphatically. "I don't want Mr. Loops to be an activist. The idea was to step back from that topic. It seemed that no one was talking civilized. I wanted to use something that was a hot topic and visible. I definitely don't feel I was wrong doing it. I just underestimated it, and now I've been able to admit to myself that maybe I was too vague and left myself open to interpretation."
Also with the topic being discussed in bullet points — words like "children," "bigots," "transgender," "bathroom," etc. — served to inflame and force a reaction. And in all honesty, perhaps the subject matter was a bit over the heads of Mr. Loops' audience.
"I was sort of blind to the power of the misinterpretation that could take place," Lewis says, conceding that some of the opposition was valid or at least presented in a civilized matter.
"There are a lot of critics. And some of them are valid in the way they're saying it is wrong to use children for an agenda. And even though that wasn't what I was trying to do at all, it wasn't what my motivation was. I was so vague with the song; the way the song is, it can easily be interpreted that way. There's no bias. It's just treat each other right."
Mr. Loops fans love him, and their parents wholeheartedly support him and his message.
"I don't want to get in the way of their parenting," he says. "I just want to instill a feeling of family, peace, and love."