Musician Eric Maier Reflects on His Vandalism Crime and the Album It Inspired | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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Musician Eric Maier Reflects on His Vandalism Crime and the Album It Inspired 

click to enlarge Eric Maier - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Eric Maier

Eric Maier vandalized "Everyone Loves a Parade!" on Halloween night 2018. Under cover of darkness and wearing a makeshift costume, the local musician literally defaced a section of the 124-by-16-foot mural on Leahy Way, between Church Street and a parking garage in downtown Burlington.

The controversial mural features Canadian artist Pierre Hardy's renditions of historical and present-day Vermonters parading through the streets of the Queen City. Using a heavy-duty, spray-on paint stripper, Maier, 33, melted away several of the faces depicted on the mural, spray-painting pink dollar signs in their places.

The crime made national as well as local headlines and marked a crescendo in the fraught history of this public artwork. Commissioned by the Church Street Marketplace in 2009, the mural was completed at a cost of $100,000 in 2012. It has in recent years become a lightning rod for criticism, both of its artistic merits and, more pointedly, of what critics — including Maier — say is a whitewashed depiction of Burlington and its history.

Maier's crime has proven nearly as controversial as the mural itself. The act and his subsequent punishment — he was diverted to a restorative justice panel through the Burlington Community Justice Center rather than face criminal charges — have raised questions of white privilege and the boundaries of activism.

Maier's personal beliefs, and his tactics, have also come under public scrutiny. In an effort to explain himself and direct the conversation back to the issues surrounding the mural, Maier recently released a solo album, Red + Blue, under the pseudonym One Human Person. The album represents Maier's attempt to get his message across in a less destructive fashion than vandalism — though he still feels strongly about what the mural represents.

"People call it the 'white supremacist mural,' and people get [upset]," Maier, who is white, explained, speaking publicly about his act of vandalism for the first time. "It doesn't just mean the KKK. It means 'supreme' — [that] white people are supreme. There's hundreds of people on there, and almost all of them are white."

"Everyone Loves a Parade!" identifies 93 people, from Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger to rocker Grace Potter, and includes the logos or likenesses of numerous local businesses that paid to be included. Unnamed extras populate the background. Save for a small handful of people of color — and the mystifying inclusion of a character based on Mexican American actor Edward James Olmos — almost all of the people on the mural are, indeed, white. That includes the man the painting is intended to honor: Samuel de Champlain.

The mural was commissioned as part of the 2009 Quadricentennial celebration of Lake Champlain — that is, the 400th anniversary of the French explorer and colonist's "discovery" of the lake. The fact that the mural barely acknowledges the Abenaki or other indigenous peoples who lived in the region for eons before Europeans arrived has been another point of contention. The only indigenous person pictured is a Huron who accompanied de Champlain.

"I wish I had dressed as Columbus or something more poetic," Maier said of the outfit he wore to deface the mural on Halloween — it was a black hoodie and a dark bandana covering his face. "I could have made that a political statement, too."

It's likely that the political statements Maier did make were enough to get his point across. They certainly attracted attention, if not the kind he'd intended.

click to enlarge Madaila performing their final show at Higher Ground - COURTESY OF PATRICK MCCORMICK
  • Courtesy Of Patrick Mccormick
  • Madaila performing their final show at Higher Ground

On November 7, 2018, days after Maier's then-band Madaila played its farewell show at the Higher Ground Ballroom in South Burlington, the Burlington Police Department arrested Maier's best friend, Margaux Higgins, on suspicion of being an accessory to the crime. Maier was 2,400 miles away at the time, attending a monthlong music residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Banff, Alberta. But on December 5, following an extensive BPD investigation, Maier was arrested at Burlington recording studio Future Fields, which he opened with then-Madaila bassist Jer Coons in 2013. (Coons left the studio this summer for reasons unrelated to the vandalism.)

Despite facing a felony charge, Maier avoided jail. In fact, he never saw the inside of a courtroom. Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George diverted his case to the Burlington Community Justice Center. Once he has fully honored the contract outlined by his restorative justice panel, Maier's record will be expunged.

"Like it never happened," said Det. Thomas Chenette, who was the lead detective in Maier's case and also sat on the CJC panel.

While Maier's record is clear, it's less certain whether his conscience is. Among myriad other unintended consequences, his crime severely strained relationships with his family and friends, particularly Higgins, who was also referred to CJC. Maier said she refuses to speak to him. Higgins also declined to be interviewed by Seven Days about Maier or the mural incident.

"Basically, I don't think what I did accomplished all that much," Maier said. "The intention was to reclaim some power for points of view that aren't heard and to move people on ideology away from white supremacy and towards decolonizing our lives.

"That's where the conversation needs to be," he added. "Not all up in my life, not if I'm a good person or a bad person — because I don't even know that. I regret my actions because of the consequences in my own life, which is all I know. But I don't think that's the conversation."

Instead, Maier hopes to move dialogue around race and social justice forward with his mixed-media project, Red + Blue, which combines instrumental music, writing and visual art. Produced at the Banff Centre and Future Fields, the music component was released digitally last Friday. A vinyl record, including a booklet of Maier's writings and artwork created in collaboration with Burlington designer Michael Jager, is expected to follow early next year.

Maier explained that the project was inspired by events before, during and after the mural incidents. It's an examination of the personal and professional fallout he visited upon himself and a reaffirmation of the political beliefs that motivated his actions. It's also a meditation on the dissolution of his friendship with Higgins, as well as what he described as a brief but intense romantic relationship with South Burlington racial justice activist Isaiah Hines in the summer of 2018.

"The music I made is a direct reflection of all of that colliding," Maier said. "That's just how my brain works: There's not a zone for ideology, philosophy and a zone for personal — it's all together."

About Last Night

click to enlarge The October 19, 2018, vandalism of "Everyone Loves a Parade!" - COURTESY OF ERIC MAIER
  • Courtesy Of Eric Maier
  • The October 19, 2018, vandalism of "Everyone Loves a Parade!"

When Maier was arrested, he was charged with two counts of unlawful mischief — a felony and a misdemeanor. The latter charge related to the first time Maier had damaged the mural.

On October 19, 2018, he spray-painted "COLONIZERS" across the left-hand section of "Everyone Loves a Parade!" What Maier hadn't counted on was the mural's protective coating, a treatment that allows for the relatively easy removal of garden-variety graffiti. Church Street Marketplace workers scrubbed Maier's handiwork the next day.

"I was like, I went through all this emotional pain and fear, and no one even saw it," Maier recalled. He took the graffiti's erasure as a challenge.

Twelve days later, he sprayed a paint-stripper onto some of the faces. When he returned 20 minutes later, they had melted into puddles on the ground.

"I was proud of myself, honestly," he said. "At the time."

Two days later, on November 2, Madaila played their farewell show at the Higher Ground Ballroom. At that point, the band had become one of Vermont's most popular and begun to develop a national profile while touring around the country. The decision to take an indefinite hiatus was born of front person Mark Daly's desire to focus on his family — he had become a first-time father.

It was an understandable decision for Daly, albeit a difficult one, especially as the band was ascending. But it put a strain on his relationship with his bandmates, especially Maier.

"Eric and I were a bit estranged at that point," said Daly, who grew up with Maier in Middlebury. The two had previously played together in another high-profile Vermont band called Chamberlin.

Over their roughly four-year run, Madaila's bread and butter was spectacle. Their performances in Burlington — often held at non-club venues such as Burlington City Hall, the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain or an entire block of Main Street — were more than just shows; they were events. The band's final blowout at Higher Ground was no exception.

That night, the large nightclub was packed to capacity with hundreds of Madaila fans, mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings, many clad in neon-colored clothing and spandex. Madaila's stage attire was as loud and flashy as their music, and their fans often followed suit. That made it rather easy to spot outsiders — like, say, cops.

Before the show, word made it backstage that plainclothes police officers were in the crowd. A photographer friend who was shooting the band relayed the news, Maier recalled.

Chenette is prevented from discussing details of the investigation due to confidentiality restrictions surrounding CJC panels. But Maier said the detective and other officers were at the show. Their presence drove home the seriousness of the situation for Maier and his bandmates.

Coons and Daly said they knew Maier was responsible for the mural vandalism, though he hadn't explicitly told them so.

"I was like, Jesus, it's already emotional enough," Coons recalled. "My band's breaking up. My mom's here. This is the last thing I want to think about."

It was also the first indication to Maier that the BPD was on to him.

CSI: Burlington

click to enlarge Surveillance footage of Eric Maier on Halloween night in 2018 - COURTESY OF BURLINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Courtesy Of Burlington Police Department
  • Surveillance footage of Eric Maier on Halloween night in 2018

Maier was raised in an upper-middle-class family in Middlebury and attended Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. He's well read and articulate, especially when he issues leftist screeds on social media about race and politics. He does this often and with little regard for whom he might piss off. By all accounts, he's a smart guy. But he's a lousy criminal.

After spray-painting the mural the first time in 2018, Maier posted several pictures of his handiwork on Facebook. He didn't take credit for the act but wrote in one post, "It's time to take down Burlington's racist genocide mural," and tagged the Church Street Marketplace.

Following the Halloween incident, Maier again took to Facebook. In a November 1 post, he included a picture of the mural that he claimed had been taken by a friend "last night" showing the defacement and dollars signs.

"Seeing as the faces are now gone forever, one wonders what the city's long-term solution will be," Maier wrote.

In fact, the faces weren't gone forever. Just this week, restored panels of the mural were installed, along with a replacement key and a new plaque explaining that the mural was not meant to be historically comprehensive. The restoration cost approximately $22,000 and was covered by insurance, minus a $1,000 deductible, according to Burlington City Arts executive director Doreen Kraft. The key and plaque totaled $2,595, paid for by the Church Street Marketplace.

In a press release announcing Maier and Higgins' arrests, Chenette wrote that a "citizen tip" led to the identification of Maier as a suspect. Though the detective wouldn't confirm it, Maier believes that the tip probably stemmed from his Facebook posts. The police obtained search warrants for social media, phone records and a residence on South Willard Street in Burlington.

Maier added that the police also obtained records of recent purchases of spray-on paint strippers from local hardware and home-improvement stores. They then cross-referenced those receipts with surveillance footage from each store. That's how they discovered that Maier purchased the spray paint and paint stripper at Lowe's in South Burlington. He had used a gift card, thinking it wouldn't be traceable. Though he wouldn't specifically confirm details, Chenette basically agreed with Maier's version of the events that led to his arrest.

Higgins was with Maier at Lowe's that day, but he maintained that she had nothing to do with the crime.

"She was never involved," he insisted. "She was in my life as I made the plan, she happened to be with me at Lowe's, but she was not involved at all in the actual act, because I didn't want her to be," Maier explained. "I didn't want to put her in danger. It turns out I did anyway."

He believes the police leaned on Higgins and exploited her to get to him while he was in Canada. "They fucked her shit up," Maier said. "They turned over her room. They took her phone away. They held her for questioning for hours."

He said he was in regular contact from Banff with Higgins trying to ease her fears. Meanwhile, his own panic was setting in."On the campus of this performing arts center, if I saw someone that looked like a cop, I would get all jumpy because they were after me," he recalled.

At the time, he was fairly certain his charges would have pled down from a felony to a misdemeanor. But, Maier noted, "The wrong misdemeanor on your record can prevent you from going into Canada. A lot of musicians with DUIs can't go."

He was specifically concerned because he had European dates lined up that winter, backing Burlington singer-songwriter Henry Jamison. "I was really scared I wouldn't be able to travel for music anymore," he admitted.

"I knew what I was doing was against the rules and I could get in trouble," Maier continued. "But the amount of time and money that was spent on the investigation was mind-boggling. There's so much scary stuff that we need to worry about: climate change, school shootings, actual Nazi propaganda — like, Nazi graffiti. They spent a full month with multiple detectives on this case."

"It's been acknowledged that the mural doesn't accurately reflect the region's racial and cultural history, and the community is engaged in a process to address that," wrote Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo in an email, responding to Seven Days' query about the resources devoted to the vandalism case.

"We investigated the incident the same way we would investigate any incident of comparable damage and community impact," del Pozo continued. "People shouldn't make personal, unilateral, destructive decisions about how to address a shortcoming in a piece of public art."

But the broad scope and expense of the BPD investigation isn't what bothers Maier most. It was how the police treated Higgins and how they treated him "like some kind of terrorist," he said — "when for me, it was graffiti."

On the Wall

click to enlarge Eric Maier and his dog, Sky - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Eric Maier and his dog, Sky

When considering the saga of "Everyone Loves a Parade!" it's important to understand how the public art came to be. In 2009, when the Church Street Marketplace Commission was vetting proposals for the mural, Pierre Hardy's pitch for an urban street parade was selected by a juried panel from among 15 proposals, and then reviewed by the public.

In order to fund the project, the commission sold mural space to Burlington businesses and determined which characters would be in the mural. Many of those characters are business owners or notable employees. In that sense, the Canadian artist was simply doing the job he was hired to do by portraying them.

Given Burlington's predominantly white demographics at the time — 88.9 percent white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, compared to 84.9 percent now — it's not exactly surprising that the vast majority of characters featured would follow suit. But for many critics, that doesn't make the mural's lack of diversity any less problematic.

Albert Petrarca is the original "Everyone Loves a Parade!" vandal. In 2017, the retired Burlington intensive-care nurse spray-painted the phrase "OFF THE WALL" on the mural's legend — an incident he refers to as "an act of civil disobedience." He subsequently issued two demands: that Mayor Weinberger publicly denounce the mural and that records regarding the origins of the project be made public. He then turned himself in to police, who charged him with unlawful mischief. He was later sentenced to community service.

Through his Off the Wall coalition, Petrarca has remained one of the most vocal and ardent critics of the mural, which he equates to Confederate statues in the South. He's been a fixture at city council meetings about the mural, as well as meetings of the public task force created last year to address community concerns about it.

"It's an urban billboard masquerading as art and history," said Petrarca, explaining his objections to the public art project. "Secondly, the mural begins with the arrival of [de] Champlain and completely ignores at least 13,000 years of Abenaki culture."

Petrarca also bemoans the mural's lack of diversity, and not only with regard to race.

"There's no one from the LGBTQ community, no one who's differently abled, no one from union labor," he continued. "I could go on and on."

Last year, the task force made eight recommendations, including setting a deadline of August 29, 2022, to move the mural, which was painted on panels that were designed to be moved. The city council approved the relocation and deadline by a vote of 8-3 on October 15, 2018 — just four days before Maier vandalized it the first time.

"I was angry about it," said Weinberger of the vandalism, adding that Maier's timing was particularly irksome. "It was really unfortunate that ... after there had been a democratic process that had made significant decisions about how to address those concerns, that a couple people took it into their own hands to trump that."

The three dissenting votes were cast by councilors Brian Pine (P-Ward 3), Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) and Ali Dieng (D/P-Ward 7) — not because they were against moving the artwork but because they were against waiting to do so.

According to a VTDigger.org report on that meeting, Dieng argued to the council that delaying the move would be "ignoring the cries of the marginalized people that live in this community." He added, "When things are hurting people, we need to store it somewhere until we can figure out what we can do." Dieng did not respond to multiple Seven Days requests for comment.

Hardy, who retired from painting murals in 2014, wrote in an email that he was saddened "when I was first informed ... about the two consecutive acts of vandalism to the mural." He added that "Everyone Loves a Parade!" is the only mural he painted in his 30-year career that has been vandalized.

In July 2018, Hardy submitted a letter to the mural task force. In it, he disputed media reports that he's been difficult to reach. He added that he's followed the mural controversy like most everyone else: through news reports.

Hardy also claimed that the mural had originally been rendered "unpaintable," due to four coats of "a UV inhibitor and graffiti-proof varnish." He implied that Petrarca's vandalism would not have been possible had the city kept up with the suggested five-year maintenance schedule and reapplication of the varnish.

The artist then spun the mural controversy, suggesting that "those who feel oppressed, alienated and silenced" in fact owed him a debt of gratitude.

"ELAP finally gave those members of your community a voice, a platform for expressing their concerns," he wrote of the "Everyone Loves a Parade!" mural. "I feel that they should at least acknowledge that, if it weren't for ELAP, they would not have that voice, and that, in the end, things are improving because of ELAP."

He didn't stop there.

Citing the state's recognition of the Abenaki in 2012, he wrote, "Recent events are showing a real effort from Vermont decision makers to promote Vermont First Nation ... All of this is thanks to ELAP which again here was used as a platform for the recognition of Vermont First Nation."

He then asked for a "nice acknowledgment and a simple thank you" from Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe Chief Don Stevens.

In May 2018, the Abenaki Alliance and the City of Burlington announced a partnership to explore new projects to promote Abenaki culture in the Queen City. A press release from the mayor's office stated, "This announcement is the result of conversations between the City and Chief Stevens that arose during the discussion of the Church Street 'Everyone Loves a Parade' mural."

Stevens didn't respond to a Seven Days request for comment, but he has spoken on the mural previously.

"I want to make it clear: We are a sovereign nation. We are not victims," he told Albany's Northeast Public Radio in 2018. "We would like to promote education and cultural opportunities." Stevens felt that Burlington was in "a unique position" to help, including through its decisions regarding the mural. "It's problematic just from the fact that [the mural] doesn't represent Abenaki people," he added.

Stevens also condemned Maier's vandalism, saying in an email sent to the media, the mayor, city councilors and others that while the tribe is willing to work with the city on promoting its culture, Maier's act was "far from that level of action needed."

In his July 2018 letter to the city council, Hardy defended his mural against claims of racism, citing four "instances of African Americans in ELAP." These included Middlebury College graduate Alexander Twilight, the first African American to earn a bachelor's degree; an unnamed ribbon dancer; Burlington comedian Mike Thomas; and ... Abraham Lincoln.

"Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery," Hardy wrote, apparently trying to justify including Lincoln in the count.

Thomas, the comedian, agreed that the mural "may not be a current depiction of the multicultural-ness Burlington is now exhibiting." But he added, "At the time it was painted, there weren't a lot of African Americans in the town, either ... For 2010 Burlington, that's a snapshot of what it was like."

Thomas is one of several Courtyard Marriott employees featured on the mural. That's the Burlington hotel where Hardy stayed for two years while he painted. "He was a nice, funny guy," said Thomas of the painter.

"The mural did what it was supposed to do at the time," Thomas continued. "But if people want to change it now, that makes sense, because Burlington is a changing place."

Restoration Project

click to enlarge The restored mural - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • The restored mural

As part of his contract with the Community Justice Center, Maier wrote a letter to Hardy explaining his actions. He said he hoped to make a connection with the artist on a "human level" and bears Hardy no ill will. "I have no beef with him. I don't think he's more or less racist than anyone else," he said, adding, "He got a bunch of money, and I don't feel that bad for him."

Via an email to Seven Days, Hardy addressed Maier directly: "Obviously you have had quite the conversation with 'ELAP' the mural. It is my hope to see 'ELAP' converse with as many people as its life will allow," he wrote. "I am comforted in knowing that you Eric Maier will continue to converse with 'ELAP' in new constructive ways."

Maier does express a desire to find more constructive ways of inspiring conversations around race, inequality and politics — his album, Red + Blue, is one such example. He credits his experiences with the restorative justice panel for softening his previously rigid perspective.

"A requirement to participate is that [the offender] has to take responsibility for at least some aspect of the crime," explained Rachel Jolly, assistant director of the CJC and a member of Maier's panel. "If they're denying they had any part or not taking accountability, the panel is not the right process for them. They would more likely go through the criminal legal system."

Panels are typically composed of three to five volunteers from the community. In Maier's case, these included Jolly, Chenette, Kraft, two trained volunteers and CJC victim liaison Barbara Shaw-Dorso. Maier met with the panel multiple times beginning in January of this year.

"The volunteers are a symbol that whenever a crime happens in our community, the community is impacted," Jolly explained.

In addition to the volunteers, the panel can call on specific people who may have been affected. For Maier, that meant meeting with the Church Street Marketplace workers who cleaned up the mural. Maier was also required to spend two days working alongside them. "I kind of want to work there now," he said, referring to the Church Street Marketplace.

"When crime happens, it's a violation of relationships," said Jolly. "So the questions asked by the panel are: Who has been harmed, what are the needs of those who have been harmed, and what are the obligations of those responsible?

"The point of the panel is to come up with a contract for how to repair the harm using restorative principles," she added.

CJC panels are typically confidential, which prevents panelists from discussing individual cases. But given the public interest around Maier's crime, part of his contract involved speaking publicly about it, which meant allowing panel members to address certain aspects.

Not included in that waiver — because she didn't participate in the entire panel — was a Burlington woman who was very much in favor of the mural.

"Her involvement made an impression on Eric, for sure. I don't think that Eric had previously had an occasion to speak with anyone who was for the mural," said Jolly. "Even just that interpersonal interaction of someone who holds different views than you can be highly impactful. And in this case, I think it was."

Maier agreed. "Now I know that, for whatever their personal or psychological or political reasons, people are really, really, really attached to this mural," he said. "And I didn't think that was true. But the pain that they're feeling is real. And even if I think that's ridiculous, it's true. And if I'm trying to change minds, I have to meet people where they're at."

Jolly stops short of calling Maier's case a complete success story. "I wish it could be described as that cut and [dried]," she said. "I think what a lot of people might hope for is outright remorse. But this case was very nuanced, and values ran deep.

"I think we made progress," Jolly continued. "One thing we can hope for in restorative justice is that a deeper awareness of impact and harm is brought about. And in this case, that definitely happened."

Jolly said that she and the panel noted an evolution in Maier. "He has core beliefs that motivated his vandalism, and I think that was all he was able to see at the time of the crime," she said. "And I think the panel saw a change, a bigger lens, a greater understanding of the impact of his choices."

Weinberger said he agreed with the decision to divert Maier's case to the CJC and that he was pleased by the outcome. "It seems that this was a good application of restorative justice," the mayor observed.

But the scope of Maier's restoration goes beyond making things right with the community. Through his new solo album, he's trying to make amends with himself and the people his actions hurt the most.

In Living Color

click to enlarge Artwork from Red + Blue
  • Artwork from Red + Blue

The title of Maier's album, Red + Blue, can be interpreted several ways. It could reference the lights on emergency vehicles, which are red and blue in some locales. Or, as Maier suggested, it could be a comment on a vision of America: "Red, white and blue, but there's no white," he said. Actually, the title is a reflection of his moods around the mural vandalism, Maier said, and the fallout while he was creating the record in Banff: red for anger, intensity and fear; blue for sadness and reflection.

"I felt he was really searching as a creative person to try and do something he'd never done before," said Jager, the Burlington graphic designer who worked with Maier on the album's extensive art. "He was very honestly writing and recording and sharing what was in his heart."

Maier believes that the album's release — at least the music portion, for now — is symbolic of closing a chapter he's been eager to finish.

Filled with samples, loops and live instruments, the nine-track album is an impressionistic exercise in sonic collage, touching on elements of jazz, rock, pop, funk and hip-hop. Like the whorl of emotions and thoughts that inspired it, Red + Blue is a complex work whose themes and ideas are often in competition, if not outright revolt, against each other. It is also a meditation on, and perhaps an elegy for, lost friends.

"Isaiah," a tribute to Hines, opens the album with a partly cloudy piano line that moves along at an unhurried pace, propelled by gentle flickers of percussion. It's serene and contemplative. About a minute in, the song explodes with a triumphant, almost goofily sunny synth melody and a backbeat before reverting again to languid piano. That back-and-forth between piano and synth continues until the two consume each other in a wash of heady, improvisational noise.

Immediately following, "Margaux" is a dizzying, synth-heavy piece fusing funk with a primary melodic theme reminiscent of a 1980s TV theme song.

The remainder of the record is largely rooted in jazz and hip-hop, from the unrelentingly aggressive strains of "Colonizers" and "Cops" to the breezy, almost Randy Newman-esque piano-centric pieces "Remembrance" and "Joy" to the record's literal centerpiece, the psychedelic ballad "America." The last is the only track with words, a poem written and read by Burlington musician Shakir Stephen.

"Part of it is saying, 'What makes us come to these conclusions about how much you should notice or care about something?'" explained Stephen, who is currently pursuing a master's degree in religion at New York University. "Understanding when something is racist or not is more of an issue for some people than others."

Nearly all of the songs are built on precisely constructed and manipulated layers of sound, which contrast with single-take improvisational sections. Maier said that all of these qualities reflect parts of him: "The dominant two parts of my personality are neurotic, meticulous and obsessive — and then absolutely reckless."

Coons, Maier's former Future Fields partner and the bassist in Madaila, would likely agree. He's proud of his friend for finishing the album and expressing deeply complex emotions and ideas in a tangible way, Coons said, but he's not willing to let Maier off the hook for the events that inspired the album and the harm they caused — especially to Higgins, who is of Irish and Filipino descent.

"Eric is a great person, and I love him," Coons said. "But I think the main thing that Eric has failed to address is that there is a deep disconnect between him actually having that 'Come to Jesus' moment and acknowledging that it's entirely his fault.

"He inadvertently threw under the bus a young woman of color that came from nothing and has had a very traumatic life, that he was basically like a father to, and got her fucking arrested," he said. "The outcome of this entire thing is 'Lesson not learned,' which is why Margaux doesn't talk to him."

For this, at least, Maier was contrite: "I caused this one person immense suffering, my best friend. It's not a victimless crime."

Coons and others have also raised the irony of a privileged white man committing a felony to protest white privilege and capitalism, and then basically getting a slap on the wrist, legally speaking. That perspective is not lost on Maier.

"Obviously, as a white person, I was able to navigate this completely differently," Maier said. "And that was part of my choice: I wouldn't have done this if I were black, because I would have been shot in the act, or I wouldn't have gotten the benefits of being white along the way."

click to enlarge Artwork from Red + Blue
  • Artwork from Red + Blue

When it comes to the politics that motivated his vandalism, Maier is unmoved. But does he regret his crime? "Without a doubt," he said. "Because I lost my best friend, because I created this strife for everyone in my life."

Maier also regrets that the spectacle surrounding his crime has obscured the message he was trying to get across. "It bothers me when people want to obsess over weighing the ethical value of what I did, or of me," he said, citing President Donald Trump, the rise of white nationalism and the climate crisis as more pressing sociopolitical matters.

But did Maier invite that scorn and criticism by acting out so publicly? Does he deserve it, given the aftermath of his actions? "What is the point of what you're doing, if the result makes things worse?" Maier wondered rhetorically.

"Things were weird in my life," he went on, attempting to explain his recklessness. "It was about to be the last Madaila show — was I just mad? Was I letting my anger at ... what's wrong in our culture guide me?"

It's unlikely that Maier will find himself on the wrong side of the law again anytime soon. But he's resolute that the issues surrounding "Everyone Loves a Parade!" remain important to discuss — albeit more civilly.

Burlington City Arts director Kraft said she's had dozens of conversations about the mural, "questioning whether it should stay or go, is it racist or not, is it art or a billboard. This is a real issue the arts field as a whole has to grapple with both locally and nationwide." In the end, she said, "I think dialogue, not vandalism, is always the best way to effect positive change."

Correction, October 23, 2019: This story has been corrected to reflect that Eric Maier has not yet completed the contract outlined by his restorative justice panel.

The original print version of this article was headlined "American Vandal | Burlington musician Eric Maier reflects on his public crime — and the new album it inspired"

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About The Author

Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles

Bio:
Dan Bolles is Seven Days' assistant arts editor and also edits What's Good, the annual city guide to Burlington. He has received numerous state, regional and national awards for his coverage of the arts, music, sports and culture. He loves dogs, dark beer and the Boston Red Sox... more

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