Monthly Archives: September 2008


The Black Godfather
asks, can you deal with it?




“I can’t help you get the pussy,” Andre Williams is known to
say. “You have to get the pussy yourself.” That’s the kind of tough love and
wisdom that Mr. Rhythm (or, if you prefer, The Black Godfather) is known for,
along with a canon of bawdy, no-bullshit songs that span crackling R&B,
squawky noise punk, sandpaper soul and tuh-wangy Americana. So Can You Deal With It? (Bloodshot) is an
apt title for his 12th album, a balls-out New Orleans rock ‘n’ soul
fiesta. Backed by the Morning 40 Federation (joined by NOLA keyboard genius
Quintron), Williams delivers blunt insight and raunch over deep, dirty grooves.
BLURT asked Mr. Rhythm to lay a little of that down for our readers, and he was
happy to oblige.





Don’t spend your last twenty, because you don’t know where
your next money gonna come from. So always keep your twenty, so you got enough
to get somewhere to get some more, in case you have to go and get it, so you
won’t go hungry that day; you have enough to eat until you can find some more
money. And you’ll always have some
money in your pocket. If you don’t spend your last twenty. Make sense?




…because you can’t make the same promises twice. You can’t
keep your word the same way with each woman. And more than one woman is more
than one money. You can’t have women unless you spendin’ some money. But if you
just got one woman, you can keep your
last twenty.




…Alcohol will work
if you got nothin’ to say. If you ain’t got nothin’ to say, then it’s okay to
be drunk. ‘Cause it don’t mean nothin’, no way. And drugs is good if you got nothin’ to do, because once you usin’ drugs,
you ain’t gonna get nothin’ done. That’s the bottom line to both of those




Keep a happy attitude and a happy outlook, and that’s the
song in your heart. Keep a story on your mind-that is, remember your last
episode. Whether it was bad or good, try to keep that on your mind. You can
judge your future by your past.




Dependin’ on other people to do what you supposed to do is
expensive. You do it yourself, it’s not quite as expensive. And then if you
depend on them to do it, you might not get it done. So if you can do it
yourself, then you know it’s done, then you know it’s done right.



Howe Gelb sees…





Despite his chiseled looks and gravelly badass cowboy voice,
Giant Sand mastermind Howe Gelb is a chatty and thoughtful conversationalist. Speaking
from Denmark,
where he spends part of each year with his family, Gelb brims with useful
information about the exotic nature of the Southwest, about his long and
prolific career, and about how not to
get hired by Bob Dylan as a sideman. His newest effort, proVISIONS (Yep Roc) marks Gelb’s umpteenth release as Giant Sand.
It’s a healthy, if not heroic, output-yet he’s also squeezed in numerous side
projects (the country outfits The Band of Blacky Ranchette and Arizona Amp and
Alternator; OP8 (with Lisa Germano), the gospel group ‘Sno Angel). Also, he
scores and plays “Dr. Fortunato” in the upcoming animated feature, Mars.


Whatever he does, fans everywhere gobble it up. And, despite
his hardships-losing close friend and GS co-founder Rainer Ptacek to cancer in
1997, and the band’s rhythm section to autonomy (John Convertino and Joey Burns
went fulltime as Calexico in 2004)-Gelb constantly eyes the next project.
Doggedly, he dives deep into the present, assuming that every album, song or
show might be his last.






BLURT: What led you
to release proVISIONS with Yep Roc?


I got the government notice in the mail that it is
imperative that you sign with Yep Roc as a singer-songwriter over fifty [laughs]. In the beginning, every record
was on a different label for me, so I’ve seen how they work. I like that Yep
Roc is in North Carolina and not in New York or LA. It’s also because I
realized a lot of my friends, and a lot of good singer-songwriters, are on Yep



BLURT: There’s always been a prevailing sound to Giant
Sand records…


It’s sort of a flavor.
It’s harmony mixed with calamity. It has to be a mix of music and hang time. So
when the band feels family-like, and there’s some kind of sound in there that’s
what I’ve always considered rock ‘n’ roll, that’s Giant Sand. Everything else
is spin-offs or side projects. But then that is the problem attached to
carrying a name around too long: eventually there’s no mystery left.



BLURT: Then why not
retire Giant Sand?


I see it as something that has its own season. It seems to
go around the sun every couple of years. And it’s always there, looming like a
satellite. Some signals you pick up for a while.



BLURT: Why is Giant Sand’s very strong Americana
flavor such a hit in Europe?


Our first records were released in Europe
and I wasn’t sure why. Then I realized that the exotic tendency of Southwestern
culture appeals to them. But I never made it easy for them to digest, because
my records don’t exploit “desert rock” or pretend to be important because of
that, and what makes it harder [to absorb] is my wordplay. It’s hard to figure
out what it is that gets under their skin, but [European fans] learn the words
and sing them perfectly.



BLURT: Do you have a
visual aesthetic in mind when you’re writing?


At times it’s exactly like that. I think that’s because your
ears develop in the womb before any other sensory receptors, and you start
hearing at the very beginning of your existence… Sounds are set so far ahead of
your other senses, so sounds will always more accurately reflect your feelings.
That’s why [films] are always more moving when they have soundtracks.



BLURT: Did you have a visual in mind
when you were writing proVISIONS?


Yeah… Sometimes you spin right into
some notion that wasn’t your own, but now you’re in it, and for a while you can
see and feel everything; you’re in that time and place. And if you’re lucky
enough, the Polaroid you’ll get of that will be a song.



BLURT: Speaking of
characters: You’re in an upcoming film?


It was filmed in Austin
last year, and it’s all about Mars. It’s animated and it’s hypnotic and
involving. All the actors worked in front of a green screen. I got to play the
bad guy, which was really fun, because all I had to do was be the cranky old
bastard at NASA control. They’ve recently asked me to do the soundtrack, which
is really exciting because when you’re making these records they always feel
like there’re soundtracks, but there’s no movie!



BLURT: Will you
continue making Giant Sand records?


Every record always seems like the very last record. It is,
literally, always the last record. You can assume you’re going to do another
one if a bus doesn’t run you over today, but it really is all you know. It’s
one of the good things about getting older, that you realize that. When you’re
on a tour you think, “This is my last show,” or “This is the last time I’ll
ever play this song…” because you really enjoy it when it’s the last time.



BLURT: Are there any musical
opportunities that you haven’t been offered?


To play piano in Bob Dylan’s band. I
came face to face with him in my favorite Mexican restaurant in Tucson one
time. There was my moment to ask him, and instead I said nothing. It kinda has
to happen without me instigating it-that’s the trick.



Onstage in Oakland the Beach Boys
auteur turns in a classic performance.




almost Buddha-like at center-stage behind his seldom-touched keyboard, Brian
Wilson looked more confident and comfortable than he ever has onstage as he
presided over a magical two-hour testament to his own greatness at Oakland’s Paramount
Theatre last week (September 5). As “Dandy” Don Meredith, onetime
color-man for Monday Night Football,
used to say, “If you can do it, it ain’t braggin!'” With all that
singing talent behind him, Wilson
seems to have accepted his new vocal role as the permanent replacement for the
hybrid low-tenor/baritone of Mike Love, rather than struggling to be the
resident high-tenor/falsetto, as he has in the past. He’s certainly having more
fun onstage. “Oops, I fucked up!” he muttered after a minor keyboard


versions of “lesser-known” classics “All Summer Long,”
“Do It Again” and “Add Some Music To Your Day” made you
feel you were right in the middle of a vintage Beach Boys recording session.
Led by longtime Wilson pal Jeff Foskett and former Wondermints Darian Sahanaja,
Nick Walusko and Probyn Gregory, along with newfound lyricist Scott Bennett,
Wilson’s backing band has a reverential regard for the original arrangements
that made “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “Do You Wanna Dance” and
the harpsichord-laced “Will I Grow Up (To Be A Man)”-all from The Beach Boys Today, the stunning 1965
album where Wilson finally catches up to his studio idol, Phil Spector-sound


wasn’t just the usual hour-long, opening-set stroll through the voluminous
Beach Boys back catalog that hit all the right spots tonight. The just-released
Wilson solo
effort, That Lucky Old Sun (Capitol/EMI), which filled-up the entire hour after intermission, sounds like
the best thing the 66-year-old legend has recorded since striking out on his
own many years ago. I’d heard the new album a few times before the show, but
was totally unprepared for the knock-out blow it delivers live. The album’s
opener skims just enough from the old Frankie Laine chestnut, “That Lucky
Old Sun,” before morphing into “Morning Beat,” a wake-up
call/heartfelt tribute to Los Angeles. As always during Wilson’s prolific 47-year career, the
occasional awkward lyric just makes everything ring more true.


She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” may poach an occasional phrase from some ancient
Beach Boys (or 4 Seasons) session, but with an overall effect so
heart-cleansingly gorgeous, who cares! Much like Love’s 1968 classic, Forever Changes, That Lucky Old Sun feels like a long, slow drive through the City
of Angels, from Olvera Street out to the Santa Monica pier. Adding
the Stockholm Strings to Wilson’s
usual tentette backing-band format gave the sparkling arrangements even more
punch. With the bite of a narrative from a film
classic, the between-songs segues, penned by Wilson’s onetime Smile collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, were
a perfect fit.


not everything went as planned tonight. Keyboard/vibraphone whiz Sahanaja
signaled an immediate halt to the proceedings after the first playing of
“That Lucky Old Sun”/”Morning Beat,” due to an out-of-tune
keyboard. “Everything ready now, haircut?” growled Foskett testily as
Sahanaja signaled AOK after a 5-minute tuning delay. They began the album anew,
this time with every hair in place.


(and album) wrap-up “Southern California,” with its nod to the sweet
harmonies that draped almost-forgotten 1968 Beach Boys album Friends, was accompanied by a
lump-in-the-throat montage of vintage photos of Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson,
growing up in Hawthorne, Calif. The song feels like a mini-biography,
hitting the highlights of Brian’s sometimes bumpy trek along the yellow-brick
road. “I had this dream of singing with my brothers,” he sings. It
felt like both Dennis and Carl were here tonight, nodding approval.


course, the fortunes of live acts may ebb and flow-even those of the Beach
Boys, themselves, during their glory years-but the high price of gasoline can’t
be the only reason the vast Paramount Theatre was only half-full tonight. Maybe
it’s because Wilson & Co., by having played Pet Sounds in its entirety here back in early 2007, violated one of
booking’s ten commandments: Thou shalt not play the same venue in a market two
times in a row. It’s a rule Bob Dylan’s people have never broken in the greater
Bay Area. The rabid crowd that did venture out into violence-wracked Oakland was rewarded
handsomely with the debut performance of a work that richly deserves to become
a Brian Wilson staple. 




Looking at the
virtuoso’s 2008 Output (Thus Far).




Perhaps the limitations of human language are of
necessity.  After all, we can likely all
agree that the word definitions afforded up by dictionaries are at best approximations
of meaning.  Words denote and connote;
they are afforded a particular meaning in one part of the country and are
meaningless somewhere else.  They jumble
together, trading allegiances and jumping borders and in doing so both
connotation and denotation change.  Such
are the effects of culture and usage that language is a living, breathing
organism that changes and evolves at the behest of its practitioners.  Pinpointing “meaning” amidst the changing
landscape of linguistic mutation becomes a fool’s game.


Of course, music journalists necessarily need to affix
linguistic definition to their subject matter and in doing so they play this
fool’s game.  Let’s look at the word
“percussionist” for example: slightly more adventurous than the word “drummer,”
but perhaps not so different to the layperson. 
Both percussionists and drummers strike objects together-a stick against
a drumhead, the beads inside a rattle, a mallet against a marimba key-and that
action tends to describe them both.  The
sonic event that occurs generally begins with a sharp sense of attack and then
a varying level of decay.  Of course this
is not always the case, as a good percussion can coax all manner of sounds from
his or her equipment, but one gets the point. 
Person with sticks and mallets and shakers is a drummer or percussionist
of some kind; person with pick and tight leather pants is a guitarist.


It sounds simple, but then again such human pursuits as
language and music are rarely as simple as they seem upon a casual glance.  There are musics that push the limit of
possibility, from the Zen-like non-action of John Cage to the onslaught of John
Zorn’s Naked City. 
These are musicians who eschew the standard labels, not merely asking
for redefinition but perhaps for deconstruction of the language itself.


Here’s where Jon Mueller enters.  Most journalists, and perhaps even he
himself, would call Mueller a percussionist, but the sound sizzling from Topography (Xeric/Crouton), his recent
collaboration with Jason Kahn (Xeric/Crouton), implies otherwise.  The 
album’s five tracks-each between eight and ten minutes in length-sound
little like any definition of “percussion” or “drumming” we could even begin to
understand, despite the fact that both Mueller and Kahn are listed as percussionists
in the credits.  But then again, we’ve
already covered the concept that language changes.  A fool’s game.  And yet the long, repeating drones of static
offered us on Topography seem to
thwart even these warnings.


So Mueller is pushing the boundaries of percussion.  So he’s redefining the genre (if it is a
genre).  So he’s redefining the
word.  Who cares, you say.  Why does it matter, you say.  I’ll tell you why it matters: Because it
does.  Language moves and music moves and
Mueller is at the forefront of at least one of those two movements and perhaps
is at the forefront of both.  Topography lists Mueller as performing
“percussion, cassettes” and Kahn “percussion, analog synthesizer,” although who
and what is making which sound is impossible to ascertain.  What can be ascertained is this: Mueller and
Kahn have made a drone album, but unlike the long-form drones of Skullflower or
Pelt or other droners, this one contains no recognizable pitched sounds at all
(save some sub-sub-subsonic noise). 
Instead, the two stack static and endless drum rolls and slowly sifting
rumbles like a nightmare circus snare drummer who has become stuck endlessly
waiting for the man to come blasting out of the cannon.  As anyone who has listened to Topography will tell you: The cannon
will never fire.


Topography is
indicative of one of Mueller’s major concerns these days: working with long
forms. In his previous instrumental band, Milwaukee’s
instrumental math rockers Pele, Mueller was all about precision and
instrumental beauty, and while there’s still some of that happening with his
instrumental outfit Collections of Colonies of Bees, for the most part Mueller
has spun heavily into the avant-garde. 
And if “heavily” means nothing these days, at least the release schedule
for this year is heavy enough: 2008 has seen (so far) three releases with
Collections of Colonies of Bees, three solo releases, two collaborations, some
session work, and finally a stint on Rhys Chatham’s triple CD “Guitar Trio Is My Life!.”  Christ. 
Each one works with a kind of grammar of sound (if you’ll permit the
askance reference to Coleman).  With Topography Mueller (and indeed Kahn) has
moved the period out of the sentence and has dispensed with the comma
entirely.  Semi-colons, then?  Not on your life.  What one is left with is the Molly Bloom
soliloquy from Ulysses.  But wait! 
Mueller has dispensed with the nouns and verbs as well.  What’s left then?  Prepositions? 
Articles?  A few random adverbs
and conjunctions?


Lest the grammarian in you despair, let me inform you in as
calm and soothing a tone as possible that Mueller has not thrown out the verbs
and nouns, but has merely removed them to different projects.  If Topography is akin to a grammar-less sentence, then his recent solo album Metals (Table of the Elements) is where
one will find the missing verbs.  In
fact, Metals is all verbs, a heavy
metal album performed on a solo drum set (yes you read that correctly) that
will very likely elicit two reactions. 
The first: “What the fuck?”  The
second, and perhaps more importantly: “Why didn’t I think of that?”  Indeed.


Mueller begins with a tone that reminds of his noun- and
verb-less work on Topography but here
it’s a trick-like a long Faulkner sentence leading ultimately to a huge list of
action verbs in 48 point type as the album explodes into speed metal (or is it
black metal) drumming that is so regular, mechanistic, and intense that it is
itself a kind of meditation.  Verb.  Verb verb verb!  Verb! 
Verb!  And, lest you missed the
use of the word, this is drumming and is recognizable as such.  But metal? 
Don’t we need churning chunky guitars and doom-laded vocals? Perhaps
not, particularly if we look at what Table of the Elements labelmate Arnold
Dreyblatt has done much the same pummeling repetition only with double bass,
and contemporary drone metallurgists Sunn O))), who at times (many times
actually) seem to eschew rhythm altogether. 


In most ways, Metals is a showcase for Mueller’s skills as a drummer as much as it is a test of his
(and the listener’s) endurance.  It is
not particularly easy listening, even with drumming as adept and skillful as
this.  There are neither frills nor fills
on this album.  There’s no flash.  There is nothing to suggest any kind of
dexterous workout.  Instead, Mueller’s
bent here is to force the listener to really grapple with sonic moments,
discovering within the near-endless repetition a series of counter rhythms and
sonic overtones that demand the listeners’ attention while simultaneously
refusing to anything to really hang onto. 
It is, in essence, a heavy metal metronome.  This experience manages to align Metals not only with the drone metal
acts cited above, but also with noise percussionist Z’ev, an artist who has
continued to challenge our understanding of percussion, sound, and the
parameters of “noise” as music.


Metals and Topography are fine places to start
because in some ways they stake out the poles of Mueller’s solo work, although
admittedly such poles are bent and twisted and will likely blow away given the
next blast of sound.  They speak to the
verb-heavy and to the fragmented non-sentence run-ons that make up some of what
Mueller works with.  But then there is
another side to Mueller that at some level takes up the themes of Topography and presents its concerns in
micro-focus, as if dispensing with all words but “a” and “the” and perhaps
“and” and then writing a novel with only those.


Take, for example, Nodes
and Anti-Nodes
(Crouton), a DVD+ audio track project that Mueller has
released with found sound, field recorder, and percussionist (there’s that word
again) Jeph Jerman.  Jerman’s discography
is about as lengthy as a Tolstoi novel, but unless you are deeply ensconced in
the territory of found sound, field recordings, and manipulated moments it is
unlikely he’s crossed your radar. 
Consider the descriptions of a random sample of CD-R releases: “contact
mic recordings of insect life,” “collage of field recordings of found metal,”
“turntables affixed with pendulums and loaded with stones and bones in concert
with cactus and other detritus.”  One
doesn’t know whether to run screaming or to order everything at once. I choose
the second option.


Jerman is a percussionist in that he’s more interested in
sound events than melody so his work is set on a trajectory that fits well with
Mueller’s and indeed Nodes and Anti-Nodes is fascinating viewing, but certainly not for everyone.  What we have here are close-ups of percussion
events: rattle snares on a drum head, clinking bones circulating on a
turntable, etc.  These are intercut with
what one presumes to be the “anti-nodes” of the title: shifting light through
leaves, mostly.  In contrast with the
nodes of sound, these anti-nodes are silent and that contrast is indeed
shocking and somewhat unsettling, particularly since the cuts are abrupt and
sometimes very far apart so that the silence of the shifting shadow play
suddenly becomes the roar of the snares. 
It’s essentially an ambient film that doesn’t really want you to easily
accept its images and sounds.


Jerman and Mueller clearly have a sense of purpose here: to
document (perhaps a bit obsessively) the sources of sound and of silence and to
show the kinds of visual and auditory patterns that arise from each.  It’s great in many ways, but it takes a bit of
patience (or a bongload of weed) to get through.  And for those with even more patience there’s
an extra audio file on the disc in case the viewer would rather become listener
and experience the sounds of Nodes and
sans the images, a surprisingly fun listen for those of us who
tilt toward field recording and sound-as-experience.


But then the micro-focus and stacked non-chordal drones and
heavy metal drumming hardly represents all that Mueller does or is.  As if “percussionist” and/or “drummer”-even
as redefined and deconstructed-were insufficient, Mueller appears as guitarist
on two single-sided clear vinyl releases. 
The first, Six Guitars (Table
of the Elements), appears under the banner of his instrumental group
Collections of Colonies of Bees, the only link that currently seems to exist
between Mueller’s previous work with Pele and his current interest in the


Six Guitars appears to be exactly what it advertises: the band has put down their various
instruments and picked up guitars, both electric and acoustic.  What occurs sonically is akin to a lazy
Sunday rendition of mid-1960s minimalism, an exploration of the ground that
Pelt has fruitfully tilled for many years. 
Like some of Mueller’s other fascinations, then, Six Guitars is something of a drone piece.  The single-side begins and ends with a long
note (perhaps played via Ebow), and then develops in a combination of electric
and acoustic guitar strummed, picked, and finger-styled into a kind of circling
pattern that, as with classical minimalism, changes slowly over time.


The second vinyl-like Six
single-sided and clear with an etching on the flip side-is less
lazy summer and more industrial in feel. 
Appearing under Mueller’s name, Strung (Table of the Elements) again features Mueller’s guitar work, this time in a
solo context (with ample overdubbing). 
This time, Mueller begins with a heavily distorted and compressed guitar
motif that is more rhythmic than musical and which serves to anchor the sonic
landscape in a perceived 4/4 rhythm. 
Behind that rhythmic moment appear a series of drones that rise and
disappear until the piece’s midpoint, wherein the rhythm disappears entirely
and the listener is met with bleeps and blips that sound more electronic than
guitar-based.  The rhythmic motif
reenters toward the end, bringing the piece around to the start again.


Strung is not the
most successful of Mueller’s recent releases, but given the context of his
interests it makes sense.  In some ways,
one can imagine Strung to be the
guitar tracks missing from his Metals album and the maniacal sense of repetition, continuing interest in drones and
static, and attention to sonic detail are all apparent on this ½ album.  Nonetheless, the central motif that anchors
the record is not quite as interesting as Mueller seems to find it and even if
we try to grapple with the notion that it is purposefully and willfully NOT
interesting-a clear move, in other words, towards postmodernism-such a
conceptual reading still does not make it any more aurally palatable.


On the other hand, much of what makes Mueller’s music
interesting is studying it as accumulation and as such it is across multiple
works that Mueller’s project really begins to reveal itself.  Compare, for example, the recent Collections
of Colonies of Bees release Birds, which assumedly sees Mueller sitting back on the drum stool (although who
really knows).  Much like his late 1990s
work in Pele, Bees takes up the instrumental rock flag and although the title
makes little sense in relation to the work-there’s nothing here that evokes
birds of any kind at least to this listener-the album on the whole is quite
beautiful, in large part because it lacks any sense of showing off.  At no point on Birds will the listener notice an individual player, nor will they
note any specific moment of complexity or of musical dexterity.  Instead, Birds offers a band completely of itself, understanding where it is going and what it
is doing and acting as a single entity. 
If we’re still talking grammar, then this is at last where we encounter
Mueller grappling with full sentences and they are beautiful sentences indeed:
neither the basics of Hemingway nor the thorny oak of Faulkner, but something
in between.


A similar vibe exists on Rhys Chatham’s recent triple CD “Guitar Trio Is My Life!,” (Table of the
Elements) a release that features a rotating cast of musicians (amongst them
Alan Licht, Thurston Moore, and Tony Conrad) performing Chatham’s seminal work
“Guitar Trio,” a piece that bridged the gap between avant-garde/new music and
New York’s brief, shining no wave scene. 
Mueller drums on the Milwaukee
recording in an ensemble that also includes US Maple’s Todd Rittman, Collection
of Colonies of Bees’ Chris Rosenau, and Joan of Arc’s Ben Vida.


It’s likely that Mueller may have learned a thing or two
about the power of endless repetition from Chatham’s piece-essentially a rumination on a
4/4 E chord in two parts.  The first asks
the drummer to keep time on the high hat. 
The second allows the drummer to utilize the entire kit.  What Mueller does with this half (and we
don’t have the first half of the Milwaukee
set on the CD) is push that 4/4 rhythm into a malleable collection of sonic
elements that is rockist without being overly so.  Here, pressed up against the churning of six
guitarists playing the same chord (seven if we include the bassist), we finally
get to hear Mueller stretch out and really play-flipping the rhythm and
punctuating a kind of staccato breakdown with his kick so that the drum sounds
approach math rock.  The mathy approach
serves to press the force and depth of Chatham’s
piece and offers listeners a kind of mooring point amidst the relatively
sameness of the droning chord. 


Perhaps that’s what most important to note about Mueller’s
music throughout these recent releases: never is there a sense of trying to
prove himself as a drummer, as a percussionist, or even as an avant-garde/free
improv player.  Even if our dictionaries
fail us and the definitions of “drummer” and “percussionist” and “guitarist”
are rendered meaningless by Mueller’s shifting musical usages, Mueller himself
continues to do what he does best: which apparently means, simply, that he does
whatever he wants, pressing up against musical-or grammatical-conventions and
seeing what can be pulled out and what cannot. 
The accumulated releases of 2008 (thus far) allow us to view what
Mueller does in ways that are much closer to the notion of Ornette Coleman’s
“sound grammar” than Coleman himself has ever been, not in terms of the music
perhaps but in terms of concept. 


And concept, with Mueller, is often where it is at.  With a lesser creative talent, such a conceit
would likely fall short, but with Mueller the conceptual framework of his
ongoing projects only serves to deepen the intellectual possibilities inherent



[Mueller on the web:;
photo by Kat Berger




The singer-songwriter resolves to
be the
Same Old Man.



Last I spoke with John Hiatt, the last question I asked was,
“If you had to write your last song right this minute, you’ve bagged your
limit, what would you write about?” With scant reflection he said, “I’d write
about my family. I’d try and write down how much they mean to me. I’d try to
get that down somehow.”


In retrospect, his answer was obvious. Hiatt has a knack for
crafting/capturing riveting, viscerally human scenes centered on the pursuit of
happiness. A recovered alcohol and drug abuser, the thrice-married (third time
was the charm) Hiatt found joy in his family. On his breakthrough/sobriety
album Bring the Family (1987,
A&M) and its likewise successful successor, Slow Turning (1988, A&M), love and family became the prevalent
themes in his faintly fictionalized tunes. He fearlessly lamented the past and exulted
in redemption, laying bare his pain as well as his bliss, tempering both with
sardonic humor, to charm fans, critics and peers, and cement his status as a
songwriter’s songwriter. 


Those guys have it tough. Once artists as obscure as Willy
DeVille, huge as Bob Dylan and mainstream as Keith Urban cover you work, the
bar raises with each new song. Incredibly, Hiatt keeps vaulting clear over the bar
like a bullfrog on Red Bull; his muse, and novelist’s eye for detail, remain


When we talked, Hiatt’s Master
of Disaster
album was new. Its title track recalled his club days, specifically
when he emerged from a gig at Madame Wong’s in California—“bleeding tongue,
eight-ball poundin’ in my lungs”—to discover “it was already daylight.” It was
the most forthcoming he’d been about those days. “I figure that everybody’s got
their own demons to battle, so that’s something that anybody can relate to. No
mistakes, no learning.”

Learning from mistakes—that’s really what Hiatt’s about.
Love and family are just areas of his life that are ameliorated by his continued
quest for personal enlightenment—or individual nirvana, which he may have
reached. Same Old Man, Hiatt’s 18th album, starts with another tale of yore: “Old Days.”


Old days are comin’
back to me/I don’t know what was so great about ‘em/I played practically free/I
had nothing live up to/everywhere to be/old days are comin’ back to me…


If on “Master of Disaster,” Hiatt looked back with shame, on
“Old Days” he sees what was so great about ‘em. While he made mistakes, he also
got to room with Sonny Terry, who “slept with his good eye open, peekin’ out
from under the sheets,” and play with Mose Allison, who said Hiatt’s lyrics
reminded him of Dadaist/surrealist poet Kenneth Patchen. He also opened for
John Lee Hooker, who once walked in during Hiatt’s set to plop two gorgeous
women on the stage before him. “That’s called, ‘Evenin’ son, I’m the headliner!’”
So he knows there was something special about that time—now maybe he’s letting
himself see that instead of his regrets?


Well, Same Old Man’s
title is telling. Hiatt may have made an incremental gain in how he views his
past, but he hasn’t forgotten himself. The album is stocked with those trademark
“I’m a shithead, you’re a rose” songs he does so well. He remains contrite and
grateful, genuinely so, and writes about it with plainspoken elegance, like on
“Love You Again.” The heart-render is akin to past acts of contrition like “Tip
of My Tongue,” but while his baritone twang resounds with aching sincerity (I wanna thank you, baby/for lettin’ me back
in…/for askin’ me to love you again
”) one fruit of his labors—his daughter
Lily—sings behind him.


It’s a nice resolution to Hiatt’s story, the upshot of a man
getting his act together and enjoying the spoils. And though he’s apt to
emphasize the fictional element of his work (“It’s like the fish you caught;
it’s always bigger than it actually was”), John Hiatt knows what he’s doing. As
he said that day, “I think you owe [your listener] a stab at being transparent…
to allow [them] to see into your work.


“I just
feel like if you’re gonna bother doing it, you might as well add something to


(Photo: Randy Harward)


Gunners’ erstwhile axe maestro at the Guitar Center
Sessions Sept. 3.




Billed as an evening of
dialogue and insight with guitar hero Slash of Guns N’ Roses fame, I’m not sure
how much insight could be bestowed on a crowd standing for hours on an asphalt
parking lot as cheers from “We want Slash!” soon transformed to “We want weed!”



For reasons unknown, the
folks at Guitar Center
opted for this “intimate” session with Slash to be housed at their Northridge
store in the San Fernando Valley. You’d think
the Sunset Strip location would have been ideal. After all, GNR was the
quintessential Sunset Strip band that took the world by storm nearly 20 years
ago. But after making the trek down the dreaded 405 Freeway to Northridge,
which does a have a pretty big parking lot aptly accommodated the over 1,000
fans that showed up, everyone waited for nearly two hours past start time for
Slash to finally make his appearance. Clearly Axl wasn’t the only member of GNR
that ran on his own time schedule.



Seated on two thrones, the
interview session with Slash was hosted by Brad Tolinski, Editor of Guitar World. Describing Slash as an
“icon,” Tolinksi said Slash is the “living embodiment of a guitar hero.”



Just as aspiring guitarists
and wannabe rock stars always had to learn to play “Stairway to Heaven” and
“Smoke On the Water,” Tolinski proclaimed learning to play the opening of
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” was ” not an option, it’s a requirement!”



Dressed in leather pants
with his famous top hat on, a chain smoking Slash finally made his way onstage
much to the delight of the ravenous fans who had been waiting for hours. Explaining
he and his guitar were “inseparable” growing up, Slash, born Saul Hudson, explained
his early influences, at age 13, were Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, as well as the
likes of Led Zeppelin, Cheap Trick, and Ted Nugent.



Eventually developing his
own blues-inspired style, Slash noted he is attracted to “sexy” and “fucking”
music, much to the glee of his fans which included many people too young to
have witnessed GNR back in the day. “It’s an enigma,” Slash noted about the
band’s fame, “it’s bigger [now] than it was back in the day.”



The cover boy for Guitar Hero 3 game, Slash admits he was unaware of the impact it would have.
“My audiences has definitely widened. Guitar Hero has turned a lot of young
people into rock & roll.”



Currently working on a solo
record while trying to find a new vocalist for Velvet Revolver, Slash, who confessed
he’s “sick of putting bands together,” described the origins of signature riffs
of his from rock staples like “Welcome to the Jungle” (“that was the 5
[original Gunners] taking an idea and making it our own”), “Sweet Child O ‘Mine”
(“I accidentally stumbled on that riff”), “November Rain” and “Slither.”



A former guitar store
employee himself, Slash relished the obligatory tech talk and even showed off
his brand new Gibson signature guitar line. Explaining that he loves technology
(“I embrace it,” Slash declared), the guitarist, who recently said he hopes the
person arrested for leaking Axl Rose’s Chinese
on the Internet “rots in jail,” may not be a fan of all types of
modern advances.



Finally giving into fan
pressure, a timid Slash picked up his trusty Les Paul and strummed a few lines
of “The Godfather” or “Godslobber” as it used to be called when GNR played it.
“I don’t know what to play,” Slash said with a grin. But he delighted everyone
when he unleashed the intro to “Welcome to the Jungle,” followed by snippets of
“November Rain” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”



Slash was then joined
onstage by good friend Marc Canter, co-author of Reckless Road,
a photo-driven book that chronicles GNR’s first 50 gigs. “It’s the best rock
& roll book I have ever seen,” Slash noted.



After the discussion
session, which Guitar
Center likes to say is
all about “education, conversation and inspiration,” Slash and Canter signed
copies of Reckless Road. A true guitar hero, Slash is part comic book character and part
just plain bad ass. Having recorded with heavyweights like Ray Charles, Bob
Dylan, and Michael Jackson, Slash, hardly the world’s most proficient
guitarist, never disappoints and is always a fan favorite.




Jose Martinez is an LA-based journalist and a
frequent contributor to Blurt-Online. His latest book,
Edgar Hernandez: POW – An American Hero, will be in stores this month.



[Photo Credit: Jose


CLOSE UP: Neil Young


Outspoken master of protest and guitar squall on the CSNY
film and wielding raw fretboard power.




Neil Young can be a walking paradox. He’s as adept at tender
acoustic folk songs as he is at distorted guitar meltdowns. He supported
Reagan, yet hates Bush. He penned the protest song “Ohio” in the ‘70s and also recorded the
right-wing colored Hawks & Doves (1980). One constant, though, is
that he always speaks up for what he feels is right: he famously protested Vietnam
with CSNY, and lately, he rages against the Iraq War.


CSNY: Déjà Vu, a film directed by Young chronicling
the events of CSNY’s “Freedom of Speech 2006” tour, is his latest act of
dissent. With “embedded” reporter Mike Cerre riding along, the film blends concert
footage, interviews, news clips, and audience reactions into a controversial
cocktail of music and politics. Young agreed to meet BLURT at the Mountain
House in Woodside, CA to discuss the film. The secluded
restaurant isn’t open yet, but we find him browsing the eclectic jukebox.
Adjourning to a corner table, he keeps his sunglasses on, but his steely eyes
intermittently pierce the tint to punctuate his point. He’s intense, but also
talkative and engaging, tempering his opinions with a joyous cackle.  




BLURT: It’s one thing to stand for something as an
individual, and it’s another to write and sing about it to paying customers.
How do you ride the line between politics and music?


Same way we did in the ‘60s. We just sang about how we felt,
because that’s what freedom is all about. People paid, they came and saw us. At
that point they were all young, now they’re all old. People have had a chance
to temper their idealism with realism, and some of them have abandoned what we
were saying back then. But we haven’t abandoned it. And so we applied it to
this situation. We went out and did it again. The difference is in the
audience, not in the band.



BLURT: A lot of those idealistic hippies turned into
yuppies and have sort of lost their soul, but you don’t seem like you have.


I’ve been lucky. I opened my mouth so wide saying that I
wasn’t going to be corporately sponsored because I felt like I had a bond with
my audience, and to sell that bond was not a good thing. No matter how much
financial gain I could have gotten from it, I just didn’t think it was good
considering what I was singing about. Now if I’m singing about booty and shake
your ass and sequins, then okay, Pepsi’s great. But if I’m singing about don’t
blow off your neighbor’s head, then Pepsi’s no good. So that’s where I was at.
And I’ve sung about all kinds of things, but the fact that I had my own
opinions about students being killed and demonstrating the war, and racism and
change, I felt like it really wasn’t a good idea to sell out… so I didn’t.



BLURT: Can a song, an album, maybe a film, change the


I’ve felt that way in the past, but I just don’t think so.
The world today requires physics, science and politics to change. Spirituality
is important-more important than politics, but I think physics and science,
really, that’s where the playground is right now. It’s the age of innovation.
Some people are looking at the gas prices; they’re thinking about what they’re
going to drive next year. Trucks used to be popular; now nobody wants a truck.
I’m looking at that going, We’re stupid. We can have big vehicles. Big vehicles can be big generators, big vehicles can
be power sources.



BLURT: There is some speck of spirituality in a
transcendent live show.


I’m with you on that, may the force be with you. That’s the
energy; that is God. We’ve all been created, whether you think of God as a
being or you think of God as just a force. This is a manifestation of it, when
people come together and the music rises to a certain level, and then you can
just feel it. That’s just more than a show.



BLURT: Speaking of spirituality and power, you have a
unique relationship with electricity. When you play live and do some of the
more intense guitar stuff, does that play into it?


There’s some musicians-Jimi [Hendrix] knew what he was
doing. Some guitar players don’t understand that aspect of it. They don’t want
to. They have two hands that work really well, and so they can do all this by
themselves. They don’t need the help of something else. But I do. I need the
help of power. I need to have that resonance. I need to have that availability
of a space between me and the source, and fucking with that, bending notes and
doing things to make the sounds happen. And it’s more physical, so I enjoy that
more. But it’s unpredictable and sometimes has [an] edgy or a bottomless kind
of shallow result.



BLURT: So with your music and this film, you’re not
trying to exercise power over people, or try to get them to agree with you, but
rather urge them to get in touch with-and think for-themselves?


That’s what the movie is about, what the record [Living
with War
] is about. I don’t think they should listen to me at all. They
should listen to their own souls and they should vote with their own souls and
they should think with their own hearts. I’m just another voice in the crowd.
They should just go with what they feel, but they should watch and see what it
is we’re saying, and see what other people are saying. And I think people got
lulled into this [Iraq War], or they got positioned by the Bush administration
into being Red or Blue, and then they got positioned into [thinking] if you
disagree you’re not patriotic, and then they just got fooled. It’s possible to
disagree and still be patriotic.


Both sides can be represented, because that’s what the
country’s all about. So we were just trying to bring that back. And I think we



[Photo Credit: Pegi Young]






SAVAGE SOUNDS Mike Edison & Jon Spencer

Terrible twosome team
up for the soundtrack of Mike’s life.




If I Have Fun
Everywhere I Go
– the book – is the jizz- and reefer-stained chronicle of Sharkey’s
Machine/Raunch Hands/G.G. Allin/Edison Rocket Train dude Mike Edison’s life,
then I Have Fun Everywhere I Go – the
CD, on the Interstellar Roadhouse label – is the soundtrack. Or, more
accurately, the spoken word companion, produced by Jon Spencer and featuring
musical accompaniment from Edison, Spencer and a three-piece rhythm section. (Also
guesting: Dälek mixmaster Alap Momin.) Like a cross between a jive-talking beat
poet and a stentorian-voiced televangelist confessing to carnal knowledge of barn
animals, Edison roars through selected passages while the musicians serve up
everything from straight-up garage-blooze (“GG Allin Died Last Night”) to
twisted carnival music (“Jews For Jesus”) to loops/effects-strewn hip-hop
(“Talking Main Event Magazine


You can check out some choice samples from the record, as well as a cool Jon Spencer radio commercial, at Edison’s MySpace page.



Going into the project, Edison and Spencer considered
precedents like Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz albums and Public Enemy’s embracing of musique
. And unlike Edison’s fez-punk
combo Edison Rocket Train, whose 2006 album East
River Delta
Spencer also produced, IHFEIG presented some unique obstacles in the studio.


“With the Rocket Train,” explains Spencer, it was pretty cut
and dry. This wasn’t a band; it’s an audio book, basically. I’ve also seen Mike
[doing readings] with a drummer and bass player and he’d play keyboards. It’s
all cool and everything, but sometimes it would be overpowering. So the big
challenge was to make it so someone could hear the story and get the jokes – to
make sure that everything was coming through.”


Spencer and Edison live within a few blocks of each other in
New York; at one point Edison served as the
Blues Explosion’s official “Minister Of Information,” and Spencer will be
sitting in on guitar with Edison at selected
book readings. How did these two notorious personalities first meet?


“It may have been in Madrid,
when the Raunch Hands [Edison’s old band] were
living over there, on an early Blues Explosion tour in ’91 or ’92,” says
Spencer. “I remember it being really early in the morning, at some rock ‘n’
roll bar, just kinda being bowled over by this guy talking a mile a minute and
drinking and eating simultaneously in between hits of whatever – some [laughs] evil powder that was around. It
was a pretty crazy scene!”


“Crazy scenes” of all manner of debauched hilarity are described
in Times Square neon colors in Edison’s book. Yours
truly was present for one of them: It was the summer of ’87 when GG Allin’s
band, for whom Edison then drummed, made a swing through the South and I
witnessed the full frontal, chicken-chokin’, feces-flingin’ Allin effect, right
down to the part where a pair of frat boys piled on him for grabbing their
female friend and dry-humping her like a jockstrap-clad dog in heat. Unlike
Allin and a number of other indelible personalities who pass through the pages
of I Have Fun, however, Edison lived to tell his tales.


“Mike’s a very, very bright guy,” says Spencer. “And
resilient. He punishes his body quite a bit, but you know, he’s still going.”



[I Have Fun Everywhere
I Go
– the book – is reviewed HERE on the BLURT site.]



The armies of the night will prevail…
or will they?





4: Spare some Change?


What do John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen and Heart have in
common? They all want the Republicans to stop using their goddamn songs at
rallies. Ann and Nancy Wilson reportedly sent a cease and desist letter to the
McCain campaign after the RNC rocked “Barracuda” at the Xcel center last night.
Depriving the candidate of this associate will hurt; after all, like your
typical barracuda McCain is a little less than six feet long, not very nimble, hunts
via ambush and possesses powerful jaws. (Another problem is that “All I Want To
Do Is Make Love To You,” while a powerful pro-life statement, just doesn’t get folks
fired up.)


So, ‘70s and ‘80s rockers don’t like McCain, but does anyone
else? No one hanging around the Minnesota State Capitol for the RNC final-day protests,
that’s for sure. Lacking the numbers of earlier rallies, they nonetheless
gamely fired themselves up around mid-afternoon, using songs, factually-inaccurate
diatribes, and free crumbly cookies and bananas, the latter of which came in
small, gooey segments. I ate one, and then twenty minutes later became
convinced I’d been dosed with LSD. Briefly I contemplated an alternate universe
tea party featuring Michele Bachman and that female protester over there (the
one calling the surrounding riot cops “cowards”); the ladies ate cucumber
sandwiches and discussed clean coal and wind power. (Matter of fact T. Boone
Pickens was there too!)


I soon realized my dizziness was probably due to lingering
tear gas in the atmosphere and not acid, and followed the now-moving protesters
towards downtown. The group was redirected almost immediately, however, by a
line of police aiming (tear gas?) guns directly at our brains. The mass swung
west and walked along St. Anthony
Avenue, before being cut off again by a dozen or
so cops on horses. The now-flummoxed protesters decided to plant their rear
ends in the road and wait the situation out. I wasn’t exactly clear to their
aims; perhaps this was a sit-in to protest Piper Palin’s spit-shining her
little brother’s hair?


Eventually the tear gas and concussion bombs came out again,
and everyone scattered. (You can read a more detailed account of the clash here,
which also reports on the assault of a pair of City Pages reporters.) That meant it was time those of us with
press passes — approximately 1/3 of the crowd — to head back to the
convention center, where Cindy McCain was holding court. She made it clear why
so many people are in awe of her husband; not because he was able to withstand
torture in a Vietnamese prison camp for five and a half years, but because he
was able to trade his old wife in for a new one who was not only much younger
and blonder, but whose pops hooked him up with a VP job at his mammoth beer
distributorship to boot.


I really dug the video montage introducing McCain, which
detailed his time spent in the camp and included a black and white video of him
smoking a cigarette with one of his broken arms. One of the main themes of the intro
and his speech was how his time in capture made him a less selfish person. When
Victor Charlie offered him early release because his father was an admiral he
said, “Hell no. I want four more years of torture!”


Although this, like many aspects of his story, is hard to
believe, it’s fair to say his reputation as a political iconoclast is well
deserved. He has succeeded in politics not despite, but because of, his ability
to piss off people in his own party and occasionally buck popular opinion. In
2000 he nearly captured the Republican nomination by dissing Christian
conservatives and championing campaign finance reform. In 2008 he won despite
being against drilling in ANWR. Once sympathetic to him, Democrats now complain
he’s fallen in line with the Bush tax cuts and taken on a real barracuda, I
mean pit bull, of a right-wing running mate, but it seems unlikely a McCain
presidency would resemble a Bush presidency. Schwarzenegger’s terms as governor
come more to mind; like Arnold, McCain would inherit a Democrat-controlled
congress, and, with his desire to be remembered trumping an already nebulous
party affiliation, would likely set his sites on historic change.


Ah, “change.” The key word in this election cycle, espoused
by everyone from dogmatic leftists (Barack Obama) to reactionary Mormons (Mitt
Romney) to members of the most powerful political families in America (Hillary
Clinton). McCain used the word repeatedly in his acceptance speech, though since
he was attempting to play to the crowd his proposed policies sounded like
Republican business as usual – school choice, loosening trade restrictions and strengthening
private health care. On the last issue McCain is surely on the wrong side of
history; Americans think the current system sucks, and unless you’re planning
to blow it up, no one really cares about your plans to tweak it.


Only when he looked the right-wing faithful in the eye and
told them things they didn’t want to hear – about campaign finance reform, about
environmentalism, about how the “Contract for America” Republicans lost their
way (“We let Washington change us”) — did he give hints as to why he’s been so
successful. But it was too little, too late. John McCain’s shtick plays best
when he’s ruffling feathers, but this speech felt like a Heart concert. Not like
an ass-kicking 1977 show where the Wilson
sisters get all “Crazy on You” at a small club, but like a sell-out, cash-in
comeback show decades later, where they play “Barracuda” for the thousandth
time, before a crowd that knows all the words.




3: A Palin In The Ass



Sarah Palin’s primetime speech last night was the most
anticipated of the convention. John McCain wanted a “game changer” as his Vice
Presidential pick, and, oh boy, did he get it. Since the minute he picked her,
juicy bits of gossip, innuendo, and scandal have surfaced — that her
17-year-old daughter Bristol, not she, birthed the down Syndrome newborn Trig (false);
that Bristol herself was pregnant (true); that the Palins would make lemonade
by marrying off Bristol hastily (true); and, finally, that the executive
director of Jews for Jesus spoke recently at Palin’s Wasilla Bible Church (also
though the media has yet to really pounce on it).


That Palin looks unlike any politician we’ve seen fueled the
anticipation as well. Whereas Hillary Clinton played down any sex appeal she
may have, Palin plays it way up; for her speech she eschewed a pantsuit for a
relatively short black skirt, shiny earrings, and librarian glasses. Quoth
Jimmy Kimmel: “She looks like one of those women in the Van Halen videos who
takes off her glasses, shakes out her hair, and then all of a sudden, she’s in
high heels and a bikini. All of a sudden, I am for drilling in Alaska.”


Put it another way: There’s a reason everybody believes this
floating around the internet — the one of her clad in an American flag bikini
and holding a hunting rifle by a pool — is real. (Sorry fellas, it’s a
photoshop fake.)


But though obviously a “game changer,” it remained to be
seen if Palin would adrenalize or deflate McCain’s moribund campaign. Though wonks
like Politico’s Charles Mahtesian believe her family’s red-neck affinities (snowmobiling, underage pregnancies,
DUIs) will endear her to red and swing state voters, most everyone agreed she
needs substance behind her image. After all, McCain has hammered Obama for his
lack of experience, and Palin has even less than he does. And there have
already been grumbles about her among the Republican base — former Nixon speechwriter
and Ferris Bueller educator Ben Stein, for one, isn’t pleased.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Governor/spurned VP pick Tim Pawlenty didn’t even stick
for her speech. 


So, would she deliver? After an introduction by Rudolph Giuliani
— in which he somehow compared running New
York City to running Wasilla but didn’t, to his
credit, say “9/11” — Palin took the stage to a warm, but not ecstatic, reception.
She trotted out her already well-trod “You know the difference between a hockey
mom and a pit pull? Lipstick!” line, and went on to list her accomplishments in
elective office. Some of her points were salient, like canceling the “bridge to
nowhere” and taking on the waste and cronyism of entrenched Alaskan politicians
like the Murkowskis. Others, however, not so much. Though she spoke of being a
deficit hawk, for example, folks like James Love have responded that her operating budget actually rose during her tenure. Others
have noted that, should the price of oil slide, the state will be up shit
creek. (Up shit fjord?)


Most of the Bud Ice drinking masses won’t care about those
details, of course — just like they won’t care about Obama’s overwhelmingly
leftist policies so long as they find him “genuine.” But more than Obama has
had to, Palin needed to appear presidential – not so much because she’s a
woman, but because she’s backing up a guy that, what with his melanoma and
inability to raise his arms above his head, could seemingly croak at any


My gut feeling is that, in this regard, she didn’t hack it.
The applause she received was never particularly loud or fervent, and didn’t
approach anything McCain received upon his brief appearance after her speech.
(And this is a guy right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh loathe.) If she couldn’t sell herself completely to this friendly crowd,
it seems doubtful her shtick played well across the country.


But this race is far from over, and Palin remains at the
center of it. Republicans are hellbent on creating a backlash in her favor,
predicting (probably correctly) that voters will rush to her defense if they
feel the media is unfairly piling up on her or Democrats are taking cheap
shots. (Much like Americans gave Bill Clinton sky-high poll numbers in the
midst of his impeachment trial.) It now appears that even some former Hillary Clinton
aides  are joining
the “sexism” chorus.


So trying to make predictions at this point is dubious.
After all, a million more “game changing” events could still occur. Bristol’s baby could come
early. The Jews for Jesus story could bubble up. And, who knows – real Palin gun/bikini photos could surface,
or even nude ones along the lines of those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Lord
knows that would lock down the key Celebrity




2: Zack de la Rocha vs. Marge Gunderson


This week we have our man Westoff firmly embedded in the ground forces digging trenches at
Minneapolis-St. Paul.


So much rage in downtown St. Paul, and yet not nearly enough Rage. In
town to perform at the Target
Center on Wednesday, Rage
Against The Machine was to play a free, unannounced show at the State Capitol on
Tuesday evening – at least according to teenagers on Twitter, in any case.


The day after the convention’s riotous opening ceremonies,
folks who didn’t have to go back to work (students, hippies and anarchist punks,
joined by about 500 police officers) gathered on the capitol lawn for something
called Ripple Effect. Most would call it a “free concert” featuring acts like
Michael Franti, Dead Prez, Anti-Flag and the unfortunately named Wookie Foot, but
organizers preferred “events” “embracing the core values of the environmental
and social justice movements, with a collective understanding that the
solutions to these problems will require us to break down issue and
generational barriers.” 


I’m not sure if any issue barriers were broken down that
day, but the great unwashed chillaxed as hard as they could, playing with those
green “floating” orb things, attempting (unsuccessfully) to double dutch and
meditating in a giant rectangle. Phone numbers were exchanged, utopian
alternate universes were contemplated, and the world’s only “Nader/Gonzales
‘08” sticker was applied to a backpack.


It seemed that everybody was still exhausted from the previous
day’s protest marches, window smashing and urine stockpiling. You know leftists
are tired when they can’t even get pumped up by a Medea Benjamin speech. But
when word of Rage’s imminent arrival began to leak across the internet, the
assembled (or at least those who could afford an iPhone) began to perk up. The
crowd began to balloon around 6, when folks got off from their jobs at the
skate shop and the juice bar and made their way downtown.


Anti-Flag had taken the stage in a flurry of black and pink,
and were now working the crowd into a frenzy with brief bits of inspiration
like, “The world sucks. So let’s party!” 
Folks moshed like it was 1999, and bassist/hype man Chris #2 dropped
hint after hint that something big was about to happen. When they departed the
stage they left all their instruments; the idea was that Rage would pick them
up and play four songs.


Though you wouldn’t think too many of St. Paul’s finest would have copies of Evil Empire (or be Twitter savvy), the
cops were wise to the plan, and — since they didn’t have the manpower to
accommodate such a hugely-popular act – moved to halt the proceedings. Upon Rage’s
backstage arrival at 6:30, they were detained by a group of Minnesota State
Troopers, of all people. As riot guard police and bike cops surrounded the
premises, a trooper wearing one of those sweet flying saucer hats (she looked
something like Marge Gunderson in Fargo) kindly informed Zack de la Rocha, Tom
Morello and the like that they didn’t have the necessary permit to go on stage.


Rocha didn’t get worked up about it – dude must meditate his
ass off – and instead, while the chanting crowd screamed for blood (or at least
for “Testify”), he plotted with his mates a way to keep the crowd from killing
anyone while simultaneously creating a sense of, um, collective understanding about
breaking down generational barriers.


The band exited past the police behind the stage and weaved
out to the front of the crowd, where they implored their delighted minions to
take a seat. Most everyone immediately sat; one suspects if Rocha had asked them
to poop in their pants they would have done it. Next, bullhorn in hand, the
group led those within ear shot in a short set of acapella sing-a-longs. Call
it Rage karaoke — sans machine, of course.


After twenty minutes or so of this, the band implored the
assembled to rise, and they lead them in a march towards the Xcel center, where
former lazy-presidential-candidate  Fred
Thompson was preparing to address another group of dogmatic people. The bike
cops pedaled nervously alongside the marchers (I’m going to suggest there were
about 3000 people), and guards wearing pads and gas masks stood nervously along
the route. No windows were smashed — that I saw anyways — but when they
reached the perimeter of the buffer zone in front of the convention center, folks
began shaking and rattling the fences. The police gave them a few warnings and
then, according to reports from the front line, began firing off tear gas and
those little bombs that make a lot of noise.


So, party over. Everybody hopped aboard their fixed-gear bikes
or skateboards and headed back home, just in time to catch Big Brother 10.


In conclusion, it’s fair to say that the day two protests
felt less like a post-apocalyptic movie and more like a professional wrestling
match. Though bloodlust was in the air, no one really got injured, and
observers couldn’t help feeling as if the whole thing was just a little bit



Protesters, Palin, and Paranoia



 Let’s get one thing straight: I did
not get Sarah Palin’s daughter pregnant. Although I have been to Alaska and enjoy the
occasional Mooseburger, I did not have sex with that woman. Girl.


I will admit, however, to being wild and on the prowl on the first day of
the Republican National Convention, held in downtown St. Paul. The atmosphere was almost exactly
like that of a post-apocalyptic movie, with giant fences separating the
privileged controlling elite from the screaming masses, some so poor they
apparently can’t afford deodorant and even rummage through dumpsters for bits
of tofu burgers. (Red eyed folks in tattered clothes stumbled around as well,
although they were less “infected” than “sprayed with tear


‘Twas a different scene entirely inside the Xcel Energy Center, where the
Minnesota Wild normally play hockey, and which adjoins the hall where my high
school graduation ceremony was held. The convention floor was as quiet as a
mouse, or perhaps a rat, as President Bush and VP Cheney had opted out of their
speeches to go battle Hurricane Gustav. (To quote The Church Lady: “How
conveeeenient.”).This left us only with Cindy McCain, who spoke about the
relief effort, and Laura Bush, who spoke about her battle fighting an addiction
to Capri Menthol Lights cigarettes (just kidding).


The, um, elephant in the room that the 17-year-old unmarried daughter of
McCain’s unvetted VP pick, Alaska
governor babe Sarah Palin, was preggo. This was the third game-changer of the
week, following the hurricane and the initial announcement that the VP slot was
going to a creationist nut job who until recently was the mayor of Cicely, Alaska
or some such. (Speaking of which, somebody really needs to get John Corbett off
of those Applebee’s commercials and back in the DJ booth where he belongs.)
Word from nearby adjoining red states was that the baby bump could spark a poll
numbers bounce, leaving the mainstream media liberal elite scratching their
bald spots.


Outside, anarchists busted a few windows and declined my interview requests.
(They think they’re so cool.) The rest of the 10,000 protesters marched in
well-behaved and confusing fashion. I for one never did understand what running
your car on vegetable oil, universal health care and medical marijuana have to
do with “Israel out of Palestine” and the war in Iraq, but whatever. Riot-geared up
police lined the streets; most of them were apparently from out of town because
no one could tell me how to get to Harriet
Island, where the Service Employees
International Union protest concert was being held across the Mississippi


I eventually made it over there, though, only to find that the performer I
was most looking forward to seeing had canceled. (Someone speculated that Lupe
Fiasco is a disenchanted Hillary supporter won over to McCain by the Palin
pick, but that’s probably not accurate). Though fairly subdued, the crowd seemed
to enjoy political ramblings and occasional guitar strumming of folks like Tom
“The Nightwatchman” Morello, Billy “why couldn’t I have been
born 80 years ago goddammit” Bragg, the delicate, beautiful Allison Moorer
and her hideous beast of a husband, Steve Earle. (Apparently Mos Def and The
Pharcyde came on later, but I was too busy leaving comments on the Stuff White
People Like blog to pay attention.)  


Morello tells me beforehand that he’s not there to support Barack so much as
to support the union and fuck with Republicans. “I feel much more
comfortable on the other side of the barbed wire fence lobbing musical Molotov
cocktails in,” he says. “The only candidate that I’ve publicly
endorsed in my life is Cindy Sheehan when she was running against Nancy


He and Earle became buddies about five years ago on the “Tell Us the
Truth Tour” (something about media consolidation, abolishing the death
penalty and organic arugula, probably). They bonded over their mutual love of Lord
Of The Rings
, annoying Billy Bragg by watching the six hour extended
version of The Two Towers over and over on the tour bus. Since then
the pair have continued their activist ways, although their actions have not
always been appreciated.


“I witnessed Al and Tipper Gore practically levitate to avoid having
their picture taken with me,” remembers Earle. “[Al] was speaking at
a place called The Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, and a couple friends of mine
tried to drag me into this photo op. You should have seen the look of terror on
their faces. They were horrified. I’m sure the camera was tracked down
immediately after I left.”


Recalls Morello: “At the SEIU mayday rally in Chicago, Mayor Daley was on stage waiting to
speak after I finished a rousing version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your
Land,’ complete with all the censored verses. It turns into a real class-war
anthem, and at the end of it I asked everybody up on stage to jump up in down
in solidarity with workers’ rights. I think the mayor was kind of caught of guard,
but he did jump up and down, to his credit.”


The pair certainly seemed a bit more committed than, say, Atmosphere emcee
Slug, who like the protesters downtown has a tendency to stray a bit off
message. “I don’t rock their name in interviews or anything like
that,” he says of the union, “but I’m not necessarily against what
they stand for.” That’s quite an endorsement. He goes on: “Quite
honestly, it didn’t have to be this cause, it could have been fucking Haagen
Dazs. If they were out there throwing a festival across the river from the RNC,
and they had Tom Morello, I still would have done it.”


After the show, I ghostwalked a bit more around the perimeter of the
convention center, 28 Weeks Later-style, and then went back inside.
Bill O’Reilly announced on one of the overhead screens that Obama’s convention
bounce had all but evaporated, and the race was now neck and neck. I think it’s
fair to say Sarah Palin’s grandfetus is holding all the cards right now.





Rage Against the Machine w/Free, Unannounced RNC Show Today

Closing out Ripple
Effect festival at State Capitol Lawn.




5:45 pm EST: With
the free Ripple Effect festival in progress right now in Minneapolis-St. Paul
at the State Capitol Lawn as one of several concerts this week coinciding with
the Republican National Convention, it’s activist nirvana in the Twin Cities –
and BLURT has just learned that none other than that most active of musical
activists, Rage Against the Machine, is going to do an unannounced set at the
Ripple Effect.


The band has kept the news hush-hush all day long,
reportedly because the city police have been trying to get the festival shut
down and Rage doesn’t want to give the cops any additional incentive. But if
all goes as planned, the group will go on between 6 and 6:30 pm local (Central
zone) time. The concert was advertised as ending around 7 pm. So this is a
natural fit – kids, you might not get home on time today like you planned.


Also on the bill: headliner Michael Franti, plus Dead Prez,
Anti-Flag and Wookie Foot. Guest speakers include Medea Benjamin, Will Steger
and Winona LaDuke. You can go to the Ripple Effect site HERE.


Rage, recall, is already scheduled to play a regular (if
anything is “regular” in Minneapolis-St. Paul this week) concert Wednesday
night at the Target
Center. And Rage
guitarist Tom Morello, in his other guise as the Nightwatchman, performed
yesterday at the Service Employees International Union protest concert along
with Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Mos Def and the Pharcyde. (Read BLURT’s coverage
of the Monday events HERE.)


But in a statement issued last week, Morello broadly hinted
that his band’s involvement during RNC week might extend further than merely
walking out onto the stage of an arena. Said Morello, “While there’s a lot
of clinking of champagne glasses and toasting one another and passing big
checks back and forth inside the convention, there’s a reality on the streets
outside that will be represented by the Nightwatchman and Rage Against the
Machine and Anti-Flag and all the other bands playing to protest in Minneapolis-St.
Paul. We’ll be outside the barbed-wire fences throwing musical Molotov
cocktails toward the fences.”


Let the tossing of Molotovs begin.