‘Round the Dial: Teach them well.
Wednesday 28 June @ 14:05:21
By Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “When he toured with The Mothers, Frank (Zappa) stayed in a different hotel than we did. The Mothers were into sex, drugs, and rock and roll. He didn’t like it at all, so better to stay away from us.”- Jimmy Carl Black
SONG OF THE WEEK: “A World Of Hurt”- Drive-By Truckers
Man, some weeks ... I just don’t know. I mean, if it ain’t the bills, the bushwackers, or the back-stabbers, it’s just the plain, pure-dee strain of growin’ old. I can take the vicious spikes of pain shooting down my spine (old work-related injury, no biggie, just two failed surgeries and an endless string of quack doctors who actually have the balls to look me in the eye and ask if I’ve ever tried using ALEVE for my pain ... Christ, the nerve!), I can take the unending barrage of bad news blaring from every radio, television and newspaper in the land (you don’t have to be a journalist to realize that there simply are no reliable major news sources left that haven’t either blatantly sold out to the pud-thumpers in the White House or are just too damned comfortable and scared to tell America the Truth) and I can even take the absolutely insulting string of no-talent, anorexic pretty faces gobbing up the airwaves and stereos (one good dose of local live music- that always does the trick for me. Try it!! No, I mean TONIGHT!!) from Miami to Nome.
Naw, those and a billion other pressure points are so worn and drilled into my skull that any more I merely register as part of my daily routine. What worries me, what scares me, what really freaks me out, is that most of us are sittin’ around watching the world take a headlong nose-dive straight into the deepest pits of Hell and not givin’ even one tiny, minuscule thought to the NEXT GENERATION. This point really hit me hard a few days ago as I was workin’ in my garage/shop (for new readers or those of ya outta the loop, your humble correspondent is spending the summer in his adopted home state- moved up here in ‘69 and been comin’ back regularly ever since- of Alaska) painting concrete lawn and garden ornaments for the family business- a talent I never knew I possessed but have found that I actually enjoy.
A couple of neighborhood kids have taken to hangin’ out, listening to my ever-blaring stereo and trying their hands at painting a few pieces. Most of the stuff I’m working on is too complicated (concrete king crabs, penguins, sea gulls, lawn faeries and the like) for kids their age- the boy is 8, the lil’ gal is 10- but some of ‘em, like eensy-weensy ladybugs and small replicas of the sun, have gotten tiresome for me and it’s worth a few bucks a week to not have to do ‘em.
And really, I don’t mind havin’ the kids around, bein’ that I miss the hell outta my own 16-year-old, St. Paul-ensconced son, and it doesn’t hurt that their mom is kinda cute. But I digress. Point here is that havin’ them young ‘un’s around reminds me of the time I spent with my own boy back in the early-to-mid ‘90s when he was close to their ages. I made it a priority to explain what every song I played was about, why I liked it and to fill him in on any info on the artist I felt might be relevant. End result- my son likes a lot of the crapola other 16-year-old, 21st-century kids do, but he also has a deep love for and understanding of a plethora of different styles, eras and genres of music. And he knows enough not to believe party lines- on either side- or to blindly follow the leaders of anything, anywhere, for any reason. Might be no big deal for some of ya, but to me, it’s something to be mighty proud of.
Times have changed, though- or not. I mean, I’m still finding myself moved by timeless anti-war songs, soulful social commentary and goose-pimple-inducing musicianship, there’s still a gang of thugs and thieves in the White House, people are still writing songs about it, and now here are two more kids who not only can use some careful musical, political and social guidance, but actually love hearing the music and learning. How cool is that? KIDS WHO READ! AND ROCK! Hallelujah!!
Last week, we spent a whole day painting and listening to nothing but Neil Young. Neil covers just about all of the above-mentioned subject matter (and a whole lot more), and also provides hours of great stories and concert memories for me to re-hash to fresh young ears. This week, we actually made a couple of mix CDs chock fulla songs that helped me explain to them the current war in Iraq. We spent a couple hours talking about America, politics, music, the people of the Middle East, racism, why I “support the troops but not the war,” and a whole lot of history. Sure, they’re only one man’s opinions, but better to have a few opinions to look at than just the standard non-opinion(s) being taught in today’s schools and promoted in our national press.
I’m not sure who’s really learning more- the kids with my music and rants, or myself watching and listening to their reactions to the music I’m playing them and the explanations I’m offering. I guess it’s pretty much a win/win situation, eh? Bottom line here is, why stop with those two kids way up here in the wilds of Alaska? Why not share some of the songs we’ve been hearing and a bit of info on why they’re important and still relevant with you, dear readers ... and hopefully you’ll do the ol’ “Clip And Save” with this column (at least the song list, these here rants can go straight into the bottom of your bird cage or cat’s litter box, per usual) and pass it on to your kids, or your nieces and nephews, or your grandchildren, or just kids you know, or see around the neighborhood. Hell, just leave it on a city bus, at the welfare or unemployment office, or in your doctor or dentist’s waiting room for the right eyes to glom onto.
We sit around weeping and gnashing our teeth at the state of the world, this country, and the entertainment industry in general, but who’s really taking the time to TALK to kids about it all, explain the whys, whos, and whats and crank up some really killer music to back it all up? Well, I am. How about you ...?
Hallett’s Songs For Peace, Volume One:
1) “The Revolution Starts Now”- Steve Earle. A great rock and roll tune, and one that has the gumption to stand up to the current “Anything Goes” policies wafting out of Washington. My fave line: “Last night I had a dream/ That the world had turned around/ And all our hopes had come to be, and the people gathered ‘round/ An’ they all brought what they could bring/ And nobody went without ...” Real patriots should own every album Earle’s released since around 1995. I’d like to think this is the stuff Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Hancock might be sittin’ around the office listenin’ to if they were around today- true, it’s only a dream, but a pretty sweet one ...
2) “Portrait Of A Sick America”- The Creekdippers. Jayhawks co-founder Mark Olson and his merry band of musical privateers deliver some tasty one-liners throughout this nugget. My fave: “I’m gonna punch George Bush/ And the women will sing praises/ Over his beaten body/ I’m gonna stuff the Sermon On The Mount down his throat/ And the women will sing praises/ Over his beaten body/ I’m callin’ Georgie out for a fight/ Do the folks from Yale think they can lord it over us anymore?”
3) “Jet Pilot”- Son Volt. A crackling, electri-fried rant against the aforementioned Mr. Bush, this one focusing on the debacle surrounding his highly publicized, staged aircraft carrier landing a few years back. My fave line: “Jet pilot for the day, washed his sins away/ Loves to see the Rangers play/ His daddy has a job in Washington, wants to raise a Harvard son/ Junior liked to let his hair down/ Only trouble is, word gets around ...” Jay Farrar’s not-so-subtle dig at Cheney (“... everybody needs a hunting pal ...”) is rather delish, as well.
4) “Fortunate Son”- John Fogerty (live, any performance since the war in Iraq began). Yeah, you’ve heard it a billion times on FM radio over the years, and maybe that’s why the studio version seems to have lost a bit of its fire since it was penned to protest our involvement in Vietnam 35 or so years ago, but dig into any live recording John’s done of it in the past few years, and you’ll FEEL why both the song and the performer are still highly relevant and worth hearing. My fave line (still, after all these years): “Some folks inherit star-spangled eyes/ Oo, they send you down to war/ But when we ask ‘em how much should we give/ Oo, they only answer more, more, more ...” A must-hear for kids from 9 to 99.
5) “Something Broken In The Promised Land”- Wayne Kramer. The MC5 co-founder and former White Panther supporter is still kickin’ out the jams, and provides one of the most decisive, righteously-pissed voices comin’ outta the industry these days. I cannot stress enough how GOOD Wayne’s material is, gang. My fave line in this one: “So where’s Lee Oswald, now that we need him?/ I’ve seen all the lone gunmen, that I can stand/ And there’s a self-improvement tape, it’s called ‘Getting Used To Poverty’/ There’s something broken in the promised land ...”
6) “We Can’t Make It Here”- James McMurtry. If you don’t FEEL every word of this song way down deep in your soul, you’re one of the bourgeois twits James is singing to/about here. A visceral, almost vicious rage against the current administration, the war and the state of the economy, McMurtry shares his famous writer dad’s (Larry) penchant for a sweet twist of phrase. My fave line- hard to pick cuz the whole song RULES: “The bar’s still open but man, it’s slow/ The tip jar’s light an’ the register’s low/ The bartenders don’t have much to say/ The regular crowd gets thinner each day/ Some have maxed out all their credit cards, some are working two jobs and living in cars/ Minimum wage won’t pay for a roof, won’t pay for a drink/ If you gotta have proof, just try it yourself, Mr. CEO/ See how far $5.15 an hour will go/ Take a part-time job at one of your stores, I bet you can’t make it here anymore ...”
7) “Wasteland Of The Free”-Iris Dement. This one’s been floating around for a few years, and actually once managed to piss off an East Coast politico enough after he heard it on a public station that he tried to have it banned. Sounds like The Truth to me. My fave line: “We got preachers dealin’ in politics an’ diamond mines/ An’ their speech is growing increasingly unkind/ An’ they say they are Christ’s disciples, but they don’t look like Jesus to me/ Feels like we’re, living in the wasteland of the free ...”
8) “Wild American”- Kris Kristofferson. From Kris’ latest album, This Old Road, this track (and every one on that album) proves that not only does Kris still have IT, but that he should be a model for up-and-coming purveyors of musical Truth everywhere. My fave line: “Sing a sadder song of freedom/ Slowly sinkin’ with the sun/ Waitin’ for a burning star to lead ‘em/ You’re the one, Wild American ... Steve Earle ... Merle Haggard ... Willie Nelson ... heroes happen when you need ‘em ...”
9) “Generic America”- Blue Mountain. Cary Hudson and co. are, regrettably, no longer together as a unit, but Blue Mountain remain one of my fave bands of the ‘90s, and the work they leave behind will prove to later generations (if there are any, that is) that not all of us were too busy buying SUVs and Big Macs to realize the shit had hit the proverbial fan. My fave line(s): “When the sun comes over the sea, I’ll tell you where I’m a-gonna be/ Ridin’ in a van with the rest of my band ... Oh, please forgive me if I can’t learn to live in generic America ... shopping malls and prison walls all look the same to me ...”
10) “People Have The Power”- Patti Smith. This song has always had the -er- power to move me, and Patti remains one of America’s strongest, Truest voices even today. This one is a real song of hope, faith and trust in the undeniable spirit of every human being on the planet to rise above the shit, death and stench of even an administration as careless and consciously wicked as the one we now live under, and bond together for peace, love, and real freedom. My fave line: “And my senses were newly opened/ And I awakened in the cry/ That the people have the power, to redeem the world from fools/ Upon the meek, the graces shower/ Well, it’s decreed, that people rule ... people have the power ... to dream ... to rule ... to wrestle the world from fools ...” Crank this one way up while you still have the right to do it. And for cryin’ out loud- VOTE, TEACH, SHARE and never, ever stop DREAMING ... if you let ‘em beat ya, they will. Only we, the people, can truly lose this fierce, ongoing battle for our nation, our consciences, our children and our souls.
That’s it for this time ‘round, gang. ‘Course there are literally hundreds more songs you can (and I have) put on mixes to teach children (and yourselves and one another) about life, music, love, and the state of the world- these are just the top of the list for me this week. Try it- throw down your worries for a night, grab a couple of blank CDs, and make your own Songs For Peace mixes. Then give ‘em to a child, a friend, a co-worker or a complete stranger. You just might pass along some Hope yourself.
Before I go, I’d like to send a special thanks out to all the readers who’ve written me via e-mail over the past few weeks supporting this column, my correspondence from Alaska, and great music in general. Gary (glad you ran out and picked up the new Dwight Yoakam CD after reading about it here last week, bro!), Billy, Dave & Linnea, and all of the rest of you- you folks are WHY I do what I do, and despite almost weekly efforts from forces beyond my control (and sometimes closer to me than I’d like) to discourage me from keepin’ on doin’ it, it seems quite a few of you actually look forward to reading my rants n’ raves each week. So thanks, blessings and peace be with you all.
Tune in next time for a boatload of NEW MUSIC!! We’ve got fresh stuff from Popcycle, John Swardson, Middlepicker, Rosanne Cash and tons more. See ya back here, same time, same space on the ol’ ‘Dial. Until then- make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/CDs you’d like to see mentioned in this space, or you’d like to receive a free copy of Hallett’s Songs For Peace CD, send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com.