by Tom Hallett
I went to a Halloween party the other night—a tossed-off affair thrown by a friendly, albeit terrifying-looking gaggle of thrash metal kids, Goth rejects and fire-obsessed social misfits—and boy, did I get an eyeful! There were bloody Living Dead Girls, seven-foot tall hunchbacks with shrunken heads, demonically possessed, sex-obsessed Catholic school chicks, half of the Village People (I couldn’t tell whether they were supposed to be the living or the dead half), a backwater Elvis, three Killer Klownz, an evil jester, an escaped convict replete with ball and chain, what could only have been two members of Gwar and some crazy bastard dressed as a priest who super-glued two five-inch high deer horns to his forehead.
Me, I just wore the wristband I’d gotten at a previous night’s rock
show and claimed to be an escaped mental patient. Not a real stretch, at any
rate. But the most over-the-top, frightening, stomach-churning outfit at that
party wasn’t a movie monster, or an outlaw, or a fool, or a rock star,
or a madman, or a twisted religious icon—it was a caricature of a man
who embodies all of those distinct personas and more, and yet is the most fearsome
of all precisely because he possesses the rare quality of playing many roles
while having no apparent personality or actual persona of his own.
I’m talking, of course, about the guy wearing the natty three-piece suit
(was the mustard stain on the tie deliberate? If so, stroke of genius, man!)
and the George W. Bush mask.
Time and again, as the evening wore on, I caught myself physically jumping—spilling
precious beer down the front of my shirt—and shaking my head as I’d
catch sight of that faux lil’ Geo schlumping his merry way around the
fringes of the party. Like his namesake, he had an astute knack for a social
gaffe (roundly—and loudly—castigating the Catholic religion for
pagan-like practices while winking at one of the hollow-eyed hotties in school
girl outfits), reneging on deals made (sample line: “Well, why should
I throw in on the joint when everybody else already has? I’ll roll one
of mine later!”) and stirring up trouble where he could’ve just
as easily made peace (“Hey Bob! Snagglepuss just stole your beer! Heh!
Heh!”). But it was mostly the face, man—that face reminding me at
every turn, every corner-of-the-eye glimpse, every twist of the neck, that we
were only temporarily hiding from real Fear with our night of ha-ha haunting.
Maybe that’s why, when I got home late that night, I spent two solid hours
listening to a 45-minute album by some relative unknown from Iowa. And maybe
that’s why I felt an urgent need to get up the next morning and check
out every non-Right Wing news source so I could to get a handle on the current
fall-out affecting the real George’s house of cards in D.C. Now that the
momentary distraction of Halloween is over, it’s time to get down to the
dirty task of unmasking some of the shadowy, money-hungry wolves who’ve
been systematically draining this country of hope, light and love and filling
it back up at an alarming rate with fear, darkness and hatred.
And maybe that’s why I think it’s important that voices like that
cat from Iowa’s be given the chance to shout their ideals and beliefs
just as loudly and emphatically as those spin-doctors in silk suits are. So
in the interests of fair play and equal time, here’s a voice you should
have the opportunity to hear, and an album that should be allowed to breathe,
and speak, and ring out like the very bells of freedom those soul-snatchers
at the top are so eager to muffle with terror level reports, fear-mongering
news stories and ridiculous platitudes. Take it away, Brother Grimm...
Grimm & The Red Smear
Dawn’s Early Apocalypse
Like the venerable yarn spinners who share his last name, Matthew Grimm utilizes
common, everyday situations to bolster the effectiveness of his personal tales
of terror and injustice in a world that’s already become horrific enough
to no longer need fairy tales. The erstwhile Hangdogs front man focuses on social
inequality, political subterfuge and general apathy as his main antagonists,
while Joe and Jane Sixpack, their kids, and the few teachers, cops and politicos
left who might harbor a modicum of decency stand as weary, bloodied protagonists.
Grimm has relocated from New York to his native Iowa, where he’s put together
a growling, hungry beast of a band (Eric Straumanis on bass, Jason Berge on
guitar and Matt Winegardner on drums) and amped up his former country-rock groove
into an angry, punk-y melange of spitting guitars, throbbing bass and pounding,
martial rhythms. One might assume that finding a sympathetic audience for political
rants, social battle cries, and economic doom-spouting would be an easier row
to hoe in the Big Apple, but Grimm, to his credit, realized what so many preachers
and would-be holy men haven’t—that there’s no real point in
preaching to the converted.
Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, while not entirely consisting of such
subject matter (there is the it’s-almost-a-love-song, Phil Spector-ish
“Slut,” with swooning, sweet-talkin’ lines like “You’re
a slut, so what of it/ School days end, and none of them mean shit.” Ditto
“Nothing To Say,” which finds Grimm pouring his heart out to his
beloved via proclamations like “You know all those pretty words you waited
for ... You won’t hear them from me/ I’m insensitive, surly, full
of liquor, wings and rage.”), generally builds its base on those confrontational
Kicking off with the infectious, jangly “Kill The Poor,” Grimm lets
it be known right out of the gate where he stands on the current state of the
union: “So you wear the vestments of ill-gotten legacy/ Bankrolled by
CEOs, endowed by Christian destiny/ Give us empty words and flags to rally round/
But the rest of it don’t seem to trickle down ... Kill the poor ...”
This track is so righteous, so on-the-money, and so in-your-face, that it’s
no wonder this guy can’t find a label (even, as his press kit so astutely
points out, among the so-called “leftist, indie labels” of this
country) with the cojones to put it out. Shame, shame, shame. Hello,
Steve Earle, what were you saying about “The Revolution Starts Now”?
“Honea Path” documents a little-known, small-town strike from days
bygone, and calls to task both the industrialists who chewed up and spit out
the poor and barely educated workers as well as the unions who used them to
gain power and prestige along the way: “Way down here in the land of cotton/
We once dared to dream of fair work for fair pay/ But our brothers they shot
us and history forgot us/ So look away, Dixieland, look away.” A working-class
anthem every bit as powerful as Uncle Tupelo’s rendition of “Coalminers,”
this cut not only captures the pain and suffering of a lost moment in American
history, but also points to Grimm’s knowledge of, and dedication to, the
causes he believes in.
no cutting corners here, no namby-pamby sparing of PC feelings, no slack for
the lords of injustice and the purveyors of hatred, intolerance and greed. “Hey
Hitler” is an open letter to the late mass-murderer himself, as Grimm
sarcastically thanks him out of the side of his mouth: “Hey Hitler ...
if there’s a Hell you’re burning like a million white-hot suns/
But take some balm in PR people, country clubs and patriots with guns.”
“Armies Of The Lost” takes to task the cops, news reporters and
lackadaisical parents of today; “One To Grow On” is directed at
the lost offspring of those aforementioned, spin-blinded citizens: “Your
parents might try but are mostly wrong/ Make stuff up as they go along/ You
shouldn’t even trust this song/ ’Cause everything I know is wrong.”
“St. Booze” calls upon the numbing spirits to provide relief from
the here and now, and is the closest thing here to the old Hangdogs groove on
this raucous collection. Over a weeping roadhouse shuffle, Grimm laments the
state of the world while trying to coax some respite out of a bottle: “St.
Booze, we come unto thy altar humble/ Bearing sorrow sin, and nothing left to
lose/ Bless this water into beer, wash away our pain and fear/ And deliver us
from here, St. Booze.”
“Thanks” could be an alternate-universe Drive-By Truckers tune;
a bitter, dead-tired response to those über-patriots who claim that this
country is in the shape it is because of the current generation, and not the
actions of those who came before: “Don’t get me wrong/ I know you
done your time/ From Inchon to Khe Sanh to the Quaker Oats line ... so with
this beer hoisted, allow me to offer some gratitude long overdue ... Thanks
for the culture of thought sanitized/ By Christians and bigots and Reaganites/
Thanks for your silence as witch hunts and red squads/ Dragged down your neighbors
like dogs/ Thanks for the Cold War and COINTELPRO/ For Vietnam, nukes and talk
radio ... Thanks for abandoning all you taught/ About fair play and freedom
of speech and of thought/ For this world of shit/W e inherit from stewards/
Who couldn’t be bothered to think for themselves.”
Grimm doesn’t pretend to offer a passel of solutions to the problems he
points out on this record. For that—and some of his finer rants—you
should surf over to RedSmear.com and check
out the band’s official site. There, you can read some of the incredible
hate mail his views have garnered from so-called “real Americans,”
as well as his own insightful replies, and pick up copies of this record, homegrown
art and mp3s.
Me, I’m gonna play the hell outta this stuff, stick it on mix CDs, blast
it on my radio program, rock the tavern on my weekly DJ night and force every
hard-working, beer-guzzling, non-voting dumbass friend I have to listen to every
word of it. Until I hear stuff like this rammed down my ear-holes as fervently
and repetitively as I currently do “patriotic” pabulum like Toby
Keith, Pat Robertson and Bill O’ Fucking Reilly, I’ll consider it
my duty as a proud, practicing, rock ‘n’ roll preachin’ American
to present the other side of the coin. One who has the right to decide which
side of an issue I’m on without being called a traitor. One who has the
right to share those views with others, both those who agree and those who don’t.
And one who won’t be remembered as just standing idly by as the disciples
of the almighty dollar and the dogs of war lapped up the last remnants of freedom,
truth and integrity this country had left.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you all with a word from a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool
American, the late, great Bill Hicks: “I think the puppet on the Right
shares my beliefs! I think the puppet on the Left is more to my liking! Hey,
wait a minute! There’s one guy holding up both puppets! Shut up! Go back
to bed, America, your government is in control!” Until we meet again-
make your own damn news.
If you have local music gigs/events/CDs you’d like to see listed in
this column, or you’d just like to complain that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t
have an indie recording contract either, send replies to: Tmygunn777@peoplepc.com.