Protesting in the Era of Trump


by Roxanne Tellier

guthrie old man trump

A reaction to America’s president telling four Congresswoman of colour to “go back to where they came from?”

No, these are the words Woody Guthrie wrote in 1954, about the discriminatory rental policies of the POTUS’s dad, Fred. Fred did not want to rent to black people, and made sure that his rental agents were diligent in keeping people of colour from the cluster of sixteen residential buildings he owned in Gravesend, Brooklyn.

Guthrie had moved into an apartment at Beach Haven, near Coney Island, in 1950. It would be nearly twenty years later, in the 1970s, before Trump Elder was accused and charged with creating a “substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity” at Beach Haven, under the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. (The case was eventually settled.)

woody guthrieSeveral handwritten drafts of the lyrics—sometimes titled “Beach Haven Race Hate,” “Beach Haven Ain’t My Home,” and “Old Man Trump”—are presently on display at the Woody Guthrie Center, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In 2016, Beach Haven Apartments Associates, now owned by Fred’s son Donald, was hit with the largest fine that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has ever levied against an apartment building for the mishandling of human waste, in this case, two hundred thousand gallons of untreated sewage being dumped into Coney Island Creek each day.

Later that year, Trump would become President of the United States of America. There’s a symmetry there.

So it would seem that Trump comes by his racism and bigotry honestly… he learned it at his father’s knee. I wonder if that drives a lot of his cruelty; is he sad that his father cannot see how successful the son has been in turning the hands of the clock back to the days before the rights of women, and people of colour in America, were legally protected? Is that anger at the Environmental Conservation Department one of the reasons he is hell-bent on tearing away all protections from America’s lands and waters?

Lately I’ve heard idle talk about the lack of protest songs for this frightening era of government supported violence, xenophobia and racism. There ARE songs out there, but it’s not like the sixties, where the transistors and family radios kept songs like Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, or Barry McGuire‘s Eve of Destruction front and center thru the long hot summer days and nights.

Where are the songs that not only skewer the wrong doings of the government, but become the ear worm of a time? Where’s the Ohio, that warned that the tin soldiers and Nixon were coming to kill your college kids? Where’s the Black Day in July, written by Gordon Lightfoot, that cautioned that race wars like those in Detroit could take down cities and governments?

Maybe the closest we’ve come to a real response to Trump’s overt racism occurred way back, in April 2016, when YG and Nipsey Hussle released ‘FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)’ a song so angry that YG says the Secret Service contacted Def Jam records to see what was in the rest of his album.

YG and Nipsey shout out to Trump’s “racist ass”, includes calling him a “cancer”, declaring “I like white people but I don’t like you”, and admitting, “He got me appreciating Obama way more.”

But these are interesting times, my friend. In the beginning of Trump’s campaign, and the early months of his presidency, most artists chose to mock his hands, or his words captured on the infamous Access Hollywood clip.

will.i.am ft Apl.de.ap and Liane V – GRAB’m by the PU$$Y

“When I’m president I won’t be like be Obama
If anyone talks sh** about me, I’ll bomb em
I’m grabbin’ that (hey) like there’s no tomorrow
And if we have problems with Russia I’ll bomb em”

Franz FerdinandDemagogue

“It feels so good to be dumb,” From the Wall/Straight to La Cuenta, those pussy-grabbing fingers won’t let go of me now.”

Rocky Mountain Mike‘s Hey Mr Tangerine Man is more silly than salient. But that’s okay. In a democracy, you’re allowed to make fun of the most powerful man in the world. Well  – it used to be okay. We may be moving closer to a time when it’s punishable by death.

Censorship

“Hey, Mr. Tangerine man, build a wall for me
I’m not that bright and don’t know that you’re not going to
Hey, Mr. Tangerine man, keep Muslims away from me
With my jingoistic world view, I’ll come following you

Fake me out with this, I’ll be your newest apprentice
My sister thinks you’re a trip All my friends say “Get a grip”
And my skull’s too numb to think
Waiting only for the bullshit you’ve been pedaling”

Gorillaz featuring Benjamin ClementineHallelujah Money

Band member Murdoc wrote on his Facebook page ‘In these dark times, we all need someone to look up to. Me, that’s why I’m giving you this new Gorillaz song, a lightning bolt of truth in the black night’. Gorillaz leader, Damon Albarn, is known for not backing away from a political fight, and this track, with it’s references to walls and the political narrative of politics in 2016/2017 takes aim squarely at Donald Trump.

Politically inclined musicians have always channeled their outrage into song. Once the Trump reign of errors had fully come into play, many stars, past and present, began to serve up a piece of their mind.

Billy Bragg completely nailed the racism arc to come in his rewrite of Bob Dylan‘s protest classic, “The Times They Are A-Changing.” In The Times They Are A-Changing Back, Bragg skewers Trump’s policies, and warns vulnerable Americans not to get too comfortable.

“Come Mexicans, Muslims, LGBT, and Jews
Keep your eyes wide open for what’s on the news.
For President Trump is expressing his views,
And I fear the mob he’s inciting
Will soon break your windows and burn down your schools
Cuz the times, they are a changin’… back.”

Not all of the protest songs come from conventional musicians. This clip, from Late Night with Seth Meyers, features Amber Ruffin and the Go Back to Your Country Girls, performing their song about people telling them to go back to their country.

So, where we at now? In June, Madonna dropped this political bomb on gun control, with the song, God Control, and an entreaty that we take her pleas seriously. “This is your wake up call. Gun violence disproportionately affects children, teenagers and the marginalized in our communities. Honor the victims and demand GUN CONTROL. NOW. Volunteer, stand up, donate, reach out. Wake up and insist on common-sense gun safety legislation. Innocent lives depend on it.”

For my money, the reluctance of the Democrats currently holding the House to move for Trump’s impeachment is a huge mistake. That’s something with which most of the protest songwriters out there would seem to agree to be the case.

Parody ProjectImpeachment?

The Parody Project, founded in August, 2017, has a slew of political song parodies online. It’s originator, film-maker/composer Don Caron, creates these parodies as a means of “surviving the current political and social mire by laughing and helping others to do the same.”

I always get a kick out of his videos. Took me ages before I realized that no matter how many ‘performers’ he had on a song, it was always just Don in a different Hawaiian shirt and a bad wig. Mr Caron is a one of a kind politically savvy, musical caricaturist for our times.

Randy RainbowJust Impeach Him

Randy Rainbow is the most commercial of the parodists and satirists out there, with a huge fan following both on Youtube, and on tour – I’m still bummed I missed his show last March at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. I’m waiting with baited breath for his next release, but it seems he’s on an endless tour of the United States these days. Lucky you if he’s coming to a theatre near you!

Meanwhile, Randy and I are on the same page about POTUS …. Just Impeach Him.

What I realized as I searched for new protest songs is that, in truth, there are songs out there. They are just not rising to the top of the social media consciousness.

I also think that many with a yen for current events are beginning to feel that nothing that can be said or sung can stop Trump’s rush to an abolishment of democracy, and a rush to convert America to White Sovereignty. It really does seem like Trump is able to grab every flaming arrow aimed at his corrupt government and turn it back on the person that sent it.

Despite daily revelations of his corruption, lack of morals or ethics, and even as he lights the fuse of a race war, no one can lay a finger on him.

No matter how we try, we never do get him. He wriggles away, aided and abetted by equally corrupt courtiers. He doubles and triples down on disgustingly un-American rhetoric, and despite credible accusations that would have had any other president impeached and imprisoned a dozen times over, he stands proudly on the White House lawn, spewing yet more lies and bile.

Elizabeth Warren, who Trump taunted with the name ‘Pocahontas’ for years, may be the poster child for Trump’s puzzling ability.. When she finally released the findings of a DNA test proving her native ancestry, her rebuttal was turned back on her and used as evidence that she is a flakey, insecure female, and likely unfit for public office. Still – she persisted, and is now a plausible candidate to replace the Moron in Chief.

How did that happen? It’s a kind of black magic that anyone who’s gone up against Trump has felt – the president feels no need to show empathy, openness to the opinions of others, or any sense of a presidential demeanour. He just wants to hit back harder and more viciously at those defending their own existence in his world. His appetite for revenge is voracious, and he never forgets a slur.

trump saluteHe is a bully with awesome presidential powers, and a taste for the abuse of those powers.

Only look to the cowed and cowardly Ted Cruz or Lindsey Graham, who rush to carry the president’s water, despite being the targets for some of his cruelest and crudest slurs.

Trump’s a world class bully, in a world where he holds all the instruments necessary for the carrying out of his own perverted justice.

As we edge toward the next election, and the possibility that it may only be the beginnings of a long reign comprising multiple terms in office, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that we will ever be able to vote the narcissist in chief out of office – or that we’ll even be able to oust him from the White House, should he not be re-elected next November – no matter how well-written or relevant our protest songs may be.

 

and.. last minute.. new Randy Rainbow! 😉

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore …


Ach and oy vey! This house move is cramping my style, big time. Haven’t been able to get out to a lot of events, because time’s a ticking, and there’s only so many hours in a day. I’d like to say I’ve become more selective in my outing choices. But the truth is, moving and packing is a bitch. There just isn’t any time to gallivant around.

But let me tell you about two recent events I did manage to squeeze in. Both were wonders in their own ways.

Kensington Market Jazz Festival

molly johnson jazz.jpgA few weeks ago, I was having lunch with friends in the Market, when Molly Johnson came bopping along. Molly may be a Canadian icon – a singer, songwriter, broadcaster and philanthropist  – but that day she was a woman on a mission, distributing posters and postcards to the local shops, in aid of her latest project – the first annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival. It was the first I’d heard of it. When I asked how I could help, she asked if my friend Barbette and I would volunteer to handle door duties at some of the gigs.

Could I?  Well – time is tight – so, one gig was all I could commit to. And what a gig! The first act of the night at The Boat was an up and coming sax player. Alison Young. She and her quartet performed a strong, solid set. Loved it! She’s got a record coming out soon. .. and you should buy it.

A quick pause for the cause .. ran into Eric Alper hanging at the venue next door … and then we were on to the second set.

I’ve always considered The Shuffle Demons one of Toronto’s seminal acts, combining jazz and street wisdom in a playful, theatrical fashion.  And hot damn! Really good players.

So  I was thrilled to do door for the guys. Richard Underhill is, amongst other things, a past mayoral candidate. He’s a smart dude, a good dude, always on the ball. And a hell of a band leader.

As we took in the dough at the door … and it was very well attended, so we were kept very busy … I heard Richard say to his wife, “Just try to video our entry.”

I warned Barbette … we were in for some FUN!

And sure enough, The Shuffle Demons made an impeccable entrance, coming up The  Boat’s stairs in full regalia, tootling their tootlers, dancing with jin jinglers tied on to  their heels  They blew their hoo hoovers, they blanged their tar tinglers …  you get the drift.

It was just the start. Two hours later, I was exhausted! I had sung along, screamed along, danced along!

rox-barbette-richard-underhill-shuffle-demons-sept-17-2016-smaller-pic

I had a very good time.

Bohemian Embassy Redux

(all Bohemian Embassy artist pics are courtesy of Sue Peters, with thanks!.)

Friday past – An evening of memories, poetry, and wonderful song!

Way before I hit the Big Smoke, an actor/writer/poet named Don Cullen had staked out a turf he called the Bohemian Embassy.  You may also remember him from his 20 years as a regular on Wayne and Shuster.

His Bohemian Embassy was a place where musicians, artists, poets, and those with a theatrical bent, could come to test their fledgling wings. The Embassy moved around a bit, first appearing on St Nicholas Street, from 1960 through 1966, and then reappearing at Harbourfront, from 1974 to 1976.

Couldn’t happen today. We’re too busy converting our history into condos.

But back then, oh, it could. And it did happen.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-don-cullenDon Cullen was the Pied Piper of Possibilities, of that first break,  when the world was wide open to the new. New music, new sounds … whatever could be dreamed up, this was a place where it could be showcased.

The memories flowed from the speakers .. of the days when a young Margaret Atwood could read her first scribblings to a rapt audience; where Milton Acorn and Al Purdy found a place to showcase their poems;  where Lorne Michaels practiced his directing; where players as diverse as Gordon Lightfoot and Klaas von Graft could hone their craft, while Bob Dylan, famously, was denied a spot on the roster.

Several luminaries were unable to join the gathering, held at the Toronto Library Yorkville branch, including John Robert Columbo, Sylvia Tyson, and Ms Atwood herself (though she did send a beautiful floral bouquet, with a sweet note, signed “Peggy.”)

But those who came, and entertained us, included our hostess Linda Goldman (who also helped fund the reunion,) Mr. Cullen himself, Chick Roberts (The Sinners/The Dirty Shames,) Klaas von Graft and Beverlie Robertson (The Chanteclaires,) Judith Orban, Joanne Crabtree, Owen McBride, Sharon Hampson (Sharon, Lois and Bram,) Keith McKie (Kensington Market,) Riverboat performer Dede Higgins, poet and author Robert Priest, musician and satirist Nancy White, and Terry Jones and David Woodhead of Perth County Conspiracy, accompanied by Nancy Solway, and Bob Cohen.

And each one showed that the faith, and the talent that Don Cullen had seen in them, so many years before, had not been misplaced.

There was that old Yorkville hippie spirit in the room, as performer after performer trotted out their memories, talents, and affection for Cullen and the venue he created. Nancy White’s rendition of her song, “Popular Don Cullen,” had the audience joining in wholeheartedly, as did so many of the other performers’ classic Canadiana and folk offerings.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-keith-mckie

Keith McKie’s songs were  ethereal and timeless.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-perth-county

Perth County Conspiracy’s mini set was simply beautiful – the harmonies were sublime.

 

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-robert-priest

 

And poet Robert Priest did not disappoint, as he read the first poem he’d written and debuted at the Embassy, and concluded with a new poem on social injustice that had the audience howling with laughter. Priest’s writing is sublime, and his reach wide. As a songwriter, he co-wrote (with Nancy Simmonds) the international hit, “Song Instead of a Kiss” for Alannah Myles.

I went to this event expecting a nostalgia fest, centered on a time before my own. Instead, I was enthralled, touched, invigorated, and thoroughly entertained by each of those who came to give of their time and their hearts to the “Popular Don Cullen.”

And now … back to packing up my world … if you need me, you’ll have to dig me out from under the hoard …

 

Rosemary Solway, Bob Cohen,Yorkville , Nancy White, Keith McKie, Perth County Conspiracy, Robert Priest , Nancy Simmonds, Alannah Myles.

Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City


Bruce Springsteen’s refusal to play North Carolina because of new, drastic LGBT laws might have shocked some people, but it didn’t surprise me at all.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band cancelled their Greensboro, NC concert because of the state’s new law blocking anti-discrimination rules for the LGBTQ community. The so called “bathroom law” clause in the bill forbids transgender people from using the restroom that matches the gender they identify with, and that’s a real problem for transgendered people.

missippi bathroom lawsSo far, North Carolina is just the latest state to go this route, following in the footsteps of Mississippi and those looking to do something similar: Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin.   As of last Tuesday, the National Center for Transgender Equality was tracking 49 bills across America, 32 of which dealt with bathroom access. More than a third (12) of those bathroom bills are still actively being considered.

From Funny or Die …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqASSN5S2CI

Also tucked inside North Carolina’s HB2 act is a sneaky little Trojan horse that strips workers in the state of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985. “If you were fired because of your race, fired because of your gender, fired because of your religion, you no longer have a basic remedy,” said Allan Freyer, head of the Workers’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh.

Conservative media and internet pundits sprang to attention at Springsteen’s decision. Most postings were sad admissions of the lack of truly ‘conservative ‘artists, and the pain it caused them to  have to be exposed to thoughts unlike their own, all in the name of entertainment. Like this poor fellow …

 “if I refused to watch any movie or show, listen to any music or laugh at any jokes by people who are flaming liberals, entertainment options would probably come down to a choice between Ron White or watching paint dry.”

States-transgender-lawRepublican Mark Walker unwisely weighed in on the controversy. “I consider this a bully tactic. It’s like when a kid gets upset and says he’s going to take his ball and go home.”

No, sir – it’s the state that’s doing the bullying. Springsteen is reacting to discrimination, and the loss of civil rights, levied by the state. And so is PayPal, recently cancelling its plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte, that would have employed 400 people, following the passage of the law. Add to that basketball great Charles Barkley, who has urged the National Basketball Association to move its All-Star Game next year away from Charlotte, N.C., unless the law is repealed.

Springsteen’s been down this road before – remember Sun City?

sun city artists againstSpringsteen, Steve Van Zandt, producer Arthur Baker and journalist Danny Schechter gathered  together what rock critic Dave Marsh called  “the most diverse line up of popular musicians ever assembled for a single session,” in 1985 to record an album, and video, protesting apartheid in South Africa. The artists also pledged to never perform at Sun City, as long as apartheid was an issue. The group were dubbed Artists United Against Apartheid.

The Sun City video, described by Schecter as “a song about change not charity, freedom not famine,” featured  Miles Davis , Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Clarence Clemons, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, Jackson Browne, Daryl Hannah, Bono, Peter Wolf, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Stiv Bators, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil Scott-Heron, Nona Hendryx, Lotti Golden, Lakshminarayana Shankar and Joey Ramone, with the signature background vocal sound created by Lotti Golden, B.J.Nelson and Tina B.

From Wikipedia: “The song “Sun City” was only a modest success in the US, reaching #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1985. Only about half of American radio stations played “Sun City,” with some objecting to the lyrics’ explicit criticism of President Ronald Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement.” Meanwhile, “Sun City” was a major success in countries where there was little or no radio station resistance to the record or its messages, reaching #4 in Australia, #10 in Canada and #21 in the UK. The song was banned in South Africa.”

Said Jackson Browne at the time, “Sun City’s become a symbol of a society which is very oppressive and denies basic rights to the majority of its citizens. In a sense, Sun City is also a symbol of that society’s ‘right’ to entertain itself in any way that it wants to, to basically try to buy us off and to buy off world opinion.”

Could the Boss have seen North Carolina’s new law as anything other than “very oppressive and a denial of basic rights?”  Of course not.

The apartheid regime in South Africa finally ended in 1994.But injustice and discrimination flourish around the world.

Almost unknown, and virtually invisible, is a newer group against apartheid, this time in artists against apartheidthe Middle East. (ArtistsAgainstApartheid.org). No matter which side of the political fence you or your country are on, this group has the right to organize and protest.

“Artists Against Apartheid Declaration of 2010: Artists Against Apartheid is an international alliance committed to Equal Rights and Justice, and the elimination of apartheid in our world. While crimes of apartheid are ongoing in Palestine-Israel, we will stand in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS,) and the cultural boycott of Israel.”

A quick search on ‘artists against discrimination’ nets hundreds of thousands of results, from all over the globe, from Australia, to France, and to Mexico, with all stops in between and around.

We don’t hear much about the Guerrilla Girls, a protest group launched in 1985, that call themselves “the conscience of the art world.”  And as they admit, after 30 years of protest, there’s been very little change.

ageism after sexismNor do we hear about the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receiving more than 19,000 age discrimination complaints in each of the past two years.

That’s why it’s important when artists of Springsteen’s stature take a stance on injustice. As he said, he could have confined himself to making a political statement from the stage during the concert, but cancelling the concert, which officials have told the media will cost the Greensboro Coliseum a loss of about $100,000, “ is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”

Most of us can’t make a big dent on injustice. The old saw about ‘voting with your wallet’ can certainly help turn the tide in some commercial issues,  but when governments pass laws that cause companies to decide against investing in your state, and artists to refuse to entertain you, the dilemma that the Religious Right and many Republican states must face becomes clear … as much as you may want and need jobs and entertainment, you’re gonna have to decide which is more important –  your fiscal duties or your need to control other peoples’ genitalia.