Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Announcing new CD: FALASTEEN HABIBTI ("Palestine, My Love")

I am releasing a new 21-song album, both digitally and in CD form, a compilation recording of just about all the songs I've written about the Palestinian struggle from 2000-2014, representing songs from 13 different CDs I've put out over the years.

I feel like I should explain why I'm doing this in some depth. (But if you don't want to hear about it, scroll down to the bottom for how you can concretely support this project, buy the CD, etc.)

Every effective social movement in history that I am aware of has had music at its core, from the Civil Rights movements in the US, Ireland, or South Africa to the Palestinian struggle from 1948 to the present. At every level of successful social movements, there has been an awareness of the centrality of music – both as a means of communicating important messages in the most impactful way possible and as a means of fostering and maintaining a sense of community and a sense of the vitality of the movement among its participants.

A little more on that. Communicating messages. What is the way forward for Palestine? Israel is able to function as the Apartheid state that it is because of massive support from countries like the US and the UK. In order for that support to be seriously challenged, in order for the governments of these sponsor nations to change their egregious policies, first the people of those countries need to truly, viscerally understand what is wrong with them.

Hearts and minds in the English-speaking world must be won. And in order to win one, you have to win the other. At the risk of sounding superior, this is my area of expertise. Words, when sung, go directly to the emotional centers of the brain. Short of being there yourself, there is nothing that can transport someone's heart and mind better than a song. Songs can get under the rhetorical radar better than any newscast, I'll wager.

And, contrary to popular mythology, the choir needs preaching to. Cheerleaders are important. When you're surrounded by pro-Israel TV anchors and their many rabid followers among the US population, your culture is your primary antidote, your primary way to keep going, along with taking action itself.

In order to win new hearts and minds or to embolden others, what musicians like me need is access. Unfortunately, there are no pro-Palestinian record labels that have come forward to get this CD played on your local Clearchannel station or sold at your local Wal-Mart. And even more unfortunately, perhaps, you're very unlikely to hear any of these songs in the music breaks on your favorite leftwing radio show from New York City, because they don't understand how to effectively use culture to make their show even better than it is... And no, they're not going to have me on the Daily Show either, it doesn't work that way in America, even on Comedy Central.

There are no shortcuts. It's up to you. I can write the songs (as can many others). But there's only so much (little) I can do to get them out there into the world, to do the educating and inspiring that people keep telling me they do well.

There are things you can do with no money, such as download the album for free on Bandcamp and share the songs with people. You can organize a show on my upcoming tour, where I'll sing songs such as these live, which is always the best way to hear them, they say. 50% of any donations made on the Falasteen Habibti Bandcamp page will go to the IMEMC. (The other half will go toward printing and distributing the CD.)

If you can contribute money, you may click on one of the “buy now” buttons below. For $25 you can order a physical copy of this fundraising CD. Postage is included in the cost, for anywhere in the world. $10 from each of these purchases will go to the IMEMC.

Or you can become a distributor of the CD yourself. Buy 10 or more of the CDs at a time and I'll send them to you for $5 each or less (postage included worldwide for those orders, too). Then you can do whatever you want with them. One suggestion would be for you to sell them for $20 each and use the money to raise funds for IMEMC or some other Palestine-related cause.

Subscribers will get a copy of the new CD in their mailboxes, as with all my new CDs. Please click the link to read more about that if you're not already a subscriber!

Buy one CD for $25

Buy 10 or more CDs wholesale...

How Many?

You are also very welcome to send an old-fashioned check in the mail.  My address:

David Rovics
P.O. Box 86805
Portland, OR  97286

Why a CD of songs about Palestine?

I thought I'd back up and give a little overview, for whatever it's worth, about why I'm putting out this CD, Falasteen Habibti(Additional "because" statements welcome!)

Why be an activist?

Because life could be so much better. Because we'll soon go extinct if we don't change everything. Because humans and other animals are beautiful and shouldn't go extinct. Because sitting idly by is depressing. Because it feels good to do something. Because we inherently want to help each other, and that's a good thing. Because the really cool kids are at the demos.

Why play music?

Because we humans are inherently musical creatures. Because it feels good, and feeling good is important. Because it brings us together and helps us feel like we're part of something, and that's crucially important, that sense of community. Because music is central to culture and culture is central to any movement or other community. Because we need it or we'll fall apart (whether we know it or not).

Why write songs about the news and stuff like that?

Because we need to reach hearts and minds at the same time. Because words, when sung, go straight to the emotional centers of the brain. Because people can learn from and listen to songs in a different, and generally better, way than the way we listen to other things. Because a song is the fastest and most effective way to transport someone to a place they've never been. Because people just don't know about a lot of this stuff. Because they'll listen to a song much more readily than they'll read a book or buy a plane ticket to a war zone. Because the rhetoric just turns people off, but songs can slip under the rhetorical radar.

Why write songs about Palestine?

Because it's all very personal, so it's easy to write about. Because Palestinians are people, and people matter. Because the corporate press lies about it every day, and someone has to say something. Because almost no one else is doing it (in English). Because other people are scared or ignorant, and music is the best antidote for both of those things. Because I didn't want to play at your stupid festival, anyway.

Why these particular songs?

  1. Because the war in Gaza did not start with Hamas firing rockets.
  2. Because the Israeli occupation is the problem, not religious differences.
  3. Because Israel doesn't want to say where its national borders are, and nobody talks about that fact on the news.
  4. Because the settlements are illegal and immoral and Sodastream should be boycotted.
  5. Because there are some shocking similarities between modern-day Israel and Nazi Germany. Because such comparisons, while inexact, are far from ridiculous.
  6. Because the founders of the Holy Land Foundation are heroic men who should be running a large foundation, like they were before, not rotting in a maximum-security prison in Texas.
  7. Because Israel has a longstanding, proven history of a complete disregard for Arab life, and the IDF systematically and purposefully bombs UN compounds on a very regular basis, and almost nobody wants to point out this obvious pattern of behavior.
  8. Because the men and women of the Mavi Marmara were not lunatics, they were heroic people trying to help other heroic people who are resisting a vicious, racist siege by a vicious, racist government.
  9. Because the Separation Barrier is an Apartheid Wall.
  10. Because Palestinian Christians also live under the brutal occupation, not just Muslims.
  11. Because Khader Adnan was hunger-striking against the horrific policy of indefinite detention without charge. Because he was aware of the history of British detention policies in Ireland. Because these comparisons are important in deepening our understanding of the world, as is the fact that Khader Adnan is a knowledgable and heroic figure, not like whatever you've likely been told, if anything, about the man or his hunger strike.
  12. Because suicide bombers are human beings, generally motivated by a very real and very deep sense of personal loss, not religion. Because most people don't seem to get that vitally important fact.
  13. Because Israel has a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction of the very worst kind – nuclear weapons. Because people should know who Mordechai Vanunu is, because he is an inspiring man and did a very important thing, and is still paying the price for it.
  14. Because the Palestinian diaspora has suffered and continues to suffer greatly, especially the millions languishing in refugee camps in squalid conditions since 1948. Because people need to know about them, and events like the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
  15. Because it's a very simple, very basic, human thing that the Palestinians want: they want to go home. Because anything that simple needs to be expressed in a song.
  16. Because the image of the old Palestinian woman with a key around her neck to the home she was evicted from in what is now Israel is a powerful, iconic image.
  17. Because the story of the brave people from all around the world who keep going to Palestine to stand with the Palestinians as they try to live through and resist the occupation is a story that needs to be told.
  18. Because Israeli snipers shoot children on purpose for no reason on a regular basis, and people need to know about that.
  19. Because chickens and eggs are important, and people need to know that the event that kicked off the Second Intifada was a massacre of children carried out by the IDF in Jerusalem.
  20. Because there is no question that all people, including Palestinians and Israeli Jews and everybody else in the world, have lots in common, and are very capable of coexistence under the right circumstances. Because stories about coexistence and cooperation are important and need to be told.
  21. Because for those of us of Jewish lineage, what Jews in Israel are doing in our name feels very personal. Because Israeli conduct since 1948 has been antithetical to the supposed lessons of the Nazi Holocaust for all of us.

Why make a CD with only songs about Palestine?

Because for over a decade people have been asking me at shows if there is a CD that just has all my Palestine songs on one CD. Because I'm finally getting around to it. Because the bombs are falling faster than ever, and I feel even more than usual like something has to be done. Because music is important, and therefore CDs are important, because a lot of people still don't listen to music any other way. Because a CD or other actual physical thing can work well as something to sell to raise money, and I wanted to have some kind of vehicle to raise funds for the Independent Middle East Media Center.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Another day of wanton destruction. Over a hundred Palestinian civilians killed in the past 24 hours. Stories of revenge attacks are coming to light, of Israeli snipers killing civilians as they were searching for buried or dead family members. Their commanders told the snipers that killing the civilians searching for their dead was a form of therapy, to help them recover from the loss of their IDF comrades.

The loss of their comrades. Over 1,100 Palestinians killed, overwhelmingly women, children and the elderly. Several dozen Israelis killed, almost all of them soldiers. Killed by people coming out of tunnels. Tunnels that the soldiers are bombing and blowing up.

Back in Eretz Israel a small antiwar protest is physically attacked by a much larger, violent mob of rightwing extremists. We can't call them fascists, they're Jews. Jews can't be fascists, can they? Even when they chant, “kill the Arabs” and “gas the Arabs,” as they're beating up leftists, pacifists and random Palestinian passersby? They're not actually gassing the Arabs. They're just talking about it. Well, aside from using deadly chemical weapons like white phosphorus on civilians hiding in UN compounds.

In my mind I keep coming back to the tunnels. Tunnels are such a powerful image, with so much history. The Vietnamese won the war against the US invaders partially through the widespread use of tunnels. Of course Kissinger would complain incessantly of Soviet aid to the Vietnamese guerrillas being the problem. That sounds much better than admitting that you're facing a very poorly-armed enemy that's beating you through sheer determination, ingenuity and courage, despite all your weapons of mass destruction.

The public line was the Vietminh was a small part of the population that needed to be dealt with. That if they could just destroy their infrastructure, the invaders would win. Secretly the American leadership knew this wasn't true. They knew their enemy was the people of Vietnam, and they prosecuted their war with this in mind, targeting broadly all of the civilians of that poor country, and their neighbors as well.

But destroy the infrastructure – they did that, too. And what was that infrastructure? Planes, helicopters, tanks? No. Rocket launchers? A few. Antiquated rifles? A few more.

Tunnels. Mostly tunnels. And courageous, desperate refugees. Refugees living in a walled-off ghetto, subject to an almost complete embargo, with no electricity, overflowing sewers, very little food, who are being incessantly bombed.

When facing a determined opponent, “infrastructure” or the “infrastructure of terror” has a very different meaning than how the term is usually understood.

The infrastructure, the Israelis now admit, is not the ineffective, home-made rockets. Not the paltry collection of guns. The infrastructure are the homes that people live in. Especially the ones around Gaza's inland perimeter, which the IDF is now annexing with tanks and bulldozers. The infrastructure is the homes, and the tunnels beneath them.

The thing about fighting a determined enemy in an urban setting is you can only make the best use of your superior firepower if there aren't any buildings in the way. People can hide behind buildings. So you have to destroy them all, which is what the Israelis are doing. Which is what the US did in Fallujah, and in Hue, and is what the Nazis did in Warsaw.

I'm no military expert or anything, but I am a history buff, and I believe the main difference between Fallujah, Hue and the Warsaw Ghetto is in Fallujah the resistance didn't build tunnels prior to the battle. In all those cases, though, the only way to win the battle was to completely demolish the cities, one building at a time.

In Warsaw, after the buildings were all burned to the ground and the ghetto was nothing but rubble, the resistance continued, albeit on a small scale due in part to a complete lack of food or firearms. The reason any resistance was able to continue was down to the tunnels.

Tunnels are a bit like buildings that way. You can hide behind a building, and if you're really lucky, you can ambush soldiers when they come around the corner. If you're really, really lucky as well as very skillful, you might get close enough for hand-to-hand combat. Which is necessary when the other side has all the firepower.

You can also hide in tunnels, before you come out and engage in your mission to attack the enemy before the enemy inevitably kills you in return. It's almost always a suicide mission. You show yourself, you die, but maybe you kill first, if you're ready to die, and very lucky and very skilled.

In Warsaw, the tunnels were how some of the ancestors of some of those IDF soldiers survived the Nazi Holocaust. The tunnels were how they managed to get some food into the ghetto from outside the ghetto walls. And even a few guns, and very home-made bombs. Beneath any well-stocked kitchen sink are the explosives necessary to have your own little “infrastructure of terror,” after all. Even in Warsaw, 1943. If you went outside the ghetto, where such chemicals could be purchased.

So, destroy the buildings, destroy the tunnels, and face the conundrum that as long as people are able to buy food, fertilizer, gasoline, and Draino, they'll be able to make explosives. As long as there are people there will be terrorists.

So “gas the Arabs” becomes the natural conclusion. It's the only way to have security. If you don't want to give them sovereignty, you have to kill them all. How close to “kill them all” are the Israelis willing to go?

Around the world people watched and sometimes protested as the Nazis destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto, as the US military destroyed Hue and later Fallujah, and so many other cities and towns across the world, directly or through their proxy dictatorship armies in Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia. And their proxy pseudo-democracy in Israel. We knew, and we know, what's happening. It's not that we don't know, or didn't know before.

People watched and protested, just as we do now. In Spain in 1937, tens of thousands of people from around the world went to fight alongside the besieged Spanish democracy, and died there alongside the Spaniards. But that's the exception, not the rule. And when that sort of thing happens today we don't say nice things about them. “Mujahideen” had a nice ring to it in the US media when the enemy in Afghanistan was the USSR. Now they're “foreign fighters” or “jihadis,” both of which are automatically supposed to inspire revulsion.

And sure, there was a handful of brave foreign fighters willing to die in the fight against the American military in Fallujah. There were a few non-Jews fighting alongside the ZOB in the Warsaw Ghetto. Were they foreign fighters? Anti-fascist jihadis? There were no foreign fighters in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh said he appreciated the offer, but he turned them down, on the grounds that housing them would be too expensive, and they'd stick out if they didn't look Vietnamese enough. This mattered, because the Vietnamese had only the element of surprise in their favor, just about nothing else.

For the most part, with some fairly minor exceptions, all the resistance fighters in Warsaw and Hue had to comfort them as they died was the support of their people. And the tunnels.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Pattern (Musically Annotated)

I'm getting older, and the pattern is now a familiar one. Israel starts committing war crimes on a daily basis in Gaza (or the West Bank, or Lebanon). “In response” to Hamas missiles. (Or Hezbollah provocations, depending. But always in response.)

The war of words heats up. Israeli and US leaders are all over the airwaves, saying Israel has a right to defend itself and that Hamas is responsible for all deaths on both sides. The news organizations feel they have to have some reporters in Gaza for a change. They keep trying to spin the news in Israel's favor, but once they're showing even a little bit of the reality on the ground, it all starts looking really bad for the Israelis with each new dead Palestinian child buried beneath the rubble. The US Secretary of State goes to Israel and defends the regime there.

A few days of Israeli atrocities later, he or she starts to make slightly less fanatically pro-Israel noises. The Israeli spokespeople stick to their guns (and their drones, helicopters, fighter jets, tanks, and destroyers). As the hours and days pass with all the nonstop news coverage, the Israeli spokesgenerals and politicians start looking rabid, even to many of their apologists in the west.

Across the globe, the ever-nascent, uncomfortably diverse movement of people in solidarity with Palestinians protests. In some places they attack synagogues, believing that Israel represents the Jews of the world, as its leaders have been claiming every day since 1948. They are denounced as anti-Semites. (With some apparent justification in this case.) In other places the occasional Israeli embassy gets overrun by angry protesters. In most places, hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of people or more gather weekly, sometimes more often, to decry Israel's war crimes.

The Israeli spokesgenerals remind us that not only must Israel defend itself from foreign terrorist aggression, but how can Israel even think about talking to Hamas, when Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist? The term “right to exist” is never explained by them, or by the vast majority of the western media outlets, ever. No one ever asks where are the borders of this state called Israel. Such an obvious question, but you'll rarely find it asked anywhere outside of Pacifica Radio or Al-Jazeera. How can they recognize a country that refuses to acknowledge where its own borders begin and end? It's a non-question, that goes perpetually unanswered by anyone but the terrorists and their apologists.

I ask that question, and I'm called a terrorist sympathizer for doing so. I sing at the protests, wherever in the world I happen to be at the time of Israel's current spate of atrocities. If I'm home in Portland, I sing for dozens, maybe hundreds, of protesters, half of them university students of Arab origin. If I'm lucky enough to be outside of the US at the time – Australia, England, Denmark, Sweden – I sing for thousands. I literally profit, in terms of CD sales and an increased fan base, every time Israel drops lots of bombs on Palestinians. (Kind of like Lockheed, if you remove the last nine zeros or so.)

I hear from old and new friends, thanking me for the latest song about the latest atrocity. I hear from other people who had been fans until they heard the last song, who tell me I'm an anti-Semite, or at the very least, “one-sided.” Social media lights up with praise and denunciations – of Israel, of Hamas, of the BDS movement, of me. To varying degrees of course, depending.

I do gigs, and I sing more songs about Palestine than I normally do. Most people respond with more enthusiasm than usual, especially outside of the US, where the media is somewhere between a little and a lot better, where they're more likely to be tired of seeing pictures of the dead or dying victims of Israel's latest bombing of a UN compound packed with terrified refugees who they've recently made homeless.

The most vocal support comes from Arabs and Jews. The most vocal opposition comes from Jews, too. The handful of people at each gig who don't clap after I sing “Jenin” are Jews who resemble my grandparents' neighbors in Brooklyn. One of them might walk out of the show at that point. The rest stay.

There is some debate in the media. More or less depending on which media, which country. About Israeli history, the plight of the Palestinians in the refugee camps, about UN Resolution 242 and the right of return. There is much more discussion than usual about whether artists like me are anti-Semitic terrorist supporters or brave dissenters against Zionism and empire. The web is more full than usual with racist denunciations, hostile ranting, and the occasional, eloquent defense of a principled position.

Far right Israelis in Tel Aviv and Haifa and on the settlements gather in large numbers, repeating such chants as “kill the Arabs” and “gas the Arabs.” The western media ignores these protests. Jews are holocaust survivors and they don't believe in that sort of thing. They would never say things like that. Even though thousands of them do. On camera.

Bearded men somewhere in Gaza talk about killing the Jews. The only Jews they've ever met have been the ones who bomb them from the air or shoot them from inside tanks, but no one in the media explains that fact. You'll see them chanting about killing Jews, anyway, which is the important bit. You'll see their kids saying it, too. That's how they raise their kids, you know.

Some people make generally sensible comparisons between Israeli policies and Nazi Germany. Mostly the people making those comparisons are Jews, but some others dare make them, too. They are all denounced at crazed anti-Semites (including the Jews).

Other people say Israeli policies are terrible, but there are other countries that do even worse things, so why do you focus so much on Israel? Perhaps this Israel focus is a veiled form of anti-Semitism, because we're ignoring some other place. It's a strange argument.

For some of us, this focus on Israel is partly because it's not some other place. It's Israel. Growing up in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City, I thought Israel was somewhere near New Jersey. Half the people I meet around there have cousins in Tel Aviv. Who are right now killing people in Gaza with American weapons, American money and American political cover. For all kinds of reasons, it's personal. A lot of the people doing the killing have New York accents. Many of the rest are from the part of the world that us Ashkenazis came from. It's personal.

I hear from apologists for Israel who lecture me knowingly about how Israel is “just doing to the Palestinians what you did to the Native Americans.” Which of course makes everything OK. And if that line of reasoning doesn't seem to be working, they tell me about how they're under attack by crazed Islamists and so they have to defend themselves with indiscriminate slaughter of the families of the Islamists, and anybody else who lives nearby. I wouldn't understand, they say. Their line of reasoning there is a bit outdated, since 9/11, but no matter.

Israeli leaders make noises like what they really want to do is completely overrun Gaza to wipe out the “terrorist infrastructure” once and for all. Secretly, they know that the only way this would be possible would be by committing actual genocide, in the sense of actually physically bulldozing the entire place, one building at a time (like the Nazis did in the Warsaw Ghetto, or like the US did in Hue and Fallujah), and forcing the entire population to flee across Egypt's locked borders or to die. Secretly, the Israeli government knows it's not prepared for the fallout that would result from that kind of thing. Secretly, they want to have an excuse to call off their murderous campaign.

Hamas will run out of missiles. The US will suddenly find success in their pathetic efforts to negotiate a ceasefire because Israel secretly is in favor of one now, though they don't want to admit it to much of their population, or to the Palestinians. Israel will publicly agree to some of Hamas's demands. They won't lift the siege, but they'll partially lift it. They'll free a few prisoners.

Almost all of the western journalists will leave Gaza. A few weeks later, Israel will go back on everything, collectively punishing the entire Palestinian population for the rogue action of some Salafist through more indiscriminate bombing of Palestinian homes and a reimposition of the embargo. They'll also announce more settlement-building in the West Bank, for good measure.

I'll write another song on the next chapter in the annals of Israeli occupation. This time very few people will notice. There will be the occasional small protest. The hardcore few among the perennial activists will discuss tactics, wondering how it might ever be possible to mobilize a sustained movement against Israeli apartheid.

They'll keep wondering, until the next time enough blood is spilled to warrant the attention of the world's media. Because slow starvation isn't interesting enough.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Reflections of a Leftwing Booking Agent on Geography and the Ebb and Flow of Social Movements

I'm at the annual conference of the northwest branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation as I write. I've done a few songs so far, and have been very well-received. It's an easy audience for leftwing sentiment combined with acoustic music. These are mostly people a bit older than I, who came of age during the times of the movements against the war in Vietnam, and for civil rights. These movements had lasting effects not only on the politics of those in attendance, but on their taste in music. Also, they're members of an organization that has a culture of its own, to some extent, which has somewhat insulated it from the ebb and flow of social movements (though it has also undoubtedly drawn so much from those movements, too).

Groups like FOR in places like western Washington feel slightly insulated from how things are in what you might call Middle America. A nice little bastion of sanity amid what often feels like the alienated drones in the “real world.” But what of the times when those drones come to life, and beyond the walls of the artificially-produced fortresses of progressivism, the regular people get motivated to think outside the box? Movements large and small can happen, and have broad and lasting ripple effects. Like the 60's -- the repercussions of which we'll still be feeling for many decades I'm sure.

I've been invited for the first time this summer to play at the much-vaunted Vancouver Folk Music Festival in BC. One of the headliners is Joan Baez. I'm playing on the littler stages, she's on the big one. Of course, that makes sense, because she's famous, and I'm not. And then, as undoubtedly talented as she is (and she's better now than she ever was, in my opinion), I wonder sometimes what her career might have looked like if she had come of age in 1980 instead of 1960? No way to know, of course, but my guess is she'd be far from a household name for people of her generation today.

I'll be honest – I envy the good timing people like her happened to have. I used to envy her more back in the 90's. The folk music revival was long over, as were the social movements that helped bring her to prominence. And there was nothing like the media landscape of independent radio stations that people actually listened to that were killed off by Reagan's deregulation of the industry. (Turns out the existence of independent radio stations popularizing local music and covering local news in a nakedly capitalist society was completely dependent on not allowing the big corporations to do what they naturally wanted to do – buy everything up and turn it all to shit.)

And then the millenium was approaching, and things started getting more interesting. Streaming audio became widespread. There were new ways for independent artists to be heard, through the internet. And, probably unrelated to this, there was a growing anticapitalist movement throughout the world, including every state in the USA. And then 9/11, the rise of empire, and with it a new antiwar movement. Both smaller movements than the one that Joan Baez participated in as a youth, but movements with a palpable impact on people like me.

I've been working lately on booking a tour for the fall around the US and bits ofCanada. I'm a booking agent. I pretty much only book my own tours, but I'm still a booking agent. My main method for finding the folks who might be willing to organize a show is haranguing my fans via my email list and social media to get in touch with me about that prospect. Then I stay in communication with them about it, nail down a date that makes some kind of geographical sense, and try to be encouraging in the process.

But who are these people who step forward to organize gigs? They're individuals who like my music, sure. But most of the time, they're also people who are active in some kind of group – for the most part, that means an independent local group of people involved with some kind of political issue, or a chapter of a bigger organization that's active around something or other. For me, that often means people involved with the antiwar movement and the anticapitalist movement, plus people involved with Palestine solidarity and environmental activism.

It's far from scientific, but the way my tours in the US and Canada have panned out over the past 17 years or so of touring as a solo artist, it seems like it might indicate a pattern.

There were many years when I was habitually doing two driving tours of 2 or 3 months each around North America each year – one in the fall and one in the spring. Each tour would involve dozens of different towns and cities from the last tour. And while lots of those gigs were in the bigger cities in the northern part of the US and the west coast, a lot of the gigs were in cities throughout the south, as well as in lots of smaller towns.

During the antiwar movement in the 60's there was an antiwar coffeehouse located outside of every military base in the country. During the recent bout of imperial wars, we've never gotten to the point of having more than a handful of such coffeehouses. So it's a whole different scale, but from late 2001 til around 2005, hundreds for sure, perhaps thousands of towns and cities around the US had weekly peace vigils. At the beginning they were often attended by dozens, sometimes hundreds of people. And much bigger protest rallies were happening in places like New York, DC and San Francisco every few months. For several years I was going to DC to sing at protests so often, I thought about moving there.

And although some of the weekly peace vigils could look a bit sad at times, the existence of all these vigils, among many other things, indicated something significant. That in each of these towns, there was some kind of organized antiwar presence. Each of those groups putting on the vigils also did other things. Among them, they organized concerts for people like me. Usually the concerts even had more people coming to them that the vigils did.

As I'm organizing this tour I'm thinking, when was the last time I had a gig anywhere in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia or Alabama? I used to play in all of those states regularly. The Dakotas? Wyoming? Nebraska? It's been many years since I've had a gig offer from any of those states, but again, I used to play in all of them regularly. And in the states where I still do play regularly, the gigs are much more likely than before to be in the major cities. Like in Texas, I still do regular gigs in Houston, Dallas and Austin, but the contacts I used to have in San Antonio, Corpus Christi or El Paso seem to have vanished long ago.

The Occupy movement was a nice, brief shot in the arm, but aside from that, my experience of the past 9 years or so has been that, well, things are looking a lot like they were before the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. The groups like FOR still have their sort of built-in constituencies. Those people that just have to do something, even in times that don't feel particularly hopeful, are still out there, mainly in the bigger cities, where they stand a chance of finding each other.

The tour is coming together just fine. There are plenty of big cities in the US. I can bypass the “Deep South” and the Dakotas, too. In Canada things have followed a similar course, though it took longer there. I have nice gigs in several of the major cities there, but it's been many years since I've played in many of the smaller cities where I used to play regularly. There still seems to be enough going on with folks in enough places to organize a good tour, though. But doing this kind of loop around the continent twice a year like I used to seems like a fantasy now. I doubt it would pan out if I tried to do that again these days. It's hard to imagine what the second tour might (or might not) look like if I tried to book a second one in the same year.

There were many years where I had so many gigs, mostly organized by small groupings of peaceniks or anarchists across North America, that I certainly had no need to seek gigs outside of the US. But I did, anyway, because I love to travel and see the world, meet new people, get involved with stuff going on in different places up close. For years, I was on the road, touring, 9 or 10 months out of the year. Living in such a massive country, with so many people and so many cities, it didn't occur to me back then that within a few years, I'd be doing most of my gigs outside the country.

There has been a marked decline in these movements in most of Europe, too. But despite that, and despite the declining economic situation on both sides of the Atlantic as well, there are still a lot of people, a lot of cities, and most of them quite a bit closer together than the cities of North America. I don't know how I'd manage if I couldn't tour in Europe. The fact that I had enough business savvy to start this subscription campaign, and had enough fans out there who still have jobs and could join up with the scheme, also helped a lot.

I talk to other DIY musician types who tour in the same kinds of networks as me in the US, and their view of the activist scene in the US is similar. Many of them are getting day jobs, aside from those who have also discovered Europe along the way at some point. In one way or another, they're having to branch out to make it work.

The thing is, in this business, when you're singing original songs, you have to tour. If you're in a cover band you can maybe get by playing local bars and stuff. But if you do original music, you tour, and you don't play the same town more than once or twice a year, generally. And if you're not well-known, if you're not working with a promoter and manager and a known booking agent and all that, you need to rely on volunteers in each town to make it work. If you're doing political music, those volunteers are probably going to be activists, and their ability to organize something good, or at all, is going to be dependent on the health of the activist scene in their town at a given time.

Which obviously has its pros and cons. In good times, it's great. Like for any artist, if you get a chance to sing for a crowd of tens of thousands of people, this counts as good. Between 2000-2005 I sang at protests that big at least annually. Not since then, though, at all.

I used to tell artists from small countries that if they wanted to make a living as performers, they'd better cultivate connections in other countries and sing in a language they speak there. There are exceptions, of course. But as a general rule, that's how it is. You can only tour Denmark for a few weeks before you've played in every city of any size in the entire country. Then you have to either move on to another country, or do something else with your life for another 6 months or so, until you might be able to play those cities again.

I used to say, though, that if you're an artist from a country the size of the US, you could get away with ignoring the rest of the world, as many Americans tend to do anyway. I certainly know other artists who still do, just out of ingrained habit. But I have more empathy with them than ever, because I have no idea how they're making it work these days, or if they are. It's one of those things you might not readily find out by asking. People don't want to admit defeat, and there are always credit cards.

This isn't a message of hope and optimism, but maybe there's something to be said for a little reality-check now and then. I'm looking forward to my tour in the fall. And I'm looking forward to the next time when we have a social movement that activates that wonderfully diverse bunch of folks in the more out-of-the-way parts. It's much better to feel like a fish swimming in a sea. As it is, I feel more like some creature scrambling beneath the ice from one air pocket to the next one. Hoping the ice will eventually melt again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

New album -- All the News That's Fit to Sing

I have a new album out.  I'm very excited about it.  You can stream or download it for free or by donation here:

If you do nothing more than download it for free and enjoy it, I'll be happy.  I'll be much happier if you take that link there and share it with lots of people by whatever means -- email lists, social media, phone calls to radio programmers who should play it and reviewers who should review it...

Anyone is welcome to stream or download it for free.  If you're already a subscriber, thank you so much for making this album so much more possible than it otherwise would have been.  Please enter "0" in the donation field and enjoy the album!  As for the rest of you, if you're able to become a subscriber or to make a one-time donation for the album there on the Bandcamp site or via the "donate" button at, please feel free!  (But again, don't let lack of finances stop you from downloading and sharing the album!)

On my fall tour of North America I'll of course be singing songs from this album and many others.  If you or anyone you know might want to organize a show somewhere and hear these songs up close and personal, I'd love to hear from you!  Same goes for Europeans -- I'll be there in spring 2015.

This album, All the News That's Fit to Sing, represents hundreds of hours of time researching, writing songs, and playing music over the past 6 or 8 months.  Plus two long days in a wonderful recording studio in the woods near Portland.

It's mainly songs about current and recent events.  Such as the latest round of "free trade" negotiations, the TPP and TTIP.  Recent evidence that the massacres at Kent State and Jackson State were premeditated.  The deadly, man-made mudslide that killed 42 people last March in Oso, Washington.  Former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels' efforts to ban the works of Howard Zinn in his state.  The recent controversy involving Scarlet Johansson, the Sodastream corporation, and illegal Israeli settlements.  The arrest and imprisonment in London of former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg.  The "sun tax" in Oklahoma.  And more!

Hope you like it, and hope to see you on the road and in the streets!