Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015 in 10 songs

The year's not quite over yet, but I think we all get the idea.  Here is my musical review of 2015.  My occupation is a bardic one -- reporting the news in song.  So what follows are my own songs, as it were -- political commentary that rhymes.

1.  Islamic terrorism dominated the headlines around the world only seven days into 2015 with the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  Followed later in the year by a much bigger evening of terrorist attacks in Paris, as well as large-scale mass killings of a similar nature in Turkey, California and a hell of a lot of other places.

2.  Police violence against lots of people, especially young black men and boys, continued around the US unabated.  As well as in some more surprising locations, like Rotterdam.  The movement against the violent institutional racism of police departments and many governmental structures in general also continued.

3.  Islamaphobic violence is a fact of life for Muslims living in often hostile environments in Europe, North America and elsewhere in the world.  A terrible chapter in this ugly story was written early in the year, when three Muslim students were killed by an angry, bigoted man in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

4.  The Confederate flag was widely debated among the pundits and on the streets in 2015 following the massacre of nine African-American men and women during a church service in Charleston, South Carolina.  Many flags were taken down, and many more black churches have been burned.  There was also more debate on the subject of gun control, with no changes for the better made til now.

5.  The presidential race that dominates the US media literally half of the time, continues to dominate the media.  For those of you who aren't from the belly of the beast, we here in the United States who dare to pay attention to the corporate and "public" media only get a break from this circus for two years following each presidential election, and they happen every four years.  You can do the math.  This year, Donald Trump is the chief pot-stirrer.

6.  Millions of refugees have been streaming across borders in 2015, more than ever before altogether.  Around a million of them are thought to have made it to Europe.  Many, many thousands have died trying to cross borders, who now lie on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea or in some mass grave in Mexico.  It's a good time to recall moments in history when things were different.  In 1492, when the king of Spain gave the Jews three months to leave or be killed, the Ottoman Sultan not only offered asylum to Spain's 800,000 Jews -- he sent the Ottoman fleet to Spain to rescue them.

7.  Xenophobic politicians around the world have responded to the refugee crisis by being xenophobic politicians (see #5).  One of the popular forms of this xenophobia has been to accidentally keep quoting Adolf Hitler and his supporters in the British and American media, among others, circa 1939.  Just change words like "Jew" and "communist" to "Muslim" and "terrorist."  Try it.  It's very chilling.

8.  Marijuana was legalized in my home state of Oregon, and continues to be legal in Washington, the state just to the north, and Colorado and elsewhere.  It's good news for referendums, which are occasionally able to circumnavigate the other, less democratic structures of democracy, such as the mainly corporate-sponsored and corporate-controlled phenomena that are the state and federal electoral processes.  And municipal most of the time, for that matter.

9.  Joe Hill was in the news more often than in a long time, with 2015 being the 100th anniversary year of his execution by firing squad.  In random bits of North America, Europe and elsewhere, Joe Hill was remembered by many, often in musical forms.  (Singing with Joan Baez and Tom Morello was a highlight for me.)

10.  2015 was the hottest year ever, and given the utter, dismal failure of the world's "leaders" to solve the problem of climate change, with one farcical conference after another, most recently in Paris, we can be sure there will be many, hotter years ahead.

Monday, December 7, 2015

1939: a live CD

Here's the album on Bandcamp:

I haven't set a date for when it will become a CD.  But you may pre-order the CD here with a donation of $15 or more.  Additional donations will specifically be earmarked for distributing the CD to radio programmers.  This can cost thousands of dollars if you want to be thorough about it, and is something I usually can't afford to do.

So far:  $226

I'll update the amount there, as people make contributions.  There are also rewards for donations:

  • Donate $5 or more and you'll get a free download of the album when it's out.  
  • Donate $15 or more to pre-order a CD, to be sent to you in the mail.  
  • Donate $50 or more and I'll give you a guitar lesson.  
  • Donate $250 or more for a concert in your living room next time I'm in your area.
  • Donate $500 or more and I'll write a song on a subject of your choice, to be included in a future recording.  
CSA members will get the album download as well as the CD in the mail when it's out, regardless of any extra donations you may make!

If you want to donate but you prefer to do so by sending a check in the mail, my address:

David Rovics
PO Box 86805
Portland, OR  97286

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Primer on Refugees (Musically Annotated)

The United Nations has a strict definition of the term "refugee," whereby you are only a refugee if you are fleeing war or persecution of some kind.  If you are fleeing a place because there is no way for you to feed yourself or your family if you stay, the UN defines this kind of movement as "migration."  Until 1967, the only refugees recognized by the original refugee convention were Europeans.  So clearly there's lots of room for improvement.

In any case, however you define the term, the history of what some call civilization has been full of refugees.  Most sensible people think that if you're starving, that's also a good reason to seek out a place where you might not starve, and that also counts as being a refugee.  That is the definition of "refugee" that I use -- anyone who is fleeing for their lives, for whatever reason.

There is a lot of propaganda here in the US -- in the schools, histories, in the media, etc. -- that we are a country of immigrants.  Of people seeking a better life in a "new" world.  To be sure, there were some very wealthy and powerful Europeans who were seeking greater degrees of wealth and power in the Americas, and they found it.

People like the Van Renssalaer family, of royal Dutch extraction, who came to New York in order to be given much of the state by the Dutch crown.  Through this massive land grant to the already-wealthy, they got much, much wealthier through the practice of exploiting peasants, aka "tenant farmers," up and down the Hudson River Valley.  There are a lot of other similar examples throughout North and South America.

Even people who have swallowed the line about "migrants seeking a better life in the new world" are aware that millions of people were brought to the Americas in chains, mostly from Africa, so clearly weren't "migrants."  They may also be aware that there were 500 nations full of people already living within the borders of what today is known as the United States.  500 nations full of people with different languages, customs, and highly advanced farming, forestry and game management practices, who were systematically driven off of their lands and killed through a web of market-incentivized methods of extermination.  Including but not limited to the European practice of "scalping," which involved white settlers getting paid by the local authorities on a per-scalp basis.

But what of the European "migrants"?  What of the ancestors of the majority population today in the US and Canada?  My ancestors, for example?  Aside from the Van Renssalaers and their ilk, the Europeans who settled North America were certainly primarily refugees.  They came not seeking a better life, but seeking to live.  They were fleeing the violent, disease-ridden, often war-torn cities of Europe.  Fleeing corrupt, despotic rulers.  Famines, pogroms, inquisitions and crusades.

They were refugees seeking survival, seeking not to be killed for practicing a certain religion, seeking to have land to farm so they could eat -- land that was systematically stolen from them in Europe in order to force them into miserable, fatal jobs in dangerous, deadly factories.  (In England they called this practice "enclosure."  In Scotland it was known as the "clearances."  In Ireland, the Irish called it slavery, and referred to each other as slaves -- an accurate description of their condition through most of British colonial rule there.)

The refugees coming from Europe to the Americas over the course of many hundreds of years were coming from Europe because countries like the US and Canada had a whites-only policy for accepting refugees, aka "immigrants."  If not for this racist policy -- now a slightly less racist "quota system" -- perhaps there would have been a greater proportion of refugees migrating from other parts of the world.  In fact there were, but many of the Chinese, Japanese and other non-whites who came here to build the railroads and work the coal mines were sent back later, and could never get citizenship, by virtue of the fact that they weren't European.

Generally, these European refugees came here with promises of work and land.  They often found neither, but were sometimes given the opportunity to have land to farm if they went west and stole it from someone else first.  This was the principal method of westward expansion, backed up by genocidal military campaigns to help clear land for settlement.

This process of settlement also produced massive flows of refugees throughout the Americas, such as the Cherokee and hundreds of other nations -- millions of people altogether -- forced at gunpoint to leave their ancestral lands and try to survive somewhere else.  Usually somewhere with rocky soil that the whites didn't want to bother with.

If you're familiar with the history I have laid out here so far, it's very likely that you're unfamiliar with what I'm about to tell you.

Before the Americas became the primary method for the European ruling classes to give rebellious peasants the "flight" option (within the "fight or flight" equation), European refugees went south and east instead of across the Atlantic.  That is, throughout what in Europe they called the Dark Ages, starving European peasants fled in their thousands every year to live in relative safety and prosperity in lands ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

That is, European Christians fled Europe in order to live under Muslim rule in the Middle East and North Africa.  Every year, in their thousands.  It was a one-way flow.  Muslim farmers from Ottoman lands wouldn't think of moving to Europe.  Such a move would likely result in them being killed for the crime of not being Christians.  Also, while most of Europe was ruled by petty, xenophobic despots in the post-Roman period, the Middle East and North Africa, by contrast, was ruled by comparatively enlightened rulers.  Things in the Ottoman lands were much more predictable, much more stable.  You got taxed once a year, rather than whenever the local baron wanted to build a new castle or make war on his neighbor.  And you could freely practice any religion and speak any language without fear of persecution.

By far the most dramatic chapter in the history of refugees on our planet took place in 1492, when the new rulers of Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, declared in their Edict of Alhambra that all of Spain's approximately 800,000 Jews (the Sephardim) had three months to leave Spain before they would be killed.

Thousands of Sephardic Jews died in various attempts to get out of Spain, "aided" by Spanish sailors who generally took them out to sea, only to cut them open and dump them overboard once they got far enough from land.  (There were rumors that the Jews were eating gold and diamonds, so the Spanish sailors had to verify whether or not this was true, rather than saving their lives.)

However, the vast majority of the Sephardim survived the Alhambra Edict -- by being rescued by the Ottoman fleet.  That is, the Ottoman ruler, the Sultan, sent his navy to Spain in order to rescue Spanish Jews, and resettle them within Ottoman lands that had not recently been overrun by xenophobic religious bigots such as Spain's new rulers.

Contrary to what happened with the Jews who stayed in Europe -- such as those who went to Portugal or Russia, so many of whom were ultimately killed -- Jews in the Ottoman Empire lived in peace and prosperity for over a millenia.  (If westerners know anything about Ottoman history, they usually know about the Armenian Genocide of 1915.  Although this was an unspeakably awful chapter in the history of humanity -- the dying gasps of the Ottoman Empire in the midst of losing the First World War -- it is not representative of the thousand-year rule of the Ottomans.)

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, European and American powers could finally do what they had wanted to do for centuries -- divide up and rule the Middle East.  You'll note that the European colonial powers had at this point taken over much of the world -- which was easier to do when you were coming with modern weaponry backed by a dynamic, ruthless economic system into a place that had so far suffered neither of these developments, such as North America or Australia.  Attempting to colonize other parts of the world that were at a similar level of "development" proved far harder.

Prior to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, colonial powers had made very significant inroads in terms of economic domination of places nominally under Ottoman rule, such as Egypt.  The British and American colonists in Egypt, in fact, pioneered new ways of exploiting not only the living there, but the dead, as well, in their practice of using the cloth wrappings of the dead to make paper in the paper mills in Maine.

But to rule most of the former Ottoman lands, the colonial military campaigns that we know of as the First World War had to take place.  With tens of millions killed, millions starved to death, and untold numbers homeless and destitute, European and North American powers were prepared to run things in the defeated lands, and they did.

Colonial rulers in the Middle East then did what they had already done in much of Asia and Africa.  They drew borders, created new countries, with an aim to create countries and systems of governance that were inherently unstable politically.  They did this by dividing tribal lands up into different countries (with half the tribe in one country and half in another), and by picking an ethnic or religious minority in each country that was a sufficiently small minority that it wouldn't be too threatening to the colonial power -- but would be sufficiently large that it was big enough to control the rest of the colony's population, if provided with enough weapons and ammunition.

In the new country of Iraq, the ruling class became elements of the Sunni minority.  In Syria it was the Alawite minority.  In Lebanon, the Maronite minority, and so on.

There were lots of ups and downs in the past century of US and European domination of the Arab world.  One country in the region even managed to have a thriving, multi-party democracy for a while -- Iran -- until it was overthrown by the CIA in 1953.  Because of this kind of behavior on the part of the CIA and the divide and conquer policies of the colonial and neocolonial powers, the region has largely been in a state of turmoil since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Western powers have worked hard to exploit divisions at every turn, fueling conflicts such as the Iran-Iraq War, the Lebanese Civil War, and the Syrian Civil War, and sending massive amounts of military and other forms of aid to the specifically Jewish-European colonial land grab known as the state of Israel.

These western policies have resulted in millions of Palestinian refugees -- mostly descendants of the 700,000 Palestinians driven out of their homes at gunpoint after Israel declared itself to be a Jewish state in 1948.

The US-UK occupation of Iraq created a refugee crisis in the region, both in terms of "Internally Displaced People" (refugees within their own country) as well as millions of Iraqi refugees flooding refugee camps, towns and cities throughout the region, particularly in Syria.  This refugee crisis and the many strains on Syrian society caused by it also helped foment the Syrian Civil War, which has resulted in an even larger outflow of refugees.  Since these refugees effectively can't seek refuge in neighboring countries because they are all already suffering from bona fide refugee crises themselves, many of them go instead to the traditionally unwelcoming, colder lands to the north and west -- Europe.

Internal European conflicts have resulted in massive numbers of European refugees who sought refuge elsewhere in Europe.  There have been some nice success stories with such movements of refugees, such as 1943, when thousands of Danish Jews were transported by other Danes to Sweden, where they were given asylum.  (This story is in stark contrast to the lesser-known episodes of German civilians fleeing the aerial bombardment of their country, who were starved and refused medical aid in places where they fled to, such as Denmark.)

For most of the past thousand years, though, Europe has generally been an intolerant place for anyone different from whatever the norm was considered to be at the time.  Catholic and Protestant despots had a longstanding tendency to kill people who were perceived to be different.  While the Ottoman world was made up of relatively thriving, multicultural societies, Europe was a place where you were far more likely to starve, and far, far more likely to be killed in a crusade, a pogrom, or, later, in a gas chamber.

The gas chambers of Nazi Germany were in a way a logical conclusion to the long tradition of European xenophobia, bigotry and intolerance.  They certainly were not an exception to the rule of the crusaders, inquisitors, and mass murderers that you can see memorialized with statues throughout European lands.

But now, if you ask most people in Europe or North America, you'll probably find that people think of religious intolerance as being a mostly Muslim phenomenon.  Today, westerners know much more about the jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State than they do about the much longer and even deadlier (though otherwise very similar) European tradition of crusades and inquisitions.

For most people in what we call "the west," history has essentially been turned on its head.  For centuries, millions upon millions of Europeans fled Europe.  Many of them went to the very Muslim lands where the predominantly, historically Muslim refugees today are leaving.

While it is beautiful to see the solidarity with Syrian and other refugees to be found in abundance on the streets of modern-day Germany, Sweden and elsewhere, it is also a fact that the xenophobes throughout Europe and the US are playing a massive role as well -- such as the neofascist president of Hungary today, the ascendant neofascist parties such as Le Pen in France or the Swedish Democrats in Sweden, and the governors of 27 states in the US who are refusing to take Syrian refugees.  And the federal government in the US, which is only prepared to take in a tiny fraction of them in the first place.

It is also beautiful to see governments like those in Germany and Sweden standing by international law, standing by their commitment to take in refugees.  (The Syrians of course all qualify as refugees according to the stricter UN definition.)  But of the 28 countries in the European Union, that leaves 26 others who are breaking their own laws by refusing to take meaningful numbers of legitimate refugees, leaving Germany and Sweden virtually alone in Europe to shoulder this responsibility.

And there is no country in the world that seems even to be considering doing what the Ottoman Sultan did over 500 years ago.  That is, not just giving safe haven to those fleeing war and persecution, but actually sending their navy to the war zone and rescuing them.  If there were a single ruler in the west who was capable of behaving as ethically as the Ottoman Sultan did half a millenia ago, the world would be a much better place.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Other Side 2016 WORLD TOUR

I have a few available dates in various places -- especially Quebec, Ontario and northern New England.

There are print versions and web versions of the poster to the right, as well as versions that have a blank space on the bottom for adding local gig details.

The shows I'll be doing will be very much related to the history of refugees in the world, and the current refugee crisis.

There are Facebook Event pages for most shows.  Please feel free to become members of my "street team" and invite friends who live in towns where I'll be playing!

Hope to see you on the road and in the streets!


The Other Side 2016 World Tour DATES

Friday, January 29th, 8 pm
3100 McKinney
Houston, Texas

Saturday, January 30th
House concert -- email Leslie for info if you want to attend with "David Rovics concert" in subject line!
Dallas, Texas

Sunday, January 31st, 7:30 pm
Esquina Tango Austin
209 Pedernales St
Austin, Texas

Tuesday, February 2nd, 7:30 pm
Lake Worth Playhouse
713 Lake Ave
Lake Worth, Florida

Wednesday, February 3rd
Civic Media Center
433 S Main St
Gainesville, Florida

Thursday, February 4th, 6 pm
Sacred Grounds
4819 E. Busch Blvd
Tampa, Florida

Saturday, February 6th
Zeppelinstr. 1
69120 Heidelberg

Sunday, February 7th, 9:30 pm
ADM -- me and the Bucket Boyz!
Hornweg 6
The Netherlands

Monday, February 8th
Spinhuis dungeon squat -- me and the Bucket Boyz!
Singel 165A
1012 VK Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Wednesday, February 10th
Flensburg -- details TBC

Thursday, February 11th
Kattesundet 10

Friday, February 12th, 6 pm
House concert with Elona Planman -- email Kirsten for more info if you'd like to attend!

Friday, February 12th, 10 pm
SUF -- with Elona Planman!
Mindegade 10

Saturday, February 13th
BumZen -- with Elona Planman opening!
Baldersgade 20-22

Wednesday, February 17th, 7:30 pm
Klub am Besenbinderhof
Besenbinderhof 62

Thursday, February 18th, 8 pm
Coop Anti-War Cafe Berlin
Rochstr. 3 (Alexanderpl.)

Friday, February 19th
Alleeweg 2a

Saturday, February 20th
Ye auld Fellows Irish Pub -- me and the Bumbleboys!
Tirolerstraße 19
87459 Pfronten

Sunday, February 21st
Gelateria Restaurant Bar
Scheibenstrasse 39
3014 Bern

Wednesday, February 24th
J U G E N D K U L T U R I N I T I A T I V E e. V. (JKI ) E S P E R A N Z A
Benzholzstraße 8
73525 Schwäbisch Gmünd

Thursday, February 25th, 7 pm
The Venue -- Palestine benefit with The Gracious Attempt and Dan Vevers opening!
Stirling Student Union
University of Stirling

Friday, February 26th, 7:30 pm
Govanhill Baths -- me and the Wakes!
99 Calder St

Saturday, February 27th, 7:30 pm
Bolton Socialist Club
16 Wood Street
Bolton BL1 1DY

Sunday, February 28th, 8 pm
Heeley Institute
147 Gleadless Road
Sheffield, S2 3AE

Monday, February 29th
House Concert -- RSVP Suzannah if you'd like to attend
Barnoldswick, Lancashire 

Tuesday, March 1st
Fox & Goose -- with Will Kaufman opening!
7 Heptonstall Rd
Hebden Bridge  HX7

Wednesday, March 2nd
Polish Expats Association
Unit 4 Minerva Works
158 Fazeley Street
Birmingham  B5 5RT

Thursday, March 3rd
Islington Folk Club
24 Clerkenwell Close

Friday, March 4th
London  WC1H 0XG

Saturday, March 5th, 11 am
With Banners Held High Festival -- with Attila the Stockbroker and others!
Unity Works
Wakefield WF1 1EP

Saturday, March 5th, 7 pm
Hovingham Village Hall -- with Uncle PAF and Kate Fox opening!
Main Street
Hovingham, YORK, YO62 4LF

Sunday, March 6th
St James Wine Vaults -- me and Comrade Sir Henry!
10 St James Street
Bath BA1 2TW

Monday, March 7th
Royal Sovereign -- with the Commie Faggots!
64 Northwold Road

Thursday, March 10th, 7 pm
Stone Soup
4 King Street
Worcester, Massachusetts

Friday, March 11th, 7:30 pm
Community Church of Boston
565 Boylston
Boston, Massachusetts

Saturday, March 12th
Mt Toby Friends Meeting House
194 Long Plain Rd
Leverett, Massachusetts

Sunday, March 13th
Spark Arts Center
137 Greenwood Ave
Bethel, Connecticut

Tuesday, March 15th
Pianos -- with White Collar Crime
158 Ludlow Street
New York, New York

Thursday, March 17th, 7 pm
Vermont Independent School of the Arts
5126 Route 14
Sharon, Vermont

Monday, March 21st, noon
Burritoville Coop
2055 Bishop/de Maisonneuve
Montreal, Quebec

Wednesday, March 23rd
House concert -- email Maxine for more info if you'd like to attend
Toronto, Ontario

Thursday, March 24th
Flying Squirrel Community Space
285 Clarissa St
Rochester, New York

Friday, March 25th
Burning Books
420 Connecticut St
Buffalo, New York

Saturday, March 26th, 7 pm
First Unitarian Society of Ithaca
Corner of Buffalo and Aurora Streets
Ithaca, New York

Friday, November 20, 2015

Remembering Armand

Yesterday, 19 November 2015, was the 100th anniversary of the execution of labor organizer and troubadour, Joel Emanuel Hagglund, aka Joe Hill. I discovered when I woke up this morning and looked at my phone that it was also the day that my dear friend, Herman George van Loenhout, better known simply as Armand, died at the age of 69.

I had one last Joe Hill-related gig last night, one of scores of Joe Hill-related gigs I've done since early in 2015. I had only been in the green room behind the stage at the Alberta Rose Theater in northeast Portland when a member of the local band, General Strike, slowly entered the room. He was walking with difficulty, using a walker to stay upright. He was one of three musicians in the room who did not walk with ease anymore. Observing this fairly obvious fact, he joked in an exaggeratedly old-sounding voice, “is this the infirmary?”

Musicians often die young. It's often a very public death. They usually keep on performing long after they should have stopped, long after they lost the ability to sing on pitch or to sustain a note, long after they couldn't really play their instrument anymore, as they struggle with one illness or another, on and off the stage. They often keep performing not out of vanity, but out of necessity, since most musicians are poor – especially the professional ones.

As any self-aware professional musician will tell you, the most likely way for a musician to die is behind the wheel, or in a plane – Buddy Holly, John Denver, Stan Rogers. Then there are the many who die at the peak of their careers while in their twenties because the combination of the fame and the drugs and alcohol was too much for them – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Gram Parsons, Amy Winehouse.

Many others who are not quite so inclined toward self-destruction die in their fifties due to too many years of the very exhausting combination of life on the road combined with too much drugs and alcohol over the years. I think of Jerry Garcia, and my dear friend and long-time touring partner, Alistair Hulett.

Armand died too young, but for some reason it seems relevant to point out that he didn't drink, and his drugs of choice were of the psychedelic variety. The tobacco he mixed with his hashish did not do his lungs any favors, to be sure. But the drugs never got in the way of his spell-binding performances, except to the extent that they were part of the act.

If you look on the web you will find almost nothing in English about Armand. I would have wanted to write something about him anyway, but this fact compels me to do so that much more.

An hour ago, the English-language Wikipedia entry on Armand was just this:

“Herman George van Loenhout (born 10 April 1946 in Eindhoven, died 19 November 2015), better known as Armand, was a Dutch protest singer. He was known as 'the Dutch Bob Dylan.' His greatest hit song was 'Ben ik te min' ('Am I not worthy?'). Armand came to the fore during the hippie generation and was an advocate of cannabis.”

Now there's one more paragraph that has very recently been added, I just noticed. It talks of the “reviving” of his music career after 2011. Media types love to refer to things like that, but really, although he did get some major press attention in the past several years due to various artistic collaborations he was involved with, his career didn't need reviving. He's been a successful professional musician since the early 1960's, and his career was doing fine before and after 2011.

I last saw him a few weeks ago in the hospital in Eindhoven, the city in the Netherlands where he lived, where he grew up. There are many people who knew him far better than I, and many, many others who know his music far better than I. There has never been an English-subtitled video made for any of his songs as far as I know. No documentaries about him with subtitles that I've ever found. He was an entirely Dutch phenomenon. And in the Dutch-speaking world, Armand was and is a household name, across the generations.

Armand was often caricatured, and was widely both loved and ridiculed, sometimes by the same people. He came to be the one person who more or less represented the spirit of the 1960's in the Netherlands, so depending on where you stand in the culture wars, either you loved him, or he made you feel very uncomfortable. For many, especially for people of his generation, he was a constant reminder of something you weren't -- or had once been, but had later rejected.

What a difference fifteen years can make. Fifteen years ago, when I met Armand, he was not yet old, and I was not yet middle-aged. I was 33 and he was 54. In other words, I was one of those people who still nominally qualified as a member of “the youth.” The anti-capitalist movement was thriving throughout Europe, North America and elsewhere at the time, and Armand was hungry to be a part of this phenomenon.

But lest people get the wrong idea, let me clarify what I mean by that. Armand wanted to be at the center of the action, not because he was seeking more fame, but because that's who he was. If he had been trying to get more famous, he would have sung in English or French (both major languages which he spoke with complete fluency). Aside from covering some old American folk songs and the odd Bob Dylan song (which he did brilliantly), he wrote and sang in Dutch – thus essentially limiting his potential mass appeal to the Netherlands and part of Belgium.

Armand's influence on society was easy to ascertain. Mention the man by name, and Dutch or Flemish people will often laugh immediately. But mention instead the title to one of his well-known songs such as “ Ben ik te min,” and the tears will well up in their eyes, especially if they're men of a similar age. Armand's words spoke to the very essence of what it meant to be a young person in a relatively conservative, stiff, Protestant society who wanted, needed to break out of that restrictive mold and discover an entirely different value system, where love and laughter were infinitely more important than things like money, social status or driving a fancy car.

Today many of us take for granted the cultural victories of the Sixties generation, the overcoming of so many taboos and forms of internalized repression that so many more people suffered from before the Sixties began to make it OK to be an effeminate man, a masculine woman, a free lover, an artist. OK to not give a shit what your neighbors think, to reject careerism in favor of living a full life. OK to reject patriotism and embrace multicultural internationalism.

But for those who were rejecting the repressive aspects of the old society back then, for those who in the Netherlands were known as the Provos, like Armand, it was all much more challenging, much more cutting-edge than many younger people today imagine. People like Armand were not just caricatured back then – they were actively hated, and regularly beaten by police, arrested, imprisoned.

I hope those out there who know more about Armand and more about the Netherlands than I will forgive me if I get anything wrong here – I don't read Dutch and I'm not inclined to verify facts even if I did. (Never trust a songwriter for that sort of thing. We're all naturally prone to exaggeration.) But I'll tell you a little more about the man.

Armand was born on 10 April, 1946, less than a year after the end of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. As a child, he lived right near the Philips Electronics factory, and had chronic lung problems of the sort that seem to me to be the direct result of industrial poisoning. The first of many times he was hospitalized with pneumonia was at the age of seven. The doctors at the time didn't think he'd make it very far into adulthood.

He was, as far as I gather, one of those small, weak boys that develops a great sense of humor in order to survive childhood. He was only a teenager when he was hanging out on the docks, I think in Antwerp, with sailors from somewhere else, I think it was Jamaica, as I recall him recounting to me, and he first discovered marijuana, years before most white people in Europe or North America had done so.

Along with so many others at the time, he also discovered rock and roll, and in so many ways these things – drugs and rock and roll, and sexual liberation – were not just ways of rejecting the repressed, walking-dead society of the dominant culture in the traumatized 1950's. Not just rebelling in order to embrace a more sensible, more free understanding of the glories that life has to offer us. Not just a rejection of status, wealth, and consumerism. But also an active embracing of other cultures, and an active rejection of empire, colonialism, racism and xenophobia.

I never once visited Armand without him recounting a story about an experience he had hanging out with a friend from Turkey, Morocco, Jamaica or some other place. Yes, the stories usually related to smoking hash. Yes, this kind of thing can be easily caricatured. But for Armand's generation especially, this embracing of other cultures was a real act of rebellion as well as discovery. Learning that there is such wisdom to be found in the lives, lifestyles, and philosophies of people outside of the Netherlands, outside of the often-stifling West.

Armand was a multi-lingual person who embraced not only the drugs of the Others, but their languages, their intellectuals, and their music. He became a musician in the mold of so many others who were discovering the rest of the world at the time, discovering improvisation, seventh chords, syncopation, electricity and the like. He excelled at all of it, and his excellence was even recognized by the record companies and radio stations, which began to bring into every household in the Netherlands the songs this man wrote -- though his songs were very controversial, and many of them were not played, and were censored in one form or another at the time.

Although Armand later came to represent what they might call the Drug Culture in the mainstream press of the past few decades, you need look no further than the covers of his albums to see how engaged he was with international politics. On one of them you will find the widely-viewed, very disturbing photo of a Vietminh soldier being summarily executed by a US-backed South Vietnamese soldier.

The form of rebellion that Armand most represented was a rebellion of values and lifestyle. Underpinning this rebellion is the idea that if you have a society full of people who are too busy having a good time enjoying the finer things in life, there might not be anyone left to do things like join the Army, run the banks, collect taxes, etc. But he was never far from what we might call the more confrontational forms of rebellion.

One of Armand's best friends was a guy I met at a protest in Germany in 2000, a fellow resident of Eindhoven named Antwan. Antwan was best known at the time for being a very active participant in a struggle to save the village of Ruigoord from destruction by the ever-expanding industrial ports of western Amsterdam. Antwan spent weeks living in a tunnel beneath a road, in which he was almost buried alive by being run over by a bulldozer. Much of the port is now a massive Starbucks bean-roasting and distribution plant. Though the surrounding farmland was lost in the struggle, due to the efforts of people like Antwan, the village of Ruigoord itself was saved.

When I met Antwan, he told me about Ruigoord and about his friend Armand. Soon after, next time I was in the Netherlands, I visited Antwan, and together we went to Armand's house, where I met him and his long-time partner, Marrit.

They were both dressed like psychedelic hippie Dutch peasants. Marrit still wears wooden shoes, as she always did back then. Armand's English was so good, you wouldn't necessarily guess he was Dutch. You could tell he was from somewhere else, but he spoke English with the kind of vocabulary that would have sounded very colloquial if you were hanging out in Greenwich Village in 1968. Marrit, by contrast, with her wooden shoes and braided hair, spoke with a perfect Dutch accent, like the kind of Dutch accent an actor would imitate in a movie if she were trying to sound unmistakably Dutch.

That first conversation was one of many other similar ones – long, intense, moving erratically from the topic of cannabis to civil disobedience to the history of the Ottoman Empire. I had never heard of this phenomenon known as a chillum, but I became intimately familiar with this ridiculous method of smoking hash and tobacco together through a wet cloth. Sort of like putting ice in a bong, except it's a pipe instead of a bong, and a wet cloth instead of ice. Partially because of his exhibitionist chillum-smoking habits, along with his habit of writing songs with frequent references to cannabis, LSD, and other things like that, he became known in the Dutch press as Holland's “national smokestack.”

As far as I could tell as a non-Dutch speaker, Armand would allow himself to be put into the role of the Sixties Throwback in the Dutch media regularly, only to regularly break out of the box they put him into, demonstrating again and again his eloquence, his musicianship, and his wit. At his shows, his audiences were laughing uproariously about every thirty seconds. Unfortunately not me, since I don't speak Dutch, although whenever I was in the audience he'd throw in a couple more English songs than usual for my benefit.

Although he's a thousand times better-known in the Netherlands than I am, Armand would do gigs with me in squats and punk social centers in Holland as a double-bill. When I sang, he sat in the front row and listened avidly to every word. Soon after I wrote my song, “The Commons,” I sang it at a gig in the Netherlands, and Armand translated it into Dutch and made his Dutch version of the song a standard part of his performances after that.

We discovered we shared a birthday in common, and every April 10 since then, his would generally be the first birthday greeting of the day for me. This is due to the time difference, of course, since most of North America would still be sleeping when the Europeans were starting their day. And also because it's easy to remember a friend's birthday when it's the same as yours.

Four years ago we celebrated our birthday together, going to the Efteling theme park in Holland. Kind of like Disneyland, except way cooler, way cheaper, and way more Dutch. (And smaller.)

It was just after Armand's “revival” that the new second paragraph of his English Wikipedia entry refers to was happening. He had been on a hiphop-oriented TV show popular among the youth, and he came to the amusement park prepared for what he apparently knew would happen. In his knapsack was not only a day's supply of pre-rolled joints, but also a stack of color photographs of himself for him to sign for fans.

As soon as we entered the park, he was pretty much swarmed by children. The adults all knew him, too, of course, but they mostly maintained more of Dutch reserve about the situation, not wanting to bother him. The kids didn't give a shit though, and they all gathered around him, asking him if his orange hair was real (“real hair, but not the original color”), and asking for his autograph. At every ride we went on, he had to stop for a couple minutes to talk to the star-struck worker running the ride. And everywhere we went, we smoked joints, which might seem completely outrageous to many readers, but for Armand, in Holland, was completely anticipated behavior which failed to raise a single eyebrow.

Marrit was with us, and my wife and child as well, and all the rides which looked too sickening for me, Reiko or Marrit to deal with, Armand was up for, so he and Leila were the only ones in our group to survive that swinging pirate ship thing. Why the fuck anyone would want to experience sea-sickness if they're not on a ship without a choice in the matter is beyond me, but there's obviously a market for it, otherwise Efteling would go out of business, along with Disneyland.

He was one of those rare people who read every mass email I ever sent out as if it was a personal message to him. One of my best boosters, he would write me frequent emails to tell me how a song I had just posted had moved him to tears. Last February he wrote with great excitement to tell me that he was doing an album with a popular Dutch band called the Kik. It was to be an album of all Armand songs, chosen by the Kik, and one of the dozen songs they chose was Armand's translation of “The Commons.” (“You're in the phone book!” he wrote me excitedly once it was clear that this song was going on the album.)

They sang that song and others on TV and radio stations and at shows for large audiences throughout the Netherlands last summer. Armand definitely didn't fizzle out, no question – he went out on a strong note. He and the Kik did twenty shows last summer. (Which in the Dutch context means playing in every city in the country, plus some other towns.)

I was passing near Eindhoven in September and I dropped by his apartment for a visit. He had just gotten some very bad news about the state of his lungs from the hospital. He was clearly short of breath. He said that over the summer on the tour he was often so weak that he made sure he was always using a really sturdy mike stand, so he could hang on it when he needed to, if he was having trouble standing. Somehow, though, as any listener could tell you, he still delivered great renditions of his songs, even in that condition. He was always at his best when he was on stage – the stage revived him, no doubt, every time (as it will often do).

The next time I saw him was a couple weeks later when I was coming back through Eindhoven for another visit. This time he was in the hospital, with his seventh bout of pneumonia since he was a kid. He was very frail, weak, getting oxygen through a tube. I had long ago noticed how small he was, though not until I knew him for years. Beneath his usually multi-layered, multi-colored hippie outfit, you wouldn't be able to tell how little he was unless you hugged him hard, and our physical contact usually involved something more like a pat on the back than a real American hug.

I was pretty sure at the time that this would be the last time I would see him. Some of his friends said he had been really sick before and had pulled through, and I hoped they were right, but it was hard to imagine this tiny little sack of skin and bones could survive much longer, despite his intense love of life. It was probably the love of life that had sustained him far beyond when most people would have given up, I'm sure.

I'm not going to try to wrap this up with some kind of effort to summarize the significance of this beautiful man. There are no summaries. Life is way too big for that kind of thing. I'll just leave you with one of Armand's favorite poems, one by the English poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy, published in 1873. (In an email from a few months ago, he quoted the poem and raved about how good it was, telling me about how he had just recited it at a gig.)

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

From Paris to Salt Lake: November, 2015 IN SONG

Friends and comrades,

A lot's been happening this month. I feel compelled to share a few thoughts on that, musically annotated. Mainly links to relevant songs. All the links below are to places where you can listen to a song (for free), unless otherwise noted.  Some of the songs are embedded on the page as well as linked.

I wrote a poem after the Paris attacks.

Steel birds streak through the sky above the Syrian Levant
The pilot flew the plane all the way from Nantes
Explosions rock the cities in this proxy civil war
So many innocents killed, everyone has lost the score
Jean-Pierre fired a missile and was heard to say
He wished he could be home in France at his favorite cafe
Not fighting in a conflict that shows no sign of ever ending
As the Eagles of Death were descending

The bars were filled with people on a balmy Friday night
Out enjoying the weather, having a drink or a bite
Watching football in a stadium, hearing a live band
Washing dishes in a restaurant or shopping for the latest brand
The luckiest ones stayed home, catching a TV show
Not knowing how glad they'd be that they didn't go
Out that evening to join a war they had just last week been protesting
When the Eagles of Death were descending

The Right is overjoyed, prepared to do their best to try
To use these acts of terror to continue to deny
Asylum for the refugees, who are largely fleeing the same men
Who took over their towns and cities at the very same time when
They escaped the carnage to attempt to cross the sea
To be refused safe haven in the land of fraternity
Where this war that has come home keeps rivening and rending
As the Eagles of Death were descending

But oftentimes anecdotes from history speak more powerfully to the present than the present itself, and I think the story of the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of European refugees in 1492 after the Ottoman defeat in Granada says more than anything we could say about the horrors of last Friday.

My latest album, The Other Side (that's the Bandcamp link -- you can also buy in physical form via my new online store), includes “Before the War Came Home,” which is a song I wrote last January after the last massacre in Paris.

When events like this happen in the Muslim world, of course, they often barely make the news. This is primarily due to endemic European-American racism. Also because if something happens more often somewhere, it's less newsworthy. (For example, there have been over 1,000 mass shootings in the US since Sandy Hook, but only a handful of them made the headlines. Such as the ones this year in South Carolina and North Carolina that are memorialized on my latest album.)

Last Thursday there was a multiple-suicide-bombing attack in Beirut. A few days before that in Baghdad. Last month in Ankara. Last summer's suicide bombing in the town of Suruc, Turkey, just across the border from Kobane, Syria is the one among those many horrible attacks that I commemorated in song.

The police killed another Black man in Minneapolis the other day. Still awfully hard to breath if you're Black in America. CeCe McDonald is a trans African-American woman from Minneapolis who almost became another victim of a similar racist attack in that city, except that she managed to successfully defend herself – and then was imprisoned for doing that. (And then there were Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant – endemic institutional racism represented especially well by the Portland Police Department.)

In the news in Oregon and around the US this month is the fact that there is a housing crisis, and the average rent in Portland has doubled over the past few years. The town is gentrifying rapidly, along with many others. There is no rent control – it's banned in Oregon on a statewide basis, along with 47 other US states. We need to overthrow the landlord class. There will be many more children spending Christmas in a tent this winter in the USA.

Relations with Cuba have not been normalized yet, but they keep talking about it. The moronic governor of New Jersey insisted earlier this month that the Port Authority of New York not allow flights from New York to Havana until the Cuban government turns over the FBI's #1 Most Wanted Terrorist, Assata Shakur, who has been living in Havana since she escaped from prison in New Jersey over three decades ago, having been convicted of a crime she never committed. Meanwhile it is the corrupt governor of New Jersey who belongs in prison, not Assata.

Today, November 19th is the 100th anniversary of the execution by firing squad of IWW songwriter, cartoonist and organizer, Joe Hill.

A lot of the shows I've done this year in Europe and North America have had a Joe Hill theme, such as every show on the west coast tour I've just done here in the US.  The one two nights ago in LA included an all-star cast, and was very memorable, singing along with Tom Morello, Joan Baez, Boots Riley, Ziggy Marley, Tim Anderson, Jill Sobule and other great musicians.

The show with me, Chris Chandler, George Mann and others in Reno, Nevada last week was recorded nicely and put up on YouTube in two parts, in case you didn't catch one of those shows live – Set One and Set Two.  There's also a video of Chris Chandler and I doing a spoken word and song collaboration on Joe Hill.

Do you know why there's never been a coup in the US? Because we don't have a US embassy. But unfortunately, the rest of the world does. US foreign policy is the primary reason why much of the Middle East is currently in a state of chaos and war. But 27 bigoted US governors don't want to take any of the tiny number of Syrian refugees Kerry has said we'll accept. They're afraid that these people who are fleeing terrorists are going to be infiltrated by terrorists.

After Anders Breivik massacred scores of Norwegians in a very similar mass killing several years ago, no one called for keeping Norwegians from settling anywhere. This double-standard is called racism. These 27 governors are all racist scum. Maybe they should arrange to give the Statue of Liberty back to France, since we're not using it, and never really have.

Bombs will never stop terrorism. It is US policies in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria that are the cause of the terrorism. Extrajudicial executions of people like Osama bin Laden set a terrifying example. Imprisoning people like Moazzam Begg in Guantanamo without trial for years sets a terrifying example. Systematically torturing prisoners sets a terrifying example. The active support of Israeli state terrorism and Israeli apartheid sets a terrifying example, as does US support for dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The example set by the draconian punishment of heroic whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden sets a chilling example when it comes to the US “leadership of the free world” that the thugs in Congress like to drivel on about.

They interviewed Senator John McCain on NPR yesterday morning. He said we could “fight IS here or we can fight IS there [in the Middle East]. I'd rather fight them there.” John McCain is a fool. The very reason why they're over here is because we're over there. And as long as we stay over there, the next attack is coming soon.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, two more oil trains derailed this month. God bless the USA.


P.S. The Other Side 2016 World Tour is coming together well. That'll be late January through late March. But there are still plenty of dates left to fill! So especially if you live in any of the following regions, I'd love to hear from you about any gig ideas you may have: Texas, Florida, New York, New England, Quebec, Ontario, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Wales, Scotland!

P.P.S. Baby is due on May 1st, so I'm sticking around the Pacific Northwest in April and May. In other words, I'd love to do gigs that are within a few hours' drive of Portland in April and May if anybody wants to put something together!

P.P.P.S. Please support the arts and join my CSA if you're able to do such a thing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuesday Afternoon Coffee Klatsch (TACK)

I'm starting up a new real-life social group (that is, in the non-virtual world, otherwise known as physical reality) in Portland, Oregon.

Here's the idea:

Every Tuesday afternoon that I'm not on tour, from 2-4 pm, people come over to my place in Southeast Portland to shoot the shit.  I'll be the barista.

In more detail:

I spend a bit more than half of each year on tour.  When I'm home, particularly in the evenings and on weekends, I catch up with my family.

During the weekdays, however, I'm mostly on my own, catching up on emails, writing, booking the next tour, playing music, etc.  Which is great, overall.  But I do end up with free time on weekday afternoons that I would like to share with other like-minded people now and then.  And I'd like to meet more of my neighbors.  Especially the ones who also have time free on weekday afternoons.

So if you're a fellow musician, artist, writer or someone who otherwise finds themselves with free time on weekday afternoons, drop me a line if you're so inclined.  Ideally by emailing me at  (But messaging me on Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc., is fine, too.)

If/when I hear from a dozen or so people, I'll start hosting gatherings.  That's based on the assumption that if there are at least a dozen folks who like the idea, maybe a handful of them would show up on a given Tuesday afternoon.

I looked into whether there's anything like this on Meetup, and there isn't, as far as I can tell.  Thought about starting my own little group on Meetup, but you have to pay $10 a month, so I figured I'd just do it here...

Obviously if you yourself are not from Portland but you're passing through, or you know someone who lives in the Portland area and might like to know about this, feel free to share.

Monday, October 26, 2015

I had a dream about you

Some thoughts on Community-Supported Art, music, and life.

Wound up another tour of Europe (check out my blog post, complete with photos and embedded videos), getting ready for a tour of the western US (which will include a gig with Joan Baez and Tom Morello at the end of it), making plans for a new rug rat, getting several hundred copies of my new CD packed up to mail to subscribers, and thinking about some things...

For one, my friends keep aging, like me. In 1-1/2 years I'll be 50, which seems like a significant milestone. Like the age when even if you're going to live a long time, you're probably at least halfway done.

There are a lot of things I'm still hoping to do before I kick the bucket, though. And given that I don't buy lottery tickets and have no hope of being adopted by a major label, I've only been able to come up with one way to make this happen that seems at all viable.

As a DIY touring musician, my career has been entirely crowdsourced. That is, I've entirely relied on volunteers to organize every gig I do around the world. I'd do it all myself, but that doesn't work (I see people fail in that effort all the time).

But there are obviously limits on how big my audiences will be and how much money I'll make that way, and I stumbled upon the concept of the CSA as another income stream that's also based very much in the crowdsourcing concept. It's been very significant, I'm happy to say.

The Concept

As far as I know it was first pioneered by small-scale organic farmers. They call it Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). I call it Community-Supported Art.

With the farmers it's a somewhat more physical thing, but the concept is the same. You subscribe to them, signing up to pay them x amount of money per month, and in return you get a box of whatever it is they produce that month. This way of doing things frees the farmer from the vagaries of the market, and from having to find places to sell their stuff, and lets them focus on doing what they do best, knowing they have a regular clientele through their CSA members.

With my CSA, people sign up to give me $50 a year (or $4.50 a month) and in return they get CDs in the mail, a card giving them free access to almost any of my shows, and other perks. There are also various other circles of CSA membership, involving more money, and more perks, such as house concerts and song commissions.

The CSA So Far

Soon after launching my CSA in the spring of 2013, I reached 300 members. Since then it's stayed steady at around 300. I lose about 10% of my subscribers every year, and gain about the same number through new subscribers, keeping it even at around 300.

Which is fantastic. It has allowed me to tour a little less, so I'm “only” on the road about 200 days out of the year. And it's helped make up for the loss of CD sales, since many (probably most) people stopped buying CDs in the past several years of the evolution of the internet.

However, 300 CSA members has not been enough for me to really even think about doing some of the many things I still dream of doing, if I were to reach my original goal of 1,000.

The Dream

1,000 CSA members.

If I were to achieve this goal, there are things I'd do and places I'd go. These are some of the things I would do if I were to achieve that level of support:

  • Take April and May 2016 off, when if all goes well, Reiko will be having a baby. Which is due on International Workers Day – May 1!
  • Tour in unconventional ways, such as by bicycle, with other people (including kids), with all the gigs being free and in public places.
  • Travel and perform and write about parts of the world where I almost never have paying gigs, such as Latin America, Africa, Asia, eastern and southern Europe.
  • Do volunteer work with refugees.
  • Write a novel.
  • Rent studio space in Portland for hosting events, recording and rehearsal space.
  • Fund a new album project every year without needing to do fund-raising campaigns specifically for this purpose.
  • Tour with a band. (At least in the short-term, this is a money-losing prospect.)
  • Commission song translation and music video projects, to reach a much wider audience.
  • Consider the possibility of a theatrical, noisy run for political office, doing my best Abbie Hoffman routine.

How the CSA Works

Just go to my newly souped-up CSA page on my website and sign up for the type of subscription that works for you! Each type is described there, and for each type of subscription, you can be billed monthly or annually, depending on your preference.

P.S. On Saturday, October 31st, at 2 pm Oregon time (5 pm in New York, 10 pm in London), I'm going to do a Periscope session – just for folks on the internet, no “studio audience” or anything. I'll sing a few songs, and talk about whatever people out there want to talk about – my November tour, thoughts on the refugee crisis, or whatever else. Questions about songwriting or playing the guitar perhaps? Just tune in and send a message there – I'll be watching out for each one of them that pops up. Tune in at

P.P.S. I'm running my own online store now from my website. CSA members get anything in there for half price.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Joe Hill 100 Roadshow, Western Leg

Fellow workers, drifters, hobos, bindlestiffs, etc.,

We will continue the celebration of the life and work of the great Swedish songwriter, cartoonist and labor organizer, Joe Hill, with the western leg of the Joe Hill 100 Roadshow.

There are a whole bunch of great artists involved with each stop on the tour.  (The consistent thing with all of these gigs here on my blog is me and George Mann.)

Please share the itinerary below with people you know on the west coast of the US!

There are Facebook Event pages for each of these gigs, if you want to invite people to come to the gigs via that medium.

One of the ways we're funding this tour is through this online fundraising campaign, so please feel free to support it financially!  There are some cool rewards for donations, too.  (The sold-out show at the end of the tour, with Tom Morello and Joan Baez, is not related to this fundraising campaign, just so you know...)

Yours for the OBU,

Thursday, November 5 at 7:00 pm
San Diego Education Association
10393 San Diego Mission Road, #100
San Diego, California
Kickoff concert for the western leg of the Joe HIll 100 Roadshow, hosted by the San Diego branch of the IWW and cosponsored by Activist San Diego and others! Chris Chandler, David Rovics and George Mann anchoring this leg of the tour! Doors open at 6:30 pm, concert starts at 7 pm. $5 - $15, sliding scale, all welcome and no one turned away for lack of funds.

Friday, November 6 at 8:00 pm
IATSE Local 80
2520 W. Olive Ave
Burbank, California
David Rovics, Chris Chandler and George Mann hit LA/San Pedro. Thanks to IWW LA Branch, Arbeter Ring/Workmen's Circle, and IATSE for coordinating this concert! Suggested donation $10-15-20, all welcome, no one turned away for lack of funds! Doors open at 7 pm for social hour and pre-concert reception. Parking lot onsite.

Saturday, November 7 at 7:30 pm
City College of San Francisco
50 Phelan Ave
San Francisco, California
The San Francisco Labor Heritage/Rockin' Solidarity Chorus joining Chris Chandler, David Rovics and George Mann for this concert. Room 133 in the Creative Arts Building. Suggested donation-- $10-15-20, all welcome, no one turned away for lack of funds. Door open at 7 pm, concert at 7:30 pm.

Sunday, November 8 at 6:00 pm
KVMR Radio Community Room -- broadcast live on the web at!
120 Bridge Street
Nevada City, California
Chris Chandler, David Rovics and George Mann will be anchoring this concert in Nevada City.  Friend and mentor Utah Phillips lived and died here, and we will honor him as well as Joe Hill with this concert. Special guests Bodie Wagner and Brendan Phillips! Suggested admission sliding scale $10-$15-$20, all welcome, no one turned away for lack of funds! Two sets.

Monday, November 9 at 7:30 pm
Studio On 4th
432 East 4th Street
Reno, Nevada
David Rovics, Chris Chandler and George Mann, a Reno stop for the Joe Hill 100 Roadshow! Special guests Tim Gorlangton and David Fennimore. Suggested donation $10-$15, no one turned away for lack of funds! Doors open at 6:30 for happy hour/meet and greet. Concert is two sets, starting at 7:30. Website:

Wednesday, November 11 at 8:00 pm
Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture
800 Black Butte Road
Weed, California
The Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture will host this concert. David Rovics, George Mann, Patrick Dodd and Mark Ross will be playing in a boxcar at this special museum. Community Dinner 6 pm, general hanging out until concert at 8 pm, suggested donation $10.  Here's the link: (530) 938-3856 email:

Thursday, November 12 at 7:00 pm
Grass Shack Cafe
205 Fern Valley Road
Phoenix, Oregon
Hosted by our fellow workers in Ashland/Medford. David Rovics, Patrick Dodd, Mark Ross and George on the bill. Special Hawaiian buffet by our hosts, Lani and Paul, at 6 pm -- $13.95 all inclusive! Concert is at 7 pm, come early for dinner or just for the concert.  Suggested donation $10-$15, all welcome, no one turned away for lack of funds! Sponsored by Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice and assisted by IWW members in the area! Info: Please RSVP for dinner headcount-- 541-622-9483.

Friday, November 13 at 7:30 pm
The First Christian Church
1166 Oak Street
Eugene, Oregon
David Rovics, Mark Ross, George Mann on the bill, Suggested donation $10-15-20, all welcome, no one turned away for lack of funds. Doors open at 7 pm, concert starts at 7:30 pm.

Saturday, November 14 at 7:00 pm
Venue TBC
Portland, Oregon
David Rovics and George do a special performance of the Joe Hill Roadshow at the Cascade Media Convergence.

Sunday, November 15 at 7:00 pm
Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship
1207 Ellsworth Street
Bellingham, Washington
The Bellingham branch of the IWW is helping to host this concert. Linda Allen, David Rovics, George Mann and Rebel Voices (Susan Lewis and Janet Stecher) on the bill for this one! Sliding Scale, $10-15-20, no one turned away for lack of funds.

Tuesday, November 17 at 8:00 pm
The Troubadour
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, California
Tom Morello and friends, including Joan Baez, Ziggy Marley, Boots Riley, the Last Internationale, Rich Robinson and David Rovics.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Syria and I Tour Europe

Certain activities dominated my summer at home in Portland, Oregon. Sweltering in the heat of the hottest summer in recorded history. Breathing the smoky air from the biggest forest fires in recorded history, much of which were not that far to the east of the city – as the crow flies, as the smoke blows. Spending time with my family. And, when alone, as I often was, reading the news, writing songs, and crying.

Some of this may be news to my wife, but she doesn't read my rambling blog posts. Though now that I've said that, one of you will probably tell her. But please don't – she has limited free time, and her own writing to do. But anyway, I do my crying alone. It's much easier that way, because people freak out when a grown man cries, unfortunately. Much of the world is still very sexist like that.

Of course, we're trained to ask incredibly stupid questions when someone is crying. Even when a child is crying, we automatically say, “what's wrong?” Meaning, of course, there is something wrong with crying. Something wrong with feeling. Unless you're laughing (but not too loudly).

Feeling, of course, is how you get through life, unless you've managed to kill that part of yourself, usually through some combination of drugs, alcohol and mindless entertainment – the three main pillars of modern western society. (Yes, as some of you know, I smoke pot and drink espresso regularly, both mind-altering substances. But not strong enough ones by themselves to stop the feelings, from my extensive experience.)

I would just like to point out, though it's a needless thing to do, since I'm preaching to the converted here, that if you have not spent the past few months crying as you hear about what's going on in the world, you're already dead. Which is sad, because you didn't die by accident – you were killed. But since this is a metaphorical kind of death, you can be resurrected. It starts with feeling. Everything starts with feeling, actually.

Scientists figured that out, did you hear? Some people have something missing in their brains so that they don't feel. Studies of these people find that they're completely dysfunctional and have no motivation to do anything in life. Which isn't surprising to anyone who's really living, but there's this longstanding macho idea you've probably heard of that real men don't feel anything, and that feeling things gets in the way of achieving things, which isn't true. Maybe it depends on what you're trying to achieve. But basically if you don't feel, you don't live.

I had this tour of Europe planned, but what I really wanted to do as soon as I got there was rent a big car and drive south, in order to take refugees north, where countries like Germany and Sweden were (and are) offering them asylum. As is their duty under international law, but most national governments don't give a shit about international law. (Take the USA, for example, which is constantly sending refugees to their deaths without asylum hearings. Every day.)

But I didn't do that. I did the responsible thing for a subsistence musician. I chased the paying gigs as usual, in the countries where the paying gigs are for me. Which, luckily for my sanity, involves hanging out and singing for activists and other wonderful people, along with lots of refugees, particularly on this tour.

The tour started out with one gig in the US, and then several dozen in Europe. I flew from Portland, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Portland, the city where Joe Hill first became a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World. Salt Lake City, the city in which he was falsely accused of murder, put on trial, and executed by firing squad, 100 years ago next month. (Next month I tour the west coast with a bunch of other musicians, in part of the ongoing process to celebrate the life and work of this wonderful Swede.)

Starting, if I recall correctly, with the 25th anniversary of Joe Hill's execution, a group of folks in Salt Lake known as the Joe Hill Organizing Committee or something like that, began having periodic commemorations, with musicians and speakers and such. The last one was on the 75th anniversary.

There were some funds left from the last commemoration in a bank account, which turned out to be difficult to access, since most of the committee members from that time were now dead. But the surviving members managed to get the rules changed so they could access the funds, and they raised a whole bunch more, largely from the remnants of the local labor movement.

Two nice young people picked me up at the airport, one of whom was on the committee, and was, I believe, the only member of the committee under the age of 60. I'm pretty sure she was also the only committee member who was familiar with my music, and she was the one responsible for getting me to sing at the commemoration. Along with the great Philadelphia punk band, Mischief Brew, who I hadn't seen in years.

They picked me up at the airport and took me to a party at the home of one of the other committee members, where the rest of the committee was hanging out, along with an assortment of musicians and other folks. It was somewhat surreal, after one committee member after the other kept on welcoming me to Salt Lake City first, and then asking me what kind of music I play. Really...?

A lot of people don't realize that there are loads of progressives in Salt Lake City. They had a mayor, Rocky Anderson, who was one of the most progressive mayors in the US when he was in office, and that was fairly recently. There are all kinds of stupid ideas people have, which are easy ideas to have if you've never spent time in Utah, because few people or other outlets of information will tell you otherwise.

But unless you're one of those boring people who think that tattoos, piercings and vegetable oil are indications of progressive thought, Salt Lake City has way more progressive people in it than some cesspool of narcissism like San Francisco does. (I think I just pissed somebody off.)

Anyway, all those progressives were not at the gig in Salt Lake. They were somewhere else. But the couple hundred folks who did come to the gig were a great bunch. Mostly they stuck around from beginning to end.

Which could be interpreted in various ways. Either the people who heard about the gig were the more engaged elements of the local labor movement -- all of whom were present, I would guess. Or that Judy Collins doesn't have as much as an audience as she used to have, since she was the headliner, and the crowd did not grow significantly when she was due to be on stage.

It was a great day, though. Some of my favorite musicians were on the bill – along with Mischief Brew there were more acoustic types like Anne Feeney, Mark Ross, and Joe Jencks, who was especially impressive. Man, that guy can play the guitar, and the bazouki, really well. And what a voice, and what a songwriter. Check him out, if you haven't run across him yet.

An unexpected surprise at the event was seeing my friend Tayo Aluko in the crowd. Tayo is an actor and singer originally from Nigeria, who has been living in England for most of his life. I may be improvising on the chronology a bit, but basically when he discovered the life and music of the African-American communist scholar, linguist, athlete and musician, Paul Robeson, Tayo quit his job as an architect and became a full-time artist and rabble-rouser. He had gigs in British Columbia, and thought he'd go check out the Joe Hill commemoration in Salt Lake City.

Being a struggling artist these days, rather than a well-paid architect, Tayo took a Greyhound all the way from Vancouver to Salt Lake. Now that's serious dedication. Particularly given that Judy Collins did not attract a crowd, it would have been so much nicer to have the finale of the event being Tayo, which would have been rapturous. Instead, the finale was Judy, who is undoubtedly a phenomenal singer, but also the richest, least political, and least relevant artist on the bill.

No offense to Judy – none of these things are her fault. And really no offense to the organizers either – you got to make these tough decisions when organizing events, and trying to attract a crowd to them. And to be fair, they did originally ask someone both famous and very political to headline – Pete Seeger. They called him up and asked him if he'd do the gig. He told them he would, if he was still alive. Then he died.

One really special element to the event was the presence of three members of Joe Hill's family who came over from Sweden – his grand nephew, grand niece, and grand grand niece. I think I've got that right. The youngest member of the family wrote a very moving, short song about Joe Hill's execution, which she performed with her mother and uncle. And her uncle built her guitar, so it's altogether a very musical family.

I love playing gigs with other musicians, since they're often really cool people. Most gigs I do by myself. Which is also lovely, and there are other cool people in the world who aren't musicians, too, of course. But musicians are easier to relate to, generally. Joe Jencks and I stayed in the same house, the home of a guy who I never met, a big house full of musical instruments. We were about ready to form a band by the end of our visit.

A nice woman gave me and Anne Feeney a ride to the airport the next morning. Anne was heading home to Pittsburgh, and I was flying to Copenhagen, via Denver, though we would soon be rendezvousing in Sweden, a few days later.

The Denver airport is the only major airport in the US that I can think of that doesn't have a Starbucks, and also has no other decent coffee anywhere to be found.

Which might not suck all that much, except every time I'm there I'm reminded of this fact, because of the one time I was stuck at the airport for eight hours, waiting for a flight to Durango that kept being delayed, supposedly because of a light dusting of snow. (One of many US airports where I have been stuck in transit for eight hours or more. Which isn't quite so bad if there's decent coffee.)

When I fly to Europe I usually try to have at least two days to recover from jet lag. But then a good gig might come up that messes up that plan, and I don't make nearly enough money to turn those down.

So upon landing in Copenhagen on the afternoon of September 7th, I got the rental car, took a nap in it, and drove the two hours in rush hour traffic from there to Odense, where I was doing a show in a pub, sponsored by the “red-green coalition” party in the Danish Parliament, Enhedslisten.

It was my only gig in Denmark on this tour that wasn't in the vicinity of Copenhagen, and several folks drove from all over the western parts of the country to catch it. It wasn't otherwise a huge crowd, but the few people who were there really wanted to be there. The sound system was mysteriously not working, so I played acoustic, which worked fine. If I had been trying to remember lyrics on my own, with the sleep deprivation and jet lag, it might have gone really badly, but with the tablet on stage in front of me, I didn't forget a word.

Attila says the tablet has deprived me of any punk rock credibility I might have had. But other people say it's cool to be a geek these days. So maybe I can still be a punk, I don't know. Or maybe I never was one.

From the first gig in Europe to the last, there was talk of refugees. And real live refugees, as well, on many occasions.

Most people I know in Denmark were somehow involved with trying to help the Syrians and others who were and are walking down the highways of the country, mostly en route to Sweden. So many people were bringing them food that there was too much of it. People were offering them places to stay, but oftentimes the refugees were unable or unwilling to accept these offers, either for fear of being fingerprinted in a country in which they didn't want to claim asylum, or because they wanted to keep going toward Sweden.

After the gig in Odense I did have a couple days to recover from the jet lag, which I spent staying with friends near Helsingor, on the Baltic Sea.

I spent much of my time there sleeping, taking advantage of my hosts' hospitality, which included several hot meals a day, and walking. I walked from the school where I was staying (part of which is now the Hellebaek B&B, which I highly recommend for anyone traveling in Denmark) to the center of Helsingor several times, which is a long walk. I listened as I walked to an audiobook version of the recent work, An Indigenous People's History of the United States, which is fantastic.

Listening to this book, I was reminded once again of some of the lesser-known events of the year 1492, and it occurred to me how terribly relevant the story of the Ottoman defeat in Granada is for us today. Particularly the bit where the Spanish rulers declare that all Jews had three months to leave Spain or be killed, and how the Ottoman Sultan responded to this declaration – by sending the Ottoman fleet to Spain to rescue hundreds of thousands of Europeans, and bring them to Ottoman lands, where they and their descendants lived in peace and prosperity, and still do. While in other places, Europeans were busily exterminating pagans, Jews, Muslims, atheists and even their fellow Christians, especially the non-white ones, on both sides of the Atlantic.

On September 10th I met up with my dear friend, comrade and fellow rabble-rousing songwriter, Kristian von Svensson. We played at the venerable punk rock social center in the Norrebro neighborhood of Copenhagen, Bumzen. Earlier in the day, the place was kitted out with bedding, in expectation of refugees spending the night, but they didn't end up making it there for one reason or another.

From early in the evening until late, the place was filled with people of all ages, mostly on the younger side, who treat me like a rock star. There are very few places outside of Denmark where I get the rock star treatment. But just a little of that goes a long way to making me feel like I'm doing something right. Folks were singing along to my older songs with great enthusiasm, and it was even caught on film for posterity. (With a little camera sitting on a windowsill near me – not a professional job or anything, but fun, if you're into home movies.)

On September 11th there was a peace demonstration in the center of Copenhagen. One of the themes at all the Danish peace demos is the opposition to Denmark's participation in NATO's disastrous military campaigns in places like Afghanistan and Libya, and opposition to the Danish government's purchasing of fancy new fighter jets from the US. At this demo, not surprising given the choice of date, there were a whole bunch of 9/11 conspiracy people, fairly aggressively pushing their world view, with a wingnutty style that matched the content of their thinking perfectly. Some of them spoke from the stage, too, presumably because they were invited to do so, which was somewhat shocking. (This would never happen in Germany or many other countries.)

This would be the first of several demonstrations I would sing at during the course of my tour. The biggest being almost exactly one month later, in Berlin.

After Kristian and I sang at the demo, we split for Malmo, over the bridge that crosses the Baltic Sea, which separates Denmark from Sweden. We joined Anne Feeney, and the well-known leftwing Swedish songwriter, Jan Hammarlund, at a conference organized by the most leftwing party represented in Sweden's parliament.

The cultural evening preceded the actual conference, and culminated in a fabulous set by a one of those bands that you will run into frequently on both sides of the Atlantic these days, who are clearly influenced by some combination of Balkan music and punk rock. I wanted to kidnap the fiddle player and take her on the road with us, but I figured she might not approve of such a plan, and so I didn't. (I only like kidnapping people who want to be kidnapped.)

The next day we were in Oslo, where we met up with our mutual friend, another Swedish songwriter, future rock star Elona Planman.

She was touring on her own, but had eight days free, which coincided perfectly with our plans. Due to my fairly impressive car-packing skills (which mostly involves the basic principle I learned from Alistair Hulett, that you can put a guitar upside-down in the backseat, so the neck is in the floor well and the body is flush with the door, thus taking up very little space), we managed to fit three adults, three guitars, and luggage in a small rental car.

There had been a big demo in cities throughout Europe that afternoon in solidarity with refugees, including in Oslo. Unfortunately we couldn't sing at any of the demos that day, since we were spending the whole day in the car, driving from Malmo to Oslo. The crowd at the punk rock bar, Maksitaksi, was a quality crowd, but lacking in numbers, due, I think, to the fact that people were tired after spending the day demonstrating. There was also a meeting going on related to refugees across the street, which may have also depleted our potential audience.

Touring with Kristian and Elona was like a constant party (minus the drugs or alcohol, for the most part). It's strangely so rare to spend significant amounts of time with two other people of such like mind. All very different people, and very different musicians as well, but with a lot in common.

In Norway the gigs were largely either in punk rock venues, or cafes run by Maoists. These things vary a lot depending on the country, the city, and the scene, but for sure on this little tour of Norway, the biggest and most attentive audiences were at the Maoist venues, which also definitely had the largest numbers of red flags.

On the way up to Trondheim we were pulled over by a cop, who just wanted to know where we were going and why and stuff like that. It was a very unusual thing to happen in Scandinavia. I'm still not sure what that was about, and I didn't ask at the time, though I suspect (and hope) it was just a safety thing.

It's a long drive from Oslo to Trondheim, and there are probably a lot of drivers who don't take breaks to rest along the way. The cop seemed especially to want to know if we had driven that day all the way from Denmark, where the car was rented. Which would have been nuts. But that's when I thought maybe he was just looking out for drivers who might be about to fall asleep at the wheel.

There is not a single cup of decent coffee to be found anywhere between Oslo and Trondheim, and all the food sucks, too.

In Trondheim the three of us did a workshop in a little leftwing infoshop in the wonderful, squatted neighborhood of Svartlamon.

The idea was a workshop about songwriting and making a living as a DIY musician. But it seemed like at least half of the folks there were hoping to hear music, and we lost half the crowd by the end of it. We had a great time, though, and it was pretty wild to see how much we all thought the same way about these things. (This was also recorded and is apparently up on the web somewhere.)

Two different couples for whom I have great affection and admiration in Svartlamon have had babies since I last saw them, so there was lots of playing with babies going on during our fairly leisurely visit to the city. We had three gigs in four days, but they were all very nearby, so the days were ours.

On our way back south, another night in Oslo, a little house concert, where one of the folks in attendance was involved with providing 120 winter jackets per day to all of the refugees coming into Oslo.

As with Germany and elsewhere, many of the donations are from individuals, but local companies are also donating lots of stuff, too. In many cases the folks providing these things are so well-organized that the refugees have no idea they're volunteers, and not working for the government.

All over Scandinavia as we drive and walk around, and later all over Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the most common poster to be seen wheatpasted all over the place included the words, “refugees welcome.”

With some variation – in Glasgow, one guy at my gig there had a t-shirt that read, “aye, refugees welcome.” The Scottish version.

Back in Malmo for a gig at the collective house that Kristian lives at, I took some folks for a beer run in our rental car, where we passed a bustling refugee center. And a few blocks later, several dozen people marching through the streets in solidarity with said refugees, on the way to do something at the center.

One of the folks helping run the gig was a Palestinian who had been living in an overcrowded refugee camp in Syria before that became untenable. He was one of the earlier Syrian arrivals to Europe, having lived in Sweden for three years now, after having a miserable time first in Italy, where he had to stay because of the Dublin Treaty.

The last gig that Kristian, Elona and I did together was in a union hall in Copenhagen, from the union federation known as 3F. It was an unexpectedly fun gig.

The 3F gigs are always great – appreciative audiences, good pay. But although most Danes are very fluent in English, this is often somewhat less true of the labor movement's rank and file, who are less likely to have gone to college (where instruction is mostly in English). In Copenhagen, however, even the rank and file of the labor movement speaks excellent English, and this was very evident from the responses of the audience when I was doing my thing. I think they had more trouble understanding Swedish than English, according to one Danish friend's report. (Kristian and Elona mostly sing in Swedish -- which closely resembles Danish in written form, but less so when spoken or sung.)

My next stop was Great Britain, where I was due to do six gigs in seven days, starting in London. I stayed in London with my favorite soft-hearted, dog-loving photojournalist who pretends to be a hard-nosed cynic, Guy Smallman, who has been making frequent trips in recent months to places like Calais and Hamburg, which both have large refugee populations, and lots of activities related to them. In Calais these are often characterized by the French police brutalizing people and making their lives much more difficult than they already are. In Hamburg, it's more about covering the amazing efforts local people have been making to try to accommodate the influx of refugees in need of housing, food and clothing.

My first gig in London was singing a few songs at the launch party for Attila the Stockbroker's new memoir, Arguments Yard. I've got a copy, which I'm looking forward to reading. Attila and I have done something like 14 tours together over the past 15 years, so apparently I'm in the book... One of the performers at the packed venue in the center of London was a leftwing comedian, the best I've ever heard, named Jeremy Hardy.

In England, the fact that the Labor Party had a grassroots democratic vote of its own membership for the first time ever, resulting in the election of the most leftwing leader the party has ever had, was the biggest topic of conversation.

And it's quite a development. This man, Jeremy Corbyn, is Facebook friends with Guy, who has known him for something like twenty years. It may be a total fantasy, but the idea of Corbyn being Prime Minister of the UK at the same time as Bernie Sanders is president of the US is a pretty wild notion. Which I think very unlikely.

Particularly unlikely when you take in the media coverage of Corbyn in Britain. Driving around in my rental car, I listened a lot to BBC Radio 4, as I often do when I'm there. It's an interesting thing with BBC. The World Service makes BBC appear progressive for the most part. This is the image the BBC (and perhaps the British establishment generally) wants to convey to their many foreign listeners, for whom the World Service is intended.

But within England it's a different story, and I heard almost nothing but ridicule aimed at Corbyn from just about everyone on Radio 4 who talked about him. And most people on Radio 4 were talking about him most of the time. If it was a program that had anything to do with the news of the day, and not some radio drama about the love affairs of the royals.

Glasgow was also a place for me to feel somewhat rock star-ish, with people enthusiastically singing along to the older songs they knew. The thing was that when they weren't singing along with me, they were talking loudly and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. In between songs they were breaking into pro-IRA chants and snippets of rebel songs. Most of the people in the bar were drinking a green substance known as Venom. A sweet mixed drink of some kind. (I had a sip, for sociological purposes.)

Outside of the Squirrel Bar in Glasgow, I witnessed for the first time the following sequence: an extremely drunk man tripped over the curb backwards and landed on his head with a horrid thwack. And then he immediately started snoring loudly. Which was very reassuring for me, because I thought he might have died when he hit his head on the sidewalk.

His friends seemed unconcerned about that possibility, though when he woke up eventually, they were diligently making sure he didn't fall again, helping him walk and such. “You'll never walk alone,” the song goes, very popular among footballers throughout Europe. Not sure if that's the kind of thing the song is referring to, though.

Edinburgh, the ancient capital of Scotland, is a much more posh, and smaller, city than Glasgow, and the audience at the show there was true to form. Attentive, quiet, and not drunk, at least not in any noticeable kind of way. Back again in England, in Birmingham a young man spoke at the gig who was off to Calais the next day. Solidarity everywhere. There was also a fabulous opening set by a local songwriter named Alan Sprung. (No relation to Roger Sprung, for any of you hardcore folkies who might be wondering.)

The one gig I did in London where I was doing a full show was the last gig in Britain, at an art gallery run by Palestinians, called P21.

A whole bunch of folks came from my email list, and from the efforts of the organizer, who wasn't involved with the gallery, but was offered the use of the gallery for the occasion. Somehow or other, either because no one had looked at the fine print, or because no one had been told about it, the gallery folks planned on taking almost the entire money from the door for their “expenses.” This was the first gig I've ever done where the venue took 80% of the door. If you're thinking about doing a gig in London, avoid the P21 gallery!

By now, the month of September was over. It was October 1st, and I was flying to Munich. I rented a car at the Munich airport, and headed towards the small town in the picturesque Bavarian mountains, where I would spend the next three nights.

There are three brothers, all really great guys. One of them is a professional rock climber, and he's the one out of the three who first heard my music. The other two are musicians, and both absolutely stellar ones at that. Together they make up half of two different bands, one more acoustic-oriented, and one solidly punk rock.

Their acoustic band and I did one of the gigs together – the Bumble Boys.

It was great to hear their set, but otherwise the gigs were a bit odd. People in Bavaria seem to have too much money, as far as I can tell, at least in the countryside. Maybe in the actual city of Munich it would be different, but I've never had a gig there, aside from singing at the G7 protest there last spring. But being in the mountains and hanging out with the Bumble Boys was a pleasure. Especially the baby.

In Freiburg I played at the squatted social center by the railroad tracks known as KTS. It was a “refugees welcome” gig, and among the fifty or so people in the room were a dozen or so refugees. One who I talked to was a French-speaker from somewhere in Africa. The folks at KTS had made piles of food, which was all eaten happily and eagerly.

Some of the same people who organized the KTS gig are also very involved with refugee solidarity. Among other things, they had briefly set up a volunteer welcome center just outside of Freiburg's refugee camp. But the only place they could set it up on was a little patch of dirt on privately-owned land, and the landlord objected, so they couldn't stay there.

There was one strange young blonde hippie handing out strange fliers about some kind of natural medicine which KTS folks said was a form of neo-fascist propaganda.

Germans can be very sensitive about anything smacking of paganism coming from other Germans, since that was a big part of the Nazi shtick back in the day. Germans are often skeptical when I tell them that in Scandinavia, England, the US and elsewhere, paganism and natural medicine is not at all associated with fascism. (Most of the pagans in the US that I know grew up Jewish, so that would be especially weird if they were closet Nazis.) At the end of the night, the hippie with the flyers was told to leave. She cried. I felt bad for her, but didn't know what to say.

My next actual gig was in Cologne, but first I made a detour to Gent, in Belgium, to sing one song at a press conference against the TTIP. Which is an evil trade deal you should know about – the Atlantic version of the TPP deal, which Hillary Clinton has just joined Bernie Sanders in ostensibly opposing, though I'm sure that's just her positioning herself to look more leftwing in order to win the Democratic nomination, before she goes and stabs us all in the back afterwards, like usual for her and other leaders of her corporate, undemocratic party.

In Gent we had the press conference, and made a little video in front of Cargill's big factory on the outskirts of town.

I hadn't slept well the night before, since I arrived in Gent to be welcomed by my host who I had been in touch with, and her extremely drunk husband and his equally drunk friend, who proceeded to spend the rest of the evening regaling me with stories that were almost entirely impossible to understand, since half the time they were lapsing into Flemish or French, both of which they spoke far better than English.

I then slept in a room with no door on it, which meant I didn't sleep much, until the drunks started snoring rather than shouting. A slight improvement. Naturally, they didn't have to get up in the morning to go sing at a press conference, like I did.

There were only a few people at the show in Cologne, which was too bad, because the venue, Underground Cologne, is a really cool spot. There's a big squat in the neighborhood, complete with a military helicopter sitting on a roof. (I'm pretty sure it doesn't fly anymore.)

Of the few people at the gig, one had come all the way from Berlin – about six hours on the train. A quality crowd, even if it were just her. And it was nice to hear the Children of Lir play, a local band that was on the bill with me at the Underground.

After a long drive to Berlin, the high point of the tour began. There were two gigs in towns in former East Germany outside of Berlin, and one protest in Berlin. Despite the fact that my pickup mysteriously wouldn't function through their sound system, it eventually worked out and I sang three songs for an estimated 250,000 people.

The streets of that big, lovely city were filled with marchers from all over the country, many of whom had come there in buses. There were more buses than I've ever seen in one place. Literally for miles you could walk down a big wide street, with bus after bus parked side by side – not end to end, but side by side. And on other streets, yet more buses, this time parked end to end.

The whole thing was a model of good organizing, from the buses and the massive crowds to the highly professional stage, sound system, screens broadcasting the proceedings with a three-camera shoot, great people giving speeches from all over the German left, and great musicians.

Unlike at similar big demos in the US, there were no rock stars on the stage. I'm sure there would have been rock stars who would have gladly played for free for such a crowd. I don't think they were asked. The musicians who did play were uniformly really good, DIY bands, including a feminist, anti-fascist hiphop artist and a punk band called Radio Havana.

Performers who attract audiences, to be sure – I talked to the singer in Radio Havana, and he said they usually get 300 people coming to their shows. Which means they have a serious following, far bigger than mine – but not nearly on the rock star scale of things.

On either side of the demo were the two gigs in the eastern German towns. One was in Brandenburg, and the other in Bad Belzig. Both of these gigs were “refugees welcome”-themed events, with great crowds of people, almost none of whom had any idea about my music, most of whom were older easterners who did not speak much English.

In the media, when refugees and eastern Germany are mentioned in the same article, it's usually to talk about the anti-immigrant group in Dresden, PEGIDA, or to talk about Nazis burning down asylum centers. But in both Brandenburg and Bad Belzig, the mayors of the towns, and very mainstream organizations such as the Lions' Club and the Rotary Club were sponsors of the events. Dozens of refugees came to each gig from the local refugee centers, and were warmly welcomed with food, and the occasional person who spoke both Arabic and German.

The main person coordinating these gigs, and getting the sponsorship of everyone involved, was a local social worker who I originally knew from Cologne a long time ago, named Regina Schwartz. Regina also made what everybody says are very poetic translations of dozens of my songs into German, which she read aloud to the assembled audiences before I sang each song. This made the whole thing drag a bit for me and probably for others who were fluent in English, but for most of the people there, it seemed to work well.

There were many women and children, but most of the Syrian refugees there were young men. Some journalists have pointed out that part of the reason why Angela Merkel is welcoming the Syrian refugees so enthusiastically is because she and others in Germany know that the German population is rapidly aging as well as shrinking, and without a very large amount of immigration, this trend will continue, which is bad for the German economy. Immigration, as people know who are not xenophobes reacting emotionally to these things, is good for national economies, particularly in countries like Germany and Sweden, which have such low birth rates.

In any case, the contrast between these young Syrian men and the mostly elderly Germans in these towns was very noticeable. It was also interesting to note that the Syrians who spoke the best English were usually the ones with the lightest skin. I've never been to Syria, but hanging out with these guys made me wonder about the class divide in Syria, and how it breaks down in terms of skin color and other factors. Several of the Syrians were so white, they would fit right in in Scandinavia. The rest would fit in more easily in Sicily or thereabouts.

A large group of Syrian guys came to the gig in Bad Belzig because someone simply walked to the closed infoshop where they were hanging out outside, using the free wifi, and said there's something happening at the church around the corner.

I don't think they even knew what it was that was happening there, but within a minute or so, they were all in the church attending my gig, and helping set things up for it. At the gig in Brandenburg, a former English teacher from Syria had stayed up all night the night before making Arabic translations of my set, which people projected on a screen as I sang the songs in English. (Which was a great idea, except that the stage lights kind of made the screen almost impossible to see if you weren't in the front row.)

Then a stop in Dusseldorf – an interview at a TV station that was organized by the same folks who had organized the gig in Cologne.

The original idea was to be on TV before the gig in Cologne, to help promote it, but that didn't work with my schedule, so I was on TV after all my gigs in Germany were over. But it was great – so professional, with a three-camera shoot and an expert interviewer, as fluent in English as he was in his own language.

It's always so nice to be on TV in Germany or in England or elsewhere, but it always makes me wish this would ever happen in my own country. (Aside from public access stations, which are great, but not at all on the same level of professionalism as the more mainstream stations in Europe that seem to have no problem having someone on who expresses political views such as mine).

I arrived in Brussels early the following afternoon. The folks putting on the house concert there said they'd be home by late afternoon, so I just poked around the neighborhood for a few hours. I had set the GPS to take me to the address of the show, and then found parking and walked around.

I was walking down one street when someone knocked on a window, from the inside, as I passed by. I thought, maybe it's someone involved with the house concert who recognizes me or something. I turned around and went back to the window where I had just heard the knocking, and was momentarily surprised to see a nearly naked woman smiling at me. Ah-ha! I was in the red light district. After that, there were many more knocks on windows as I passed them. I eventually settled for a large chunk of the afternoon in a cafe with virtually no customers, with a young woman behind the counter, chain-smoking cigarettes and listening to very loud Spanish pop music.

The house concert turned out to be in the backyard of a collective house, on a freezing, rainy night. Because it's the red light district, rent is cheap if you're not renting a window to work out of. People don't want to live in the neighborhood.

But the folks in the collective house have a great deal on the place, all the more so because they have a huge backyard with a big one-room house in it. The house used to be full of junk, but they cleaned it up and now they use it as a place for having events.

The roof of the house in the backyard is made of glass panels, so it's like a greenhouse. Some of the panels are smashed or otherwise not there, and the place was very damp and moldy, but otherwise quite welcoming, by squat standards.

Folks made two campfires, one of them in the house in the backyard. There were no chimneys or anything, but most of the smoke eventually made its way through the holes in the roof. Much of it lingered in the house, making the place very smoky, especially since the wood we were burning was mostly wet.

My clothing still smells like acrid smoke. There were several dozen people present on a rainy, cold Wednesday night outside, which makes me wonder how many people might have showed up if it not been quite so inclement.

Despite the cold weather and rain and all that, and it being a Wednesday night, there were two other musicians on the bill, both young folks who did very long sets full of their feelings and opinions about everything, by the end of which many of the audience members had given up on the weather and left. But the crowd that remained that I played for was very appreciative.

The following day the rain continued, as a thousand or so people gathered for yet another protest against TTIP.

Which had a serious refugee lining to it, given the times, and given that people are aware of the intimate connections between economics, wars, and the inevitable flows of refugees fleeing these man-made disasters. A couple weeks earlier, the Belgian labor movement had gathered to protest TTIP, with an estimated 100,000 people attending. But this protest was elements of the left not involved with labor, for the most part.

The atmosphere in Brussels that day felt very strange, especially in the area of the European buildings, the city being the capital of Europe, so to speak, with official EU institutions taking up much of the urban landscape. So many of the cars were limousines or other fancy cars filled with politicians, lobbyists, and other such scum (aside from the occasional leftwing MEP, who mostly don't drive in fancy BMWs anyway).

Police and soldiers lined the streets all over Brussels, turning away anyone without the right credentials.

I joined one group of French-speaking people who were clearly headed to the demo, and it took us a long time to eventually find the route that we were allowed to take that would lead us to the proceedings. As I walked past some smug yuppies who were commenting on the demo they had just passed by, one of them said to the other, “these people couldn't organize a brawl in a pub” or something to that effect.

I wondered if she knew about the 100,000 people who had protested there two weeks earlier. But hey, when you're opposing the richest, most powerful forces in the history of the world – European and American capitalists – perhaps not winning right away is not an indication of poor organizing skills...?

In any case, the yuppie spoke too soon, or at least she would have thought so if she had tried to drive a car following that rally, as I did.

After singing a couple of songs, I beat a hasty retreat back to my rental car, with the plan to drive to Eindhoven to pick up a couple of friends, and then from there to Utrecht for the evening's gig. However, I had only gotten about one block away from where I parked before I had a front row seat there in my car to witness a bunch of folks very efficiently blockading a major road by dragging big metal barriers into the road, like the kind police use. They then stood behind the barriers – a smart place to stand, given the aggressive attitude of many of the drivers in their fancy cars with their suits and ties on, who would have had to first hit a metal barrier if they wanted to plow into any of the protesters.

This was the only road blockade I personally witnessed, but judging from the completely snarled traffic throughout the city in every direction, I'm pretty sure they were blockading many other roads as well. It took me exactly an hour to get from the center of Brussels to the ring road, which I think was only around five kilometers away.

This was not the only traffic-related excitement for me that day, unfortunately.

Driving with my friends from Eindhoven down the highway towards Utrecht, traffic was stop-and-go now and then, though mostly it was moving OK. But at one point I noticed a red car that just stayed in the fast lane after the traffic had started moving again a good 30 seconds or so already, before the car got going. That's when I passed the red car, and got into the fast lane myself. Then the stop-and-go traffic started up again, and, while completely stopped in traffic, we got rammed from behind – by that very red car I had noticed a minute earlier.

The driver of the fancy new red car was a very fashionable young Dutch woman with tight pants and a fur coat. She acknowledged in writing on the trans-European form for traffic accidents that all European drivers have with them in their cars that she had hit us from behind, which means she was at fault. Hopefully things go OK with the insurance companies, unlike several years ago when I was also stopped in a road and was hit by another attractive young white woman, who totaled the car Alistair and I were following, and then proceeded to total our car. Although we had a lawyer friend helping us for free, we were unsuccessful in getting that woman to pay the $1,200 we ended up having to pay the rental car company for the deductible.

My gig that night in Utrecht was originally to have been a double-bill with the rocking hippie legend of the Netherlands since the early 1960's known as Armand, but he's sick in the hospital. So I visited him there, and did the gig with another group that the organizer had gotten to replace him, a fantastic trio of guys who all live in a squat in the ADM squat in Amsterdam, called the Bucket Boys.

The trio consists of three singers doing lots of great, bluegrassy vocal harmonies, with one guy on banjo, another on a one-string tub bass, and the other playing percussion on a bucket. The percussionist is originally from Tennessee, but has been living in Amsterdam so long that his English is peppered with Dutch grammar and phrases.

The final gig on the tour involved one more stop in England. I returned my German rental car in Dusseldorf and flew again to Heathrow, where the only car they had left for me to rent was an SUV, which I drove to Harlow, getting there in time to be early for the gig.

The place in Harlow was a historic punk venue that had been around since the beginning of the punk rock phenomenon in England. Attila used to live in Harlow back in the 80's, and played there often, as did the poet who was the first, brilliant act on the bill, Janine Booth.

The venue is called the Square, though it was originally called Square One (a better name). It's closing after all these years, and the volunteers who run the place decided to go out with a bang, having lots of acts play there who had played there long ago.

I never played there in the 80's, but the Square in Harlow was one of the first gigs I ever did in England, back around 2000 or so. The organizer of that gig introduced me. Appropriately for a venerable punk venue soon closing its doors, the other of the three acts on the bill, and the one that attracted most of the audience members under the age of 50, was a very youthful band having their first gig ever.

Next tour: the Joe Hill 100 Road Show on the west coast of the US.