Friday, February 28, 2020

Not Dead Yet

Hi world! I'm not dead. That's the main thing I wanted to say. If you were worried, but you're too busy to keep reading, you can stop now.

I heard from a couple of friends this morning who had just listened to today's episode of Democracy Now!, and thought they had heard Amy Goodman announce my demise. However, it was not I who died, but another American guitarist, touring performer and recording artist, named David Roback.

Looking at Google, David Roback appears to have been about ten times as well-known as me. For Democracy Now! listeners, this may or may not be the case. Amy Goodman has said my name and played songs of mine on her show dozens of times in the past, and she knows my name well enough. I'm not sure if she's ever said the name "David Roback" on air, and she seemed to stumble a little when she came to it. 

But of course, there's no real need to mention to listeners that it wasn't me who died. Why would I even think of such a thing? There are surely lots of other well-known American musicians whose names begin with "David Ro," right? I know one -- David Roe, in New Orleans. He's a great keyboard player. I'm sure if he died and they mentioned it on Democracy Now!, there would be no confusion at all.

The fact that Amy Goodman wouldn't think it necessary to clarify that this musician with a name so similar to another musician who has been played so often on the show before is not, in fact, that musician who has been played on the show so much before, could, possibly, be an indication of something else. A simple oversight, perhaps. She's very busy, of course.

But there is this other thing that always makes me wonder: before 2013 or so, Democracy Now! very occasionally played me and a couple other appropriately topical musicians in their music breaks. But they so rarely played topical musicians other than me -- that is, musicians who write songs with lyrics relevant to the stories they cover -- that I decided to go public with what had been my private complaints to Amy and her producers, about the lack of relevant music in their music breaks.

What happened after I published that piece is I have been played on the show twice since then, in the course of the past 7 years or so -- far less than before, and it's now been several years since the last time. Of those two times they played me since I wrote that piece in Counterpunch, once appeared to be an accident of some kind, and Amy did not mention my name (although, for whatever reason, she almost always mentions the names of the musicians in the music breaks). The second time, I happen to know the song play happened because of the parting wish of a retiring producer.

I am effectively persona non grata on Democracy Now!, this is very clear. But then, this is also true of way over 99% of the topical musicians out there today. Why?

Here is a quote from a New York Times obituary of the late David Roback (who, I'd like to stress, I have nothing against at all as a person or a musician, and I'm sorry he died, especially at such a young age, only just a little older than me):

The music of Mazzy Star, which Mr. Roback formed with the singer Hope Sandoval in the late 1980s, combined his hazy, reverberating guitar playing with Ms. Sandoval’s haunting, enigmatic vocals. 

This description of the band's sound could describe most of the tracks they play in the music breaks on Democracy Now!. Why? Because one of the producers chooses most of the music breaks, and this person likes that kind of music. And so this person's musical preferences are what we all listen to every day, if we listen to Democracy Now!.

This is not the fault of that one producer. This is a leadership issue. Topical music -- of many different musical genres -- is clearly relevant to their reporting, so much more than these depressed emo bands they play incessantly. And there is clearly no effort made for the songs to be remotely related to the stories. Very often, when they play a track of a musician, it's because that person just died.

I did a study of 110 episodes of Democracy Now! a few years ago. Out of those 110 episodes I listened to and took notes on, I did research on all of the musicians they played (which I also posted publicly). Of the songs that had English vocals, which is most of what they play in the music breaks, 83% of the songs were by artists who had had a #1 hit, won a Grammy, or both. And most of the artists they played were deceased, and had been for a long time.

Meanwhile, there's a whole world out there that me and my compatriots with the Song News Network promote every day, of topical musicians writing songs about current events, and historical events related to what's going on today, and that I put out regularly in my Song For Today podcast. Musicians like us are shut out of the supposedly collaborative, supposedly independent, supposed discussion happening on Pacifica's flagship program, and thus, shut out of a lot of other things. That's how it works -- I know from both sides of this equation.

In my wild fantasies, I get up in the morning not to hear worried friends telling me they think they just heard Amy Goodman announce my death. In my fantasies, I awake to hear Amy Goodman's voice, in between stories, saying something she has never said -- "here's a song from David Rovics, with a song from his latest album -- a song that was written about this very story we are covering, like most of his songs. Here's 'I Was A Stranger,' a song about the trial of Scott Warren in Arizona, from the album, Strangers & Friends."

Or: "Here's another song from David Rovics' latest album about another subject we have covered so many times on this program, imprisoned whistle-blower, Reality Winner. Here's 'Reality Winner,' from Strangers & Friends, which you can find on all the streaming platforms."

Or: "Having just interviewed the Venezuelan ambassador, here's 'In Venezuela,' by David Rovics, from his latest album, Strangers & Friends."

Or: "As the climate crisis worsens, and government action continues to be woefully inadequate, many musicians are writing songs of hope and resistance. Here's 'If There's A Tomorrow' by David Rovics, from his latest album, Strangers & Friends."

Amy has never uttered any of these sentences about me, or about 99% of the other great topical musicians out there, that have never been played in their music breaks. Music breaks which are listened to avidly, with mild disappointment, by hapless news consumers every day, across the country and around the world, as they like to say every day. I doubt she plans take my advice now, after ignoring it for so long.

In 2002, Democracy Now! gave away 100 of my CDs to their listeners as perks for donations. Things have changed since then. (Nobody can even give away CDs anymore, for one thing.) I guess I shouldn't have complained. It didn't change anything, other than getting me blacklisted from Democracy Now!. 

But I'm still here, anyway, and still making music, every day.