Music-makers as Community Change-makers: Let’s Hear ‘Em Out

Shut downs, (democratic) socialists, and supreme court battles, oh my.

It’s April 2019, and we’re still here, somehow, some way, with our new(ish) Congress ushering in all sorts of new stories, drama and eventually — fingers crossed! — new laws to debate, celebrate or mourn. You don’t have to be fan club president for a famously ripped-and-dissenting octogenarian, nor a click-baiter’s MAGA dream, to be an informed and politically engaged American these days. The info (and infotainment) is all around us, downright inescapable unless you unplug all media but your FM radio with the dial set to 101.5. (We WXNA volunteer DJs approve of that path, for the record.) But even then, Twitter app deleted, cable news shunned, you might tune to a show on the X — yours truly with “What Moves You” Wednesday mornings, perhaps, or Laurel’s “All About Nashville” midday Friday — and stumble upon an interview with someone who makes music, and also chooses to make statements about that which influences life and music. For many, arts and activism (<< the name of a former WXNA interview show, incidentally, big ups to Ariel!) are not mutually exclusive pursuits, and I, for one, am grateful for the blending.

Obviously, art has forever accompanied and in many cases helped to power political and cultural movements. (I love this collection of important works in the Civil Rights era from nonprofit Teach Rock.) But midterm elections aren’t sexy — it’s far too easy to generate a weary “meh” about down-ballot races, disconnecting oneself from policies that actually impact the day-to-day (hello, Nashville transit referendum). It’s in fervor for or against executive candidates that we usually see the artists and other pop culture influencers out flexing their sway over us commoners (see: Rock Against Bush, this Millennial’s first memory of real-time music made and marketed in protest, plus countless others).

But the year 2018 was a surprisingly major one for political activism, locally, nationally, globally, and musicians were both participants and soundtrack providers in the democracy we made. Speaking as a community-loving freeform DJ, but also a superfan of civic engagement and voting rights, I’ve never seen such galvanized support from the music community to make changes in our country, and at the neighborhood level, too.

Early last year, I interviewed local soul-rock bombshell Alanna Quinn-Broadus of Alanna Royale the week of the second Women’s March. Additional “What Moves You” interviewees, Nashville-based artists Will Hoge and Ron Pope, respectively hosted spring and summer “& Friends” benefits for nonpartisan nonprofit HeadCount, for which I moonlight as a Team Leader registering voters at concerts. Come September, my show guest Kyshona Armstrong was pairing up with Nicki Bluhm to celebrate “rowdy women” at the book release of local author Sarah Hays Coomer. In that same month, an embarrassment of riches put me in a room chatting with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, a duo historically vocal about and involved in many human rights and environmental causes, before both Amy and Emily Saliers played a National Voter Registration Day concert at City Winery alongside an impressive slate of singer songwriters. Sheryl Crow, Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell, Billy Ray Cyrus and Brit songstress Lucie Silvas, among others, played a free, Saturday morning “Party to the Polls” event that culminated in a march from Ascend Amphitheater to Howard Office Building to early vote.

With even more national relevance and resonance, Jason Isbell’s August performance at Marathon Music Works in support of 2018 Senate candidate and former TN Governor Phil Bredesen drew the ire of GOP leaders and voters who just want their Americana uncluttered with/unfettered by their politics, thankyouverymuch . Down in Texas, Willie rallied for then-Senate and now-Presidential hopeful Beto and hordes of fans were shocked and appalled by Nelson’s affiliation with the progressive young candidate, despite decades of overt activism for left-leaning priorities. And then, who could forget previously mum (or at least middle-of-the-road) Tay-Tay’s extraordinary impact on last-minute registrations in the Volunteer State by Istagramming her support for Dems in early October? WHOA.

I’ve volunteered for more than a decade with HeadCount, founded on the very premise that live music fans can and should all be participants in their democracy, so let’s meet them where they are (music venues) and make that first step (registering to vote) convenient and fun. It never ceases to amaze or delight me the difference made in our engagement with fans when the (wo)man with the mic casually nudges the captive audience to “check out the HeadCount table in the lobby” or “register to vote if you haven’t already, it’s too important.” Roots-rock darling Michael Franti made such a call to action from stage in the summer of 2008, remembers my husband and co-Team Leader, spurring an immediate and steady stream of potential voters to turn their heads to the top of the amphitheater lawn, and make their ways to complete an official voter registration form in an exciting if not eerie Walking Dead effect.

Save the “sheeple” jabs: if artists recognize their influence and choose to use it beyond music, we should appreciate and celebrate this conscious choice to not just “shut up and sing,” as the anti-war Dixie Chicks were advised nearly 16 years ago . Maybe music is your escape from the madness, and I can certainly appreciate its life-giving powers as divorced from any other belief system, including our hyper-divisive American politics. But I’ll continue to dig into what moves artists to create their work, and to — as our fellow (concerned) citizens, real people seizing their status for good — advocate while amplified.

DJ Celia
What Moves You
Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-10 a.m.

Photo credit: Romel Sanchez, Flickr

Mr. Narrator, This Is Joe Strummer to Me:

Hello, my name is Ed, and I am a Clash-a-holic… (In my mind you are calling back “Hello Ed!”)

Today is International Clash Day. We should give a shout out to fellow DJ John Richard at KEXP in Seattle who initiated Clash Day in 2013. Yay John! Really, it should be called International Clash FAN Day. We celebrate not only the Clash themselves but the brother/sisterhood of Clash fans worldwide, and here in Nashville. In the teenage recesses of my mind, I still think the Clash are somehow on the edge—weird, marginal—and I’m still kind of shocked when I run into other passionate Clash fans. So cheers to us! Passion is the fashion!

Personally I came to the Clash, I’m sure like many of my generation, overnight. One day it was Yes and Rush and 20-minute rock concertos; the next it was Year ZERO, laser focus on what matters, and London’s burning AND I’m SO Bored with the USA. The Clash gave us bullshit detectors!

To borrow from Duke Ellington, there are three types of Clash music: early, middle, and late. And I love them all. The fury and pure punk of early Clash with “White Riot,” “1977,” “Jail Guitar Doors,” and “Garageland”; to the expansiveness and cinematic quality of middle Clash with “London Calling,” “Spanish Bombs,” “The Card Cheat,” and “Death and Glory”; and finally to the experimentation of late Clash with “Magnificent Seven,” “Washington Bullets,” “Lose This Skin,” “Ghetto Defendant,” and “Straight to Hell.” It’s all fantastic!

The Clash broke up in 1983; Mick Jones was fired in September of that year. So that’s where I mark their end. To hell with post-Jones Clash! Wait, back up. Even I can learn a thing or two about the Clash. This year on WXNA I interviewed Kosmo Vinyl, sometimes known as the fifth member of the Clash, about his time with the band. He mentioned that a new book about Clash 2.0 had just come out and that I should check it out. Mark Andersen’s We Are The Clash covers the band from Mick’s ouster to the finale. This book radically changed my view of this period of the band, and I highly recommend it. It may challenge your likely derisive view of the band during this era. (You can listen to Kosmo’s interview here: http://www.wxnafm.org/broadcasts/7776.)

Regardless, the Clash came to an end over 35 years ago! And here we are, celebrating International Clash Day in 2019. What’s going on here? Perhaps the Clash, their music, their example, their inspiration persist because we need them to. These times require deep reserves of musical, artistic, and spiritual sustenance. The Clash really only existed from 1976 to 1983. In those six years they put out six full length albums (two of which were multi-disc) and many EPs and singles. Digging into that output, you will find much that speaks to us today. What I’m struck by is the deep humanism of the band and Joe’s lyrics in particular. They weren’t perfect, they weren’t the best musicians, they didn’t invent punk, but they were true believers for a time. It was and is true rebel music.

The Clash were not Joe Strummer’s band. They were a collective unit: Joe’s lyrics, Mick’s arrangements, Paul’s pure style and chutzpah, and Topper’s solid drumming chops came together to create a unique sound and sensibility. In ways not true for other punk-era bands, they continue to spark our imagination and our collective will to resist. And to rebel in the Albert Camus sense of the term—or as Joe had slapped on his battered Telecaster, “ignore alien orders.” They were sincere without being goofy, they were ironic without being distancing, and they believed what they were saying even if they were at times naive. “I think people ought to know that we’re antifascist, we’re anti-violence, we’re anti-racist, and we’re pro-creative. And we’re against ignorance.” Tell it, Joe!

The Clash and the spirit of Joe Strummer are still with us. In 2016, after what seemed like a calamity, Henry Rollins put it as succinctly as I’ve ever heard: “This is not the time to be dismayed, this is punk rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for.” Goddamn, I can hardly say that without tearing up. WXNA, the DJs and the volunteers, are proud to be on the side of our community and when necessary to be part of the fight to make this community open to all. That is the spirit of the Clash, and that is what Joe Strummer taught us. “Without people, you’re nothing…”

I’m a collector of Strummer quotes. There’s one for just about any situation. Here’s one for right now: “If I had five million pounds I’d start a radio station because something needs to be done. It would be nice to turn on the radio and hear something that didn’t make you feel like smashing up the kitchen and strangling the cat.”

The creation of WXNA in 2016 gave us a chance to re-enchant our love affair with music, and through music to connect with each other: My long love for this band has been reawakened. And I am heartily grateful, because, damn, I needed it. So let’s raise a glass to St. Joe Strummer and to The Only Band That Matters. Cheers and Solidarity.

DJ ED
Eighties/Schmeighties
Friday, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.