Looking for a break from Tea Party dyspepsia? Consider attending one of three shows this weekend starring singer-songwriter and activist David Rovics.
On Friday at 7 p.m. at Walker Community Church, Rovics – Amy Goodman calls him “the musical version of Democracy Now” – is performing a benefit concert for the Minnesota chapter of the IWW. At 2 p.m., Saturday he’s doing a show of children’s music at 42nd Avenue Station, and then at 7 p.m. Saturday, appearing at the Black Dog Café in Saint Paul.
A troubadour in the proud leftist tradition of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs, Rovics began mixing music with politics in 1979, inspired in part by the Clamshell Alliance and other anti-nuclear power plant organizations active in his native Northeast. He began touring extensively in the early 1990s; his appearances this weekend are part of a national tour promoting his latest release Troubador: People’s History in Song. He has made more than 200 of his songs available for free on the Web; listeners have responded with some two million downloads.
In addition to touring, Rovics posts essays on politics and social change on websites like CounterPunch and CommonDreams.
Rich Broderick: You arrive at a time when the American political and economic landscape looks pretty bleak. What’s your assessment of where we stand right now?
David Rovics: We are facing a crisis comparable to the one faced by the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. I don’t say that because I think everything is going to go the same way. But the characteristics are similar in that we have a government — and two national parties — that makes noises about being for regular Americans, but neither the government or the Democratic or Republican parties have done a good job of delivering on promises on prosperity for working class people – in fact, they don’t even use the term anymore. Meanwhile there are growing numbers of people who are impoverished and desperate and forming movements whose politics are uncertain – this is similar to what happened during the rise of fascism. What those people are responding to is the lack of prosperity in this country. As in Weimar, they don’t know exactly what they are upset about and so end up scapegoating other elements of our population, and leaving themselves open to leadership by nefarious types.
RB: Given that analysis, what role, if any, does music like yours have to play in bringing about positive change?
DR: Social change can occur for a lot of different reasons. Certainly communication is a big part of that process, providing education about what we are facing and how to deal with it, understanding the past and history, understanding the nature of the state and of capitalism. Art and music have a vital role to play in that process. In fact, it’s the same role as teaching and journalism, but with a different emphasis.
Art and music are best equipped to help us understand things in a visceral way while other forms of communication are better for helping us understand things on the intellectual plane. All are important. And all have a role to play in either helping to maintain the status quo or to challenge and change that status quo. Certainly the elites here and abroad understand that power and employ it to the fullest extent for their own ends
RB: It seems to me that there is no political or social challenge we face today that is not aggravated — if not actually caused by — the complete domination of the mainstream media and press by corporate America. Given that domination, what chance is there of communicating anything that does not further corporate interests?
DR: Even though what you say about the mainstream media is true, there is always the potential for change. For example, the Internet is playing an increasing role and having a significant impact because it is outside of that corporate control. In part the net’s impact goes beyond simply providing information not censored by corporations — a lot of people see through things despite corporate control of the news. The Internet is critically important because it’s vital for people to have a sense of possibility that they can achieve something. The mainstream media doesn’t just feed us a steady stream of lies. It also does not tell us about local movements for change and their success stories. When people realize that they have power when it is exercised collectively real change is possible – and the corporate media really doesn’t want us to hear about that.
Personally, I am most familiar with this in terms of the music industry where the Internet’s impact has been tremendous. Overall the big media companies are selling a lot less music and that’s not just because people can download big name bands for free. It’s also because the Internet is making it possible for people to find a much broader selection of music than what’s offered by the big companies, and much of that music is independently produced and can be downloaded for free. In my own case, even with no support from the national media or even local mainstream media, there have been about two million downloads of my songs, most of that in U.S.
David Rovics, in concert, Friday, 7 p.m., the Walker Community Church, 3104 16th Ave South, Minneapolis; Saturday, 2 p.m., 42nd Street Station, 4171 Lyndale Ave. N, Minneapolis; and Saturday, 7 p.m. The Black Dog café, 308 Prince St., Saint Paul.
To listen to and download some of David Rovics’ music, click on go to davidrovics.com/audioVideo.php