The first time I performed “DWB” in public, there was a smattering of applause, an uncomfortable silence, and a guy in the audience who said, “That’s not funny.” I agreed with him.
This was already the song’s fourth rewrite. I wrote it in 2014 after the death of Eric Garner. (Office Daniel Pantaleo had stopped Garner on suspicion of selling single cigarettes. Multiple officers pinned Garner to the Staten Island sidewalk while Pantaleo applied a chokehold and Garner repeated the phrase “I can’t breathe” 11 times before slipping into unconsciousness.)
I had labored over how to approach the subject -- too “funny” and it’s flippant, too “serious” and it’s preachy. Another rewrite or two and I’d arrived at the “DWB” I’ve been performing since. Often the song brings tears, and time and again it’s mentioned after a show as a “thanks-for-doing-that-one.”
At a show in Silver Spring, MD, a guy in the third row who’d been having a great time, stopped having a great time at “DWB” and sat with his arms crossed for the rest of the show. Afterward, he rushed to where I was standing. He was bordering on rage: “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! You don’t know the first thing about it. You don’t have the faintest idea what cops are up against!”
And he’s right: I don’t understand the cops’ side of the story. Nor can I comprehend what it would be like for Melanie and me to send our sons out into a world where they might be pulled over, hassled, arrested, murdered just for the color of their skin. But I do understand that while the vast majority of police officers are not racist, racism riddles our entire system of “justice”: the penal code, zoning, institutionalized poverty, policing, charging, sentencing, prison privatization, the denial of voting rights/citizenship to ex-felons. This moment demands not the mere weeding out of “bad cops.” This moment demands an entire overhauling of our system of justice to ensure everyone truly is equal under the law.
Making this video in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks and the worldwide movement their deaths have inspired, Melanie and I knew we wanted to present “DWB” as a dialog - to balance the voice of white authority with the pain of black suffering.
Our dear friend Clovice Lewis graciously supplied the second voice by way of his gorgeous cello playing. Click here to read our blog about Clovice.
I may or may not have written the song right, but “DWB” is my way of testifying to my wrenching disbelief that our institutions are still riddled with racism. It is my way of declaring my dismay and anger that so many Black lives continue to be taken. When I perform the song now, it is to say, “Don’t you feel the same?”
Clovice Lewis is one of the gentlest people you will meet. An intellectual by nature and by profession. Clovice is a renowned cellist and composer (he wrote his first symphony at 17), a university professor, a software engineer, and entrepreneur. Currently he’s studying for the Unitarian Universalist ministry with an emphasis on breaking down racial, ethnic and class barriers.
Clovice is also a friend of ours and he generously agreed to add a cello part to Roy’s song “DWB (Driving While Black).” Here are the beautiful and haunting results:
Clovice has not one but many “DWB” stories to tell. He’s been pulled over any number of times, detained by police, provoked, interrogated for no reason other than the color of his skin. He’s been discriminated against in the workplace, and he’s been denied housing.
“If you don’t believe me,” Clovice says, “go find some other random Black man and ask him to verify what I’m saying. If he’s honest, he’ll tell you of his experiences that most likely surpass my own.”
Clovice has a lot to say about what he calls “the illusion of race.” His is a stark, clear, and somehow optimistic message about the way forward which he detailed in a recent sermon for the UU Church of Lake County, CA.
Watch his sermon, “The Arc of Justice - Up Close and Personal” here:
“We can’t get through this without some really, really radical changes,” Clovice says. “Here’s how we’re going to do this thing from now on. We are going to love the hell out of each other.”
Amen, my friend. Amen.
-- Roy and Melanie
In early April, we were watching the mind-melting "Joe Exotic: Tiger King" Netlfix series with its obvious parallels to Trump World and thought it was ripe for treatment in song. Melanie came up with the riff "Don Exotic: Lyin' King" and started singing "Wimoweh" which was used in the remake of the movie The Lion King. When we came up with the "Vote Him Away" sub-hook, we were off and running.
Then we remembered the song parody performed by the Raging Grannies of Mendocino - Roy had sung their "The Liar Tweets Tonight" with them a couple years ago - so we got in touch with Ede Morris, the Raging Granny who penned those parody lyrics, and asked if she'd mind if we took a pass at it.
After it was written, we decided to use “Vote Him Away” as the maiden voyage for our idea to get lots of people singing together in one of our videos. We hoped this “Virtual Sing-In” would help bridge the divide we’re all feeling in this time of social distancing. We appealed through our mailing list for people to join in with us in the making of the “Vote Him Away” video. We were so touched by the positive responses -- both financial contributions and video clips.
Special shoutout to our friend Sandy Riccardi who sang the high soprano descant part. She and her husband Richard write and perform hilarious political satire songs. We highly recommend that you follow them on Facebook.
A nostra culpa: We do recognize that the lack of diversity in the first iteration of “Vote Him Away” looks intentional and exclusionary, and just .... not good. We were so blown away by everyone's heartfelt individual contributions that we didn't consider the overall look. That was a failing on our part.
The good news is that we've decided to make a new video of “Vote Him Away” with new lyrics and a new group of chorus members every month until the election -- getting more and more people singing together -- and these next videos will certainly reflect the beautiful diversity of our world. Would you like to sing along? If so, please sign up for the mailing list as we’ll be organizing these Virtual Sing-Ins through our newsletters.
For most of Roy’s career, we’ve written solely original songs. In the last few years, we’ve loved adding song parodies to the mix. They’re a great way to reach people immediately and are an enormously effective tool for political organizing. Because they are instantly accessible, they are also often floating around in the political satire zeitgeist in multiple guises. A couple weeks after we posted “Vote Him Away,” for instance, Jimmy Kimmel did his own riff on Trump as the Lyin’ King a la Joe Exotic’s Tiger King ...
Since posting our video, we’ve learned of at least 7 other takes on the idea “The Liar Tweets Tonight,” and we applaud all our fellow satirists. Check out this glorious gem from our friend, the folk phenom Christine Lavin ...
And, of course, the song belongs to Solomon Linda, the Zulu tribesman who wrote “Mbube” (Zulu for lion) in the 1920s. Here he is performing his song in 1939 with his band The Evening Birds ...
-- Roy and Melanie
We are so proud to introduce you to our collaborator on the parody lyrics for “Vote Him Away (The Liar Tweets Tonight).” Her name is Ede Morris, and she is a Raging Granny of Mendocino.
Ede says, “The Mendocino Raging Grannies are part of an International Movement standing up for future generations and challenging corporate power. We are homegrown Grannies who use humor and harmony to sound off on Social Justice and Environmental issues.” Roy has done a number of shows with “gaggles” of Raging Grannies all over the country. The activist message in their song parodies is undeniable, not to mention super-charming.
Here is Ede's story in her own words:
“I started singing in church at the age of 6. There was always a piano in the house, but I picked up the guitar in high school to sing with an all girl folk group called "The Mad Hatters." My mother dragged me to the County Fair the summer of 1965 to see The New Christy Minstrels.
“As we were leaving the fair, we met the group hanging out in their tent and an exchange of songs took place. A year and a half later, I got the call to audition for the group and I was on the road singing with them 2 days later. I stuck with them long enough to record two albums, do a number of major TV shows and tour Japan, New Zealand and much of the US. Then I quit to hang out in N Y and sing with my sister Lynn Kellogg.
“Three years living in Manhattan was enough for me to realize I needed to get back to the country. In 1968 "Hair" opened on Broadway with my sister Lynn in one of the lead roles.
“I became an ‘instant’ hippie and was soon heading for California with the Flower Children. San Luis Obispo was where I landed, 6 miles from a nuclear power plant in its construction and licensing phase. I had a husband and child and I knew this plant named Diablo needed to be stopped. We became part of a greater effort to stop Diablo from going online and I wound up writing my first song "Must Never Be." It actually was KPFA's most requested song of 1978.
“In 1979 my family (which now consisted of 2 small children and a husband) moved to Mendocino County to be far from nuclear power plants. I continued my musical anti-nuclear crusade and became a non-violence trainer as well.
“The Mendocino Raging Grannies came into my life at the perfect time. Each time a crisis arrived, we had a song for it and we became regulars at the B of Supes and Planning Commission meetings. We formed around a performance at the Anderson Valley Grange Variety Show singing a song about Dr Bronner's Soap and it's physical effects on “hoo hoos." We sang the heck out of that song.”
Here’s video proof:
-- Roy and Melanie
A couple weeks ago, I posted a short remembrance of John Prine. COVID 19 took him from us, but not before he’d altered America’s consciousness with half a century of astounding songwriting. I asked members of my mailing list to send us their own memories of John. Here they are ...
I already was playing and singing John Prine songs before I saw him in Waikiki while I was in the Navy ‘round about 1973. I’ve probably forgotten more of his songs than I still know, and that is a lot. His was the first voice I heard on our local community radio station 41 years ago.He is one of the few artists that I keep learning the songs of, the latest being Egg and Daughter Night.
Thank you for this opportunity to give grateful tribute to the late, great John Prine’s prophetic poetic genius which was best exemplified by two of our Woodstock Generation’s most culturally impactful songs: SamStone and IllegalSmile. The former decried the illegal Vietnam War and the latter presaged We the People’s now solid victory in the hypocritically fruitless and sadly still too often tragically hurtful War on Drugs.
We’re soooooo grateful for your Musical Legacy, Dearly Departed Folk Songwriting
Giant whom We Luv, Love, LOVE: JohnPrine.
I started listening to John in the mid to late '70's when I was in college. I was hooked. I will never forget the concert I attended at the Paramount in Austin, TX with John and Steve Goodman together. It was magical. His range of songwriting that makes you bust out laughing and then zings your heart was one of kind. The one thing I learned from his illness and now death was just how many of my friends loved him too. I was surprised at the variety and number of people who responded first to my post on Facebook about his being sick and then about his passing - as well as postings of their own. He touched so many lives and will be deeply, deeply missed.
I admired John Prine's words and music-- the wonderful humor and biting commentary, so accurate.
I'm almost 10 years ahead of you in listening to John Prine. He was one of my favorite singers/songwriters. I actually thought his voice was perfect for his songs. He wrote songs that were goofy, and songs that were profound, often at the same time. I have heard his songs used to mark special events - Paradise for environmental pillage, Hello in There for mental health and loneliness, Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven any More for wars and Veteran's Day...and now, Don't Bury Me in the Cold, Cold Ground and This Man is Goin' to Town for his death. You need a song for an occasion, go look at John Prine's oevre.
When I heard he was in the hospital on a respirator, I wrote into his website and kept looking for news on his condition every morning. I was pleased to see how many people other than me loved John Prine's songs, even one woman from England who said that she had never heard of John Prine until she read that he had coronavirus, so she started listening to his songs and now is a devoted fan.
I was heartbroken when he died, and did a mini - John Prine song listening marathon at my house. Somehow, when I was listening to his songs, I was able to laugh and appreciate the phrases and forget about our loss. A little taste of heaven, if you ask me. One long evening, and I'm only finished CD1. There is a 50 song John Prine set on YouTube, for those of you who aren't so fortunate as to own the box set.
So I hope you're forming that band in heaven, John Prine. Save a spot for me. I bet I'll be welcome. Onward with love and music,
As for a tribute to John Prine, my story is not unusual. Growing up in the greater Chicago area I knew that John, Steve Goodman & Bonnie Koloc regularly played at the Earl of Old Town and Holsteins and I wanted to play there, too. Eventually, I did.
As I started performing professionally, a couple John Prine songs were always on the setlist; Please Don't Bury Me, Dear Abby and Your Flag Decal were always crowd favorites.
Just yesterday, I posted a John Prine cover to Facebook.
Here is "Big Ol’ Goofy World."
COVID 19 BREAKDOWN
for John Prine
World a prison
America’s Head Screw
Ain’t well maintained
Might not be human
Certainly ain’t humane
Stranger danger in the manger
An innocent bat
And armored pangolin
Took us all on
Brought great nations to their knees
Love from distance
Equals attempt at connection
The art of touching
Out of business
Like all the restaurants in the sky
Don’t cry for me Susannah
As banjo players seek refuge
In isolation wards and
Breathing machines plugged
Into the wrong Zeitgeist
I dared to walk outside
Myself and peer intently in
Was there never any foundation
Willing to grant us wonders
Earned and stolen from
Troubadours of the new as
Marching boots threaten power
Awaken from gullible daydreams sisters
Brothers it’s past time to move
We can chant people and sigh revolt
But our heads must stay
In the Suckers Game until
Victory is declared by forces of grace
Dressed in shimmering gowns
Stitched by elves and shamans
Songs survive and grow lyrics
Dig deeper every time we listen
Birds sing round the clock
Spheres make music on
Their own labels — I’ll meet
You in Paradise at the OK Corral
We are devastated to learn of the passing of John Prine due to COVID-19. In the early 80’s I delivered audio-visual equipment all over the Bay Area, which is to say I drove around and wrote songs all day long. When I wasn’t actually composing I was listening to KFAT Radio out of Gilroy, studying what a song really IS or really could be. And in the song laboratory of my mind, John Prine was a frequent visiting professor.
Later, when Melanie and I were writing songs for our eccentric country rock bank The Twang, John’s songs challenged us to be economical, ass-kicking, soulful, singable and sly, all in the same three and a half minutes. John wrote amazing no-bullshit songs, some hilarious slices of life, some uncompromising character studies. He could crack you up and he could break your heart.
“Sam Stone,” “Illegal Smile,” “Paradise,” “Linda Goes to Mars” … we can call them up to the front of our minds faster than you can Google them. “In Spite of Ourselves” is in frequent rotation on our long drives across the country.
When we heard that John was suffering with COVID-19, we wanted to add to the chorus of those wishing him well. So Melanie pointed a camera at me, and I did my best with “Angel From Montgomery.” Molly Bauckham generously contributed a harmony.
Molly Bauckham is a wondrous singer/harpist in Seattle, and our dear friend. Please check out her YouTube Channel including covers of our songs “Someday (We Shall Overcome)” and “Hope, Struggle and Change.”
In 1983 KFAT morphed into KPIG Radio, and our beloved friend Sleepy John Sandidge has deejayed there since.
A couple years ago, Sandidge was putting together a benefit concert for a Santa Cruz musician who’d lost everything in a fire - an evening of John Prine songs, performed by a number of other local singers and songwriters. Just before the event, he got a call from John Prine’s wife and manager, Fiona. “John hears you want to use his material,” she said. Sandidge was sure a request for royalties was about to follow ... “Well,” said Fiona, “John is going to match what you make dollar for dollar.”
If you haven’t heard John Prine’s songs, DO Google them. When you’ve finished listening, you’ll know more about America. Hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.
Did you see Laura Ingraham drinking through a straw from a light bulb-stuffed steak? Did you watch Kirstjen Nielsen calmly surveying the gulag she helped create at the Southern border? Did you hear Trump’s spiritual advisor Paula White speaking in tongues? Did you face-palm hard enough to get a concussion?
I wrote a song called “My Conservative Girlfriend” a couple decades ago, and over the years have dedicated it to Ingraham, Nielsen, White as well as Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Kellyanne Conway ...
But my favorite conservative girlfriend of all time has to be internet sensation Mrs. Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian, a wickedly satirical character written by Andrew Bradley and played ferociously by Deven Green. Deven is also a hilarious comic chanteuse. I got to share the stage with her and her partner Ned Douglas at my recent show at McCabe’s in Santa Monica.
Deven and Ned agreed to help me serenade “My Conservative Girlfriend.” Here are the results ...
I wrote "My Conservative Girlfriend" in 1995 for The Foremen with Arianna Huffington in mind. (This was pre-Huffington Post when Arianna was a leading conservative voice.) The song features a line I considered absurd at the time. It’s the lyric I'm least happy to have been prescient about ...
She's got the Supreme Court tattooed on her rump
Beside an autographed portrait of Donald Trump
During the Bush and Obama presidencies, I changed that line to “Donald Rumsfeld.” Now, alas, the song has come full circle.
And the Girls Choir of Wilmington, NC have done an amazingly compelling video too. As arranged by Steve Errante and conducted by Sandy Errante, the Girls Choir changed the point of view of the song; they’re singing from the kids’ point of view. “WE too young to say impossible…”
-- Roy and Melanie
Woody Guthrie wrote on his guitar: This Machine Kills Fascists
Pete Seeger adapted that for his banjo: This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It To Surrender
Our banjo says: This Machine Drives Neocon, Homophobic, War-Mongering, Corporatist, Anti-Intellectual, Polluting, Imperialist, Crypto-Fascist, Hate-Speak, Faux-Populist, Theocratic, Chickenhawk Privateers from the Room.
Welcome to our blog! We'll take you into the inner workings of this machine we call our Satire Delivery Service. Come with us backstage, down the back roads, and into the backstories of our songs, our travels, our inspirations, our interactions with you.
Love and Looking forward, Roy and Melanie