Monday, February 27, 2006

David Rovics & Attila the Stockbroker



Acerbic, funny politi-folky songwriter David Rovics is back in town next week for an all ages show in Eureka Tuesday, March 7.

The last time David Rovics came to Humboldt he was on the road with columnist Norman Solomon. Rovics recalled sitting in on a media panel that included Solomon along with Journal editor Hank Sims and Times Standard editor Charles Winkler. “I can’t remember which one was which,” he admitted. “One editor was making a lot of sense, the other was defending the idea of objectivity, which didn’t really make sense to me or to the rest of the panel. One editor was making the point that, yes, advertisers have a huge impact on what newspapers can do, and there‘s also a lot things people would be looking at if they didn’t have to worry about that kind of influence. The other editor was claiming that newspapers had autonomy and advertisers didn’t really have such an impact.”

I told him I make no pretense of objectivity, to which he replied, “I’ve never been a fan of objectivity myself.”
 
Rovics was born in New York City and grew up in the surrounding suburbs. His parents were classical musicians, so he was raised on music. While he was exposed to folk music and the activist spirit when he was younger, he didn’t put the two together until he was about 19. That was when he picked up a guitar. “All I heard on the radio was love songs and stuff like that, but I suddenly became aware of this whole ancient genre, people singing songs about the struggle and what was going on in the world,” he told me.

Among those whose songs he learned: Phil Ochs, Utah Phillips, Buffy Saint Marie and of course old masters like Woody Guthrie. “Then after a while I discovered contemporary folks like Jim Page from Seattle and I started writing my own songs. Eventually I got pretty good at it.
“I write about environmental issues, about the labor movement, songs about the struggles in Latin America and here at home — and love songs too.”A good portion of his political material is satirical. “I try to be funny, you can’t just play one depressing song after another or you lose people. But the depressing songs can be effective in the right context.”

What has he been singing about on this tour? “Well, about what’s happening in the world: the unbelievable array of scandals that are before us. The wealth of material has never been greater. I just can’t find enough time to write about all the crazy shit that’s going on.”

Noting that stupid, bad men in office make good fodder for satire, he added, “It really does make my work easier. Not that Clinton was difficult to write about, but with Bush it’s handed to you on a silver platter.”

This time out he’s touring with a Brit, Attila the Stockbroker, who he says, “has been traveling around the world for the last 25 years doing punk rock poetry, playing solo and with a punk band called Barnstormer.”



Since Attila was riding in the car with him, he handed him the phone. After preliminary niceties I asked what it is he does. “I’m a performance poet,” he began, “a very energetic, entertaining, political performance poet.”

He described himself as “a hyper-active mix of Monty Python, Jello Biafra and The Clash,” quoting from his own press release. “I came out of the punk scene doing poetry between sets by punk bands,” he continued. (The Clash were among the bands he performed with.) “Sometimes I play the mandola — I attack it — I don’t play with any particular virtuosity. From there I started doing gigs on my own.”

How do the two of them fit together? “David and I do the same kind of thing in totally different ways,” he explained. “David is more folky, a technically gifted guitarist with a wonderful voice, and he’s polite; and I can’t really play that well and I shout a lot. But I’ve got lots to say, and it works — the two of us work well together. We talk about what’s happening in the world right now from a sort of radical social political perspective, which is also humorous with lot of energy to it. It’s not like po-faced lecturing, there’s a lot of fun in it too.”

At that point in our conversation I heard the sound of a siren in the background. A police chase? I wondered. “No, just a fire engine,” he assured me, “not the police.” As David broke out laughing he noted that the car sports a bumper sticker saying “Impeach Bush,” which could make the pair seem suspect. “And I’ve got a tee-shirt with a picture of George Bush that says ‘International Terrorist,’ that goes over will most places we go. My other favorite shirt is the one worn by women: It has a picture of George and an arrow pointing up saying ‘Bad Bush,’ then one pointing down, which says, ‘Good Bush.’ That’s quite a good one as well.

“Humor is big part of what I do. Not all my stuff is political, and neither is David’s — social awareness and politics are the fundamental first point of where we’re coming from, but there’s other stuff in there too. Some of my stuff is just silly: I’m also very into football, or soccer to you, and one of the things I do apart from touring: I’m the stadium announcer and poet-in-residence for my hometown team, Brighton and Hove Albion. I write a lot of poems about soccer; not that I’d do them here obviously because they wouldn’t mean anything to you, but I write about a lot of things.”

Being a 21st century performer he concluded with a bit of advice: “If people are interested in what we’re doing and they want to find out more, just point them at our websites, that’s davidrovics.com and attilathestockbroker.com. They can see for themselves what we’re doing.”

 The Rovics/Attila performance in Eureka is at something called Synapsis Warehouse (in Old Town at 47 3rd, between A and Commercial). Showtime is 8 p.m. Admission is on a sliding scale; no one turned away for lack of funds.

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