A Song For Obama
By Mickey Z.
14 November, 2008
In my younger days, I considered the Village Voice to be required
reading. Butlike The Nation, Mother Jones, The Progressive, and so
many other once useful publicationsI no longer find the Voice to be
relevant or remotely radical. However, it's free in NYC and I ride
the subways. Thus, I'll sometimes grab a copy to peruse as I navigate
the subterranean tunnels of transportation.
I end up regretting this move…every single time.
As I thumbed through the Nov. 12-18 issue, I came across a loathsome
illustration of denial masquerading as a music article. "The Pleasant
Dilemma of Hamell on Trial: A post-Obama protest singer deals with
victory," by Rob Harvilla [see below] was ostensibly about protest
(sic) singer Ed Hamell (a.k.a. "Hamell on Trial") and others of his
liberal ilk but ended up as yet another paean to the beloved Pope of Hope.
Harvilla describes folk singers like Hamell as "seething, cynical,
sarcastic, permanently embittered, militantly radicalized leftist."
(For the myopic Harvilla "militantly radical" simply means you hate
Republicans and launch crude insults at people like Ann Coulter.)
Such performers, Harvilla declares, have found the days following
Obama's election to be "jubilant but deeply confusing times, the
exhilaration of We Did It now undercut by the bewilderment of What Do
We Do Now?" He offers this option: "stop bitching" as he thanks god
Hamell no longer has to waste his "vast" talent "just bitching about
Ed Hamell, for his part, displays his staggeringly profound grasp on
global politics by adding: "If he (Obama) turns all this around and I
don't have to sing about it anymore, then good. I got plenty of other
Plenty of other problems indeed…but first: What is "all this" and how
might the Chairman of Change turn it all around? If all this means
the illegal war against Iraq that began on August 6, 1990when the
murderous UN sanctions were first imposedand continues to this day,
Obama has articulated a vague plan to turn it around: shuffle off
some "combat troops" to rain hell upon Afghanistan (and perhaps
Pakistan and Iran) and leave behind tens of thousands of US soldiers,
the largest embassy the world has ever seen, and legions of private
Yeah, I guess there'll be absolutely no reason for Ed Hamell to write
a new protest song when Lord Obama maintains the death penalty, the
PATRIOT Act, the fence on the US-Mexican border, and the subsidizing
of Israeli war crimes. Gays can't marry, single-payer is doomed, and
the third term of the Clinton administration looms…but Hamell and his
militant ilk can "stop bitching" now. For posers like them, all this
doesn't seem to include the reality that blacks make up roughly 12%
of the American population but constitute 40% of the death row
population. It doesn't include an obscene military budget, corporate
personhood, structural adjustment programs, and NAFTA.
The Obamatrons are not pushing their hero to end any of the following
either: the bogus war on a tactic, corporate welfare, homelessness,
sweatshops, factory farming, strip mining, deforestation, or giving
away control of public airwaves, public land, and public pensions.
Ninety percent of the ocean's large fish are gone but somehow these
are "jubilant" times for those deluded denizens of the Left ready to
They'd rather bask in the toxic glow of fantasychoosing to believe
their work is done because a mainstream politician who raised $640
million is gonna turn "all this" around. These folks have tainted the
very concept of radical activism and deserve nothing but our contempt.
With 200,000 acres of rainforest destroyed every 24 hours, our work
cannot be viewed as anywhere close to done. Or, to borrow from Eugene
V. Debs, "while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
The Pleasant Dilemma of Hamell on Trial
A post-Obama protest singer deals with victory
By Rob Harvilla
Tuesday, November 11th 2008
For the seething, cynical, sarcastic, permanently embittered,
militantly radicalized leftist folk singers, comedians, and
folk-singer/comedians out there, these are jubilant but deeply
confusing times, the exhilaration of We Did It now undercut by the
bewilderment of What Do We Do Now? For starters, with even the New
York Post cheerfully hawking Obama pin-up posters, there is way, way
less to bitch about. Our man is now The Man. For those who bitch
about The Man professionally and/or artistically, this is a fabulous
quandary, but a quandary nonetheless.
One option, of course, is to stop bitching. But in the case of Ed
Hamell, the one-man folk-punk bulldozer known
professionally/artistically as Hamell on Trial, this is as
unappealing as it is unlikely. Here's a guy for whom righteous
indignation and fantastically ribald profanity are weapons as vital
and irreplaceable as his blunt, nasal voice and beat-to-shit acoustic
guitar, which he strums so violently that he's worn giant holes in
the wood, a sort of sonic erosionthe guitar's the mountain; he's the
lava. Hamell is a one-man Tarantino flick: loud, vicious, luridly
hilarious, gleefully and deeply offensive. The can of Red Bull
perched on his amp is laughably superfluous.
Saturday night at the Bowery Poetry Club, made cheerful but not
complacent by recent political news, Ed does not play "Coulter's
Snatch," the obscene (and self-explanatory) ode to his favorite
conservative pundit's plumbing, as unveiled on his
also-self-explanatory 2006 album, Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs.
(Hamell, born in Syracuse and now shacked up in Westchester, has a
twentysomething wife, a young son named Detroit, and a song about the
day when a teenaged Detroit will inquire as to whether his dad messed
with drugs, premarital sex, and other seedy improprieties in his own
youth, and what Hamell will do when that day comes: lie.) And though
he begins tonight with a spoken-word diatribe about the
anesthetizing, demoralizing, stupefying inanity of modern television,
slinging quite a few vituperative arrows at Fox News in particular,
soon he is on to less political topics, namely the various
drug-related misadventures cataloged during the manic oompah strut of
"When You Are Young": smoking kitty litter, snorting interred ashes,
etc. "I know what you're thinking," he tells us. "Saturday night in
Manhattan. Celebratory week. Where could I go tonight to pay for a
Regime-change aside, the songs, blessedly, remain the same. Hamell's
shows lately have been subtitled "The Terrorism of Modern Life," an
Off-Broadway-ish mix of songs, rants, fond remembrances,
miscellaneous banter, and, best of all, jokes, jokes, actual jokes.
Rare is the musician who can actually tell a good joke (the one about
the pedophile and the six-year-old that ends with the latter saying,
"Sir, I think you're confusedI'm not actually a welder," for
example) and tell it repeatedly, with a nonchalant comic mastery that
makes you laugh even if you've heard him tell it many times before.
Saturday night, after he unleashes a bartending joke about the
improper use of ice tongs already canonized on his recent live CD/DVD
release Rant & Roll, a dude behind me roars with laughter and tells
his buddy, "Every time. It's fuckin' funny every time."
Chatting by phone the day before the show, Hamell insists he's not a
terribly political guy and is driven to fury and lyrical specificity
only by the indignities of the Bush administration. Obama, now, will
hopefully free him up to explore more agreeable topics: "If he turns
all this around and I don't have to sing about it anymore, then good.
I got plenty of other problems." He admits that his job, like The
Daily Show's job, is harder now, what with this utterly foreign new
atmosphere of excitement and optimism. "Melted cynics" is how he
describes folks like, yes, himself: "What I do want to believe, just
as the entire world changed on 9/11, so that the next day everyone's
going, 'Eh, it's gonna be real different,' and I'm like, 'It's not
gonna be that fuckin' different'well, how wrong I was. It is
different. And so now people are saying, 'It's gonna be different,'
and I'm thinking, 'Eh, it's not gonna be that different.' I'm hoping
I'm gonna be wrong."
For now, at least, the mere fact of President-elect Obama has very
little effect on Hamell's act, other than inspiring some jocular
banter about Parliament Funkadelic and anal sex, the latter topic I
will not elucidate further on the off-chance that discussing the
Obamas in this way is now somehow illegal. "I think there's gonna be
a much larger manifestation later on down the road of how positive I
feel," Ed tells me, which is even more terrifying. But maybe the true
benefit of this momentous event for all the seething/cynical/etc.
artists out there is how it allows everyone to fixate on other
things, instead of raging against the machine all the goddamn time.
With the political much improved, we are free now to spend more time
on the personal. Which Hamell, in particular, is somewhat shockingly
good at. Just as his voice is a dizzying panoply of snarls, sneers,
and adenoidal squeaks, his songs flaunt a staggering emotional range,
from childish crudity to devastating honesty. This is best
exemplified by two songs he played back-to-back Saturday night, with
no jokes in between: "Pussy" and "Father's Advice."
Yes. The former concerns Ed's tremendous oral-sex acumen, with a
chorus that consists mostly of him bleating the song's title
repeatedly. It's tiresome on record but, should the crowd be into it,
oddly delightful in concert, and the Bowery Poetry Club gang, not
surprisingly, is really, really into it. But the second that the song
ends, he starts talking about his father's suicide note. His father,
you see, was married for 50 years, and when his wife, Ed's mother,
got Alzheimer's and no longer recognized him (or anyone, really),
Ed's dad killed her, and then himself. The note he left Ed remarks
that if Jesus, up in heaven, should take issue with this, Ed's father
will respond, "What did you do to my Ruth?" And then Hamell launches
into "Father's Advice," written from Ed's perspective to his own son,
explaining what happened to Grandma and Grandpa, and distilling
Grandpa's advice: "You better laugh till you die." In a show
completely saturated with blue humor, this is the one truly shocking
moment. A talent this vast is wasted just bitching about the
Republicans. Thank God he no longer has to.
Hamell on Trial plays the Bowery Poetry Club November 15–16