FOREWORD: When you look at the politicians ruining America at the time, it seemed obvious to run quirky mod folkie, Dan Bern, for prez in ’04? Bush turned out to be a dopey joke while Democrat loser, John Kerry, fibbed about his military credentials then couldn’t quash his embarrassing ski stumble. Bern turned out to have informed, witty, and controversial opinions on many national subjects. And he ain’t bad live, either, as his October ’04 Bowery Ballroom show proved. He’s molded from Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen, but always follows his own muse. Too bad I’m not familiar with his ’06 release, Breathe, and its ’08 follow-up, Moving Home. Maybe soon.
Before endorsing my latest candidate for US president (I endorsed satirist Mojo Nixon in ’96), a short history lesson is in order. Flexible singer-songwriter-guitarist Dan Bern may be the best modern folk purveyor mingling sympathetic love-struck meditations, reflexive melodic lullabies, and sneered political decrees. Hailing from Iowa, Bern’s parents were Jewish immigrants’ deeply rooted in Classical European tradition. His father, a concert pianist-composer with down to earth family values, played standards and originals night and day, but his son became more impressed by the local agrarian progressive folk community.
“I was like a rebel for not studying Classical music,” boasts the shy, soft-toned Bern.
Admittedly, inspirational literary marvels Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Charles Bukowski, and Kurt Vonnegut affect his writing style, alongside influential music icons such as blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins, Country kingpin Johnny Cash, renegade rocker Lou Reed, and the reliable Dylan-Springsteen-Costello axis.
Moving outside Los Angeles (before residing in New York by ’98), Bern became associated with the neo-folk scene that spawned Beck, touring relentlessly and releasing a belated self-titled ’97 debut which still holds up under intense scrutiny. The commendable follow-up, 50 Eggs, featured the cult hit, “Tiger Wood,” and retained a whimsical no-holds-barred quirkiness. The double-album, Smarty Mine, collected a bunch of loose repertoire that hung together well, cresting with the lofty salutation, “Talkin’ Woody, Bob, Bruce & Dan Bern Blues.” ‘01s trusty ‘road epic,’ New American Language, remains an absolute fan fave.
Settling into the desolate bucolic splendor of New Mexico by 2000 – faraway from chastising consumerist mentality – Bern finally felt completely at ease by the time ‘03s prestigious Fleeting Days arrived. The faithful rural postulation “I Need You,” the tender ransacked train song “Chain Around My Neck,” and the escapist talkin’ Blues, “Fly Away,” owe small debt to mentor Dylan, but more so, bluegrass. Perhaps transcending those noble highpoints, the foreboding monotone moodiness of the hauntingly earnest “Closer To You” and the Marshall Crenshaw-obtained rush of the contentious “Jane” enticingly linger. As do the Elvis Costello-like sweetheart tidbit “Eva” and the majestic “Superman.”
Countering the joyous uplift of Fleeting Days with intuitive acoustic restraint, the admirable My Country II (Messenger Records) takes on oppressive governmental fundamentalists by borrowing the nervy Dust Bowl-derived verve bestowed politically savvy folk pioneers Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and subsequent ‘60s luminaries Phil Ochs and Leonard Cohen. As its masterful proposition, the cherished 8-minute ditty, “President,” a friendly enough country bumpkin fiddle gimmick, convincingly describes Bern’s first days in the Oval Office while invoking the biblical parable where God creating the world in seven days. However comical it may be, its giddily didactic message should garner votes for the polite former Iowan.
Fence-straddling voters should know the simmering title track reaffirms Bern’s allegiance and civic duty, as he shuns obsessive conservatives with pliant defiance. Using Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa’s corked mallet as a silent analogy, the nasally Dylan-esque guitar strummer “Sammy’s Bat” ominously equates nightmarish Quantanamo Bay prison grievances and mad cow disease with impending apocalyptic ruination. The flagpole-sitting loud guitar rocker, “Tyranny,” shames feigned democracies while the glorious piano-based march, “After The Parade,” dissects crippled blood-shedding homeward soldiers. Finally, Bern unmasks the enemy within on the pleadingly repetitive critical jab, “Bush Must Be Defeated.”
Due to Dubya’s antiquated views on abortion, stem cell research, and religion, and gold digger Kerry’s warbling Viet Nam rhetoric, faux-war hero status, and off-putting arrogance, a radical change must come to America. Though I disagree with some of Bern’s socialist agenda, his revolutionary thoughts on ridding irresponsible bureaucrats, expanding US borderlines, promoting oil-free automobiles, allowing gay marriage, and advancing marijuana legalization, hit home. So, to captivate disenfranchised minions (and because our national election has become a sick joke – Florida’s hanging chads, anyone), I’m running Bern for president as leader of ‘04s independent post-Gunk Pragmatist Leafblower Party.
AW: First, as our next president, let’s discuss your thoughts on marijuana legalization, since it’ll undoubtedly rationalize thought process.
DAN BERN: Let it grow in all its glory. It seems obvious. It makes economic sense. Plus, it’s a natural plant that grows, so unless God made a mistake… It grows back faster than trees to make paper, clothing, and rope.
Marijuana may be a better medicinal alternative to prescribed drugs.
They’ll make a pot pill some won’t prefer because they can’t smoke it. We should combine THC and Bioxx to get in pill form.
Should there be an age limit imposed for sale?
The government seems to do fine with liquor. I’d leave some finer points to my cabinet, advisers, staff, and lawmakers. I’m an idea guy. It’s not necessary for me to do all the nuts and bolts. Some of that is up to families. If you’re nine years old, you could drink wine. I believe in strong family values.
Would you offer a 13 year-old a joint?
It depends on the situation. It may be someone else’s job to do that. There may be an introductory phase out in the woods. It’s proven people make better decisions high. It gives you an occasional glimpse into God’s point of view if you’re able to handle and appreciate the value and make use of it in good stead. If you’re gonna use anything and be stupid about it, good luck.
In lieu of America’s constant border surveillance, you suggest, instead, to annex Cuba and Mexico.
I’m not advocating imperialism or a takeover. It’s saying, ‘If you want to be part of us, join us.’ It’s all or nothing. Either you’re all coming in or not. You won’t be partitioned. Instead of borders and walls, we could work together.
You suggest ridding capitalism in “President,” but some people will label you a commie pinko.
…Is that bad? I sailed past the Statue of Liberty the other day and thought about that. There’s a word for those who value liberty. It’s ‘liberal.’ Sometimes they make that into a dirty word. The point of collective farms is capitalism isn’t working. Maybe another system would work better. Should we be afraid of that word if it makes things better for people?
‘Liberal’ gets tossed around next to denigrating terms such as bleeding heart or ultra leftwing. But liberal open-mindedness requires responsiveness to change.
That’s what this country is built upon. But if we’re afraid of liberty, if that becomes shouted down, then we’re lost. We have to allow for the messiness of democracy. It’s not neat and clean and doesn’t look like Disneyland.
Were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq more trouble than they were worth?
I think if we take care of our own people and concern ourselves with that, looking closer to home, then we would act in a more humane way around the world. We wouldn’t have people looking at us as a symbolic target to bring down. If you’re the big dog, people take potshots. But going around destroying countries ain’t the way to go.
You’d make Saturday ‘sex with impunity’ day.
That’s less irritating, more relaxing, and more rational. Imagine a day when you could carte blanche shag anyone you wanted. Obviously it’d be consensual. It wouldn’t destroy marriage, promote guilt or deception. That alone would make us more open, free, humorous people. There needs to be some encouragement of pleasure and widespread celebration of ourselves as sexual creatures. A national day of nudity would be the simplest, most revolutionary idea.
Should Bush go on trial for war crimes like Saddam Hussein will?
For someone who has gloated over the execution of hundreds of Americans, it would be beautifully just.
Some would argue we didn’t go into Iraq unilaterally after Hussein broke 17 UN resolutions.
But name a country with an army that was with us (besides England). The new European Union countries were eager to finally be aligned with a new superpower and probably wanted our contracts. But the traditional, stronger European democracies said no. I think the Iraq War was fought under false pretenses. There was a pattern of lies.
As America’s first Jewish president, I hope you don’t suffer the consequences our first Catholic prez did – a bullet to the skull.
(snickering) I vaguely remember that.
Will you renounce our obsolescent two-party system as insufficient?
I could see the rationale of setting up better parties, but you don’t want a fringe third party – like the KKK – to gain power. But not having a smaller minority to be represented is hurting us. That’s why people supported Nader and Perot. Our current situation is there are thugs in power. So we have to put aside objections to the two-party system and fight the powers later.
Possibly your most durable track, the scintillating “Ostrich Town” knocks people who have their head in the sand.
No one is exempt, including myself. It’s nor meant to point fingers or ride a high horse. I have to work hard everyday to keep my head up. But sometimes you just want to put on WFAN to hear someone rant about the Mets.