There is a war going on right now. For the world, for the environment, for our rights.
And we are losing.
We are losing ground every day. The rash of anti-choice legislation being rammed through state courts and the appointment of anti-choice judges by (republican controlled) senatorial appointment are just the latest and among the most egregious examples of our loss. But there are heroes in the battle for the heart of American culture fighting for us.
We use the word “heroes” a lot.
We use it to refer to our parents. Historical figures. Actors. Sports players. And more than a few of us use it for musicians.
But what do we mean? Do these people lead lives that inspire us to live like them? Or does their music just resonate deeply with us? More often than not in these days of superstardom, people simply dub heroes that moniker because they live a life they would like to emulate–fame and material wise.
This is not to say that there are not figures worthy of our praise and veneration, just that we as a culture have a tendency to misattribute our acclaim. This goes across the board of modern heroes–for every person naming Colin Kaepernick as a hero there are ten citing Connor Mcgregor or “Money” Mayweather for example. Musicians, as with all public figures, have always been actors on the social and political fronts with everyone from Bob Dylan or Harry Belafonte making personal, inspirational, or legislative stands and differences for social progress. But we went astray somewhere. We started valuing personal resonance over common good and forgot that you can have BOTH.
Amanda Palmer recently came to the Theater at the Ace Hotel and cut right to the quick not only the reason why she is one of my personal heroes, one of the heroes of this culture battle, and one of the people who can see right to the heart of what’s lies at the center of these debates.
She did all this in a single, powerful motion.
After three hours of bearing the deepest depths of her heart and soul, through her incredible songwriting and through her incredibly perceptive and didactic personal histories (death, abortion, miscarriage, cancer, marriage, despair, depression), she did the simplest thing in a room full of hundreds of people–she asked, if people felt comfortable, to raise their hands if they, or someone they love, had had an abortion.
Every. Single. Person. Rose their hands.
In a single moment, her practice of radical compassion and radical honesty had deconstructed the taboo surrounding the discussion of abortion. She had created a safe enough space that HUNDREDS of people had felt courage to volunteer one of the most personal of experiences.
Yet this is nothing new to the singer. She has made a career of bold, incredible honesty and radical compassion. Songs like “Coin Operated Boy,” “My Alcoholic Friends,” “Girl Anachronism,” all speak to true, authentic, and often-ignored thoughts and feelings. She and drummer Brian Viglione, through their art and their attitude, fostered communities and had those of us who listened feel seen in a way that we hadnt yet.
The dissolution of the Dresden Dolls hasn’t slowed her down in these respects, releasing three full studio albums and a myriad of collaborations and covers albums (not to mention TED talks and books) that continue to deliver everything that has made her a hero in so many of our eyes. Her last record, “There Will be No Intermission,” released this year, takes her sound down to its absolute barest roots–often just a piano and her magnificent voice–and this puts the focus on the lyrics and the stories behind the songs themselves. Each one is heartbreaking and courageous and heartening all at the same time. The format she has chosen for this run of shows–a four hour one woman show with a sprinkling of songs and (indeed) one intermission, doubles down on every strength of the record itself, but it is in highlighting these moments of absolute, fundamental humanity that she makes the world better.
Seeing Amanda Palmer the other night was the perfect microcosm of this. In sharing stories so fiercely personal she managed to encapsulate so many topical ills and inspire a sold out audience while breaking our hearts, making us laugh, and making a roomful of strangers who grew up as social outcasts feel loved.
In 1966 Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech, during which he said “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times.” Only about three years later, Janis Joplin followed that up with the maxim “Time keeps movin’ on.” This is all just to say that we continue to live in interesting times. Perhaps the most interesting, as far as old Chinese curses go. We look back in history–of which the Cold War era seems particularly comparative (when we aren’t feeling particularly unkind)–and we see more than a few contemporary resemblances. And while the news cycle can get brutal, its incredible to have spaces that can act as a temporary haven from daily woes…even when its a haven of brutality, itself.
Sound and Fury this year continued the years-long streak of incredible curation and production, but more than that, this year more than previously the idea of a community coalescing around S&F really came to the fore. Some of that is due, no doubt, to the incredible and timely reunion of Have Heart, a truly legendary hardcore band that no one thought would ever play again…not for any bad blood (as the various members innumerable sideprojects involving various iterations of one another including Sweet Jesus, Wolf Whistle, Free, Fiddlehead, and Clear would easily disprove) but for simply the reason that I have seen only happen once in person–when a band got on stage and played their set so hard and so well that the fans left immediately without encore…completely satisfied. The band had done what it needed to do. Have Heart left like that–on an incredible wave of goodwill and trust and no small amount of tears. Now, n 2019, when we needed it most (as history teacher Patt Flynn made note at the show), Have Heart rode back in on that wave of goodwill, and they rode it right into one of the fervent hotbeds of hardcore and community, Sound and Fury.
It was really a match made in heaven, delivering on all fronts. But that has been largely due to the tireless efforts of Riley and the crew at Sound and Fury working incredible hours and literally performing miracles to create an inclusive, open fest that continues to outdo itself every single goddamn year.
This year STARTED with former members of Bane’s band Antagonize. Can you imagine? A lineup that BEGINS with Bane alumni. A lineup that keeps delivering after that and touching on most if not every exciting and up and coming hardcore act around right now–Fury, Power Trip, Abuse of Power, Vein, Year of the Knife, Incendiary, Drain, Diztort, Inclination, Candy, Firewalker, Initiate, Dare, Dead Heat, and Basement. That is a veritable who’s-who of hardcore headliners in the scene.
But, truth be told, it all, impressively, seems largely unimportant. Sure a big draw this year was Have Heart’s reunion, thats undeniable. But this is an event which has become a touchstone for people year-round. It’s something that has become a presence that people interact with on a new level. Sound and Fury has become something more than just a festival. Through its impeccable curation, through its savvy and authentic engagement with fans, and through its PASSION for its attendees, its become a community that is being treated with passion in kind.
I’m a painfully shy introvert. Despite being involved with the scene for 15 years, I have made few friends from it and continue to have difficulties actually interacting with people at shows. But this has given me a unique eye as both an insider and an outside observer. Sound and Fury is a catalyst in a scene that is becoming increasingly tight-knit. Bonds created through music, strengthened through interaction, sustained by social media, are hardened in the forum that Sound and Fury creates every year. Being a photographer, I can see this especially in drawing photographers who’s work I admire from all over the country and helping give audience and support to To the Front–a concert photography collective who held a show the next night after the fest. But I even heard it first hand when I sheepishly struck up conversation with the other human shoved as close next to me as railingspace would allow–a tattoo artist from Santiago, Chile who said “Have Heart isn’t even one of my favorite bands…it just felt important to be here.”
Sure the Have Heart reunion show was just as insanely epic as I could possibly have imagined–a full fledged break from reality that ended in a thousands-person pileup to “WATCH ME RISE,” but it was the Sound and Fury team who made every aspect of that a possibilty from literally the ground (which surely gave out under the crushing weight of all that fist-pumping goodwill) up. In little choices–like the push on vegan foods, the separation of the merch from the stage floor, or more than anything on the use of a photobooth year in and year out, Sound and Fury manages to constantly keep the focus on the music and the community. While, sure, the social media aspect is more odious than I would normally go for, the intention that this is a festival that is ostensibly focused on community lives right there in that damn photobooth. Bring your partner(s), your friends, your lovers, hell bring a stranger or just yourself. You are HERE, it says.
And in interesting times, here is probly the best place for us.