Reviewed by Doug Lang
Conscience? It is our shared knowing. Those who feel it and honour
its presence have nowhere to hide, and live in such a way that they
Choosing to do Artists Of Conscience (which airs this Sunday,
October 28th on CFRO 102.7 fm from 5:30 to 9:00 pm Pacific
and is webcast at www.coopradio.org ) has been a good thing.
It has sent me exploring many recordings and books which I had
not listened to or read in a while. It also compelled me to think
about what conscience means in art. That shared knowing that
joins us. Beyond the commentaries, the bloodstream.
For the purposes of this radio show, when I speak of artists, I am
speaking of songwriters, singers, those who tell a story still. Many
of you are aware that the music business is, as we knew it, dead.
Long live the music! The music business has consumed itself. The
way of life now is to the gypsy, selling cds at the end of shows,
face to face. There you find the artists who are making stories,
keeping memory, those who know that the experience is more
than one song at a time.
It’s not with the $0.99 per song crowd, travelling with 10,000
tunes inside a chip without liner notes, without a single tactile
experience, without any contact whatsoever, i-pod in one hand
and cell phone in the other. No community inside that wheel.
It’s with the gypsies now, the travellers, that’s where the music —
what’s left of it — survives and thrives. They’ve been giving it away
for a hundred years. They’re still giving it away.
Artists of conscience have formed a tribe of hearts, whether they
know it or not. Theirs is a city not found on any map, a portable
community, a moveable feast that is served in small houses the
world over whenever the song comes first. That song says grace,
and our souls are fed. As the music business vanishes into a world
of big-event corporate enterprise, this portable city grows, its people
finding neighbourhood across oceans, face to face and by communique,
via singers without delusions, whose purpose grows clearer, stronger.
There is a bandana that floats across the face of the moon.
I’m thinking now of a living room in Lebanon, Tennessee, where
two people open their home to a music gathering once a month.
There are many living rooms like theirs, a revolution of sorts,
though the by-laws are coming to challenge it. I’m thinking of
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings singing to 50 people in the old
Starfish Room, singing songs just written that sounded 100 years
old, so intimate we almost forgot to applaud. Those rooms, they
are disappearing, reappearing. Have you found one in your town?
Bring your own candle.
I’m thinking of Karine Polwart giving a concert in Walkerburn in
the Scottish Borders, before a hundred people in the Village Hall,
a homecoming concert as it was then. And, after the show, almost
the entire audience lined up patiently to purchase a copy of Karine’s
cd. She’d sign it, handle the monetary exchange herself, graciously
taking time to receive compliments and engage in communication
with each individual. I’m remembering how subtly she’d comment
on the human condition and political landscape, letting the spell
of the song carry the seed of her activism.
I’m thinking of Will Geer in Topanga Canyon long ago, when he
was still experiencing the financial doom of the blacklist. Will Geer,
a man who booked appearances for Woody Guthrie during the
McCarthy witch hunts, a man who loved his country but not his
government’s policies. Some recall him as Grandpa Walton now,
forgetting the pioneer he was, the storyteller, the worker. I do
Below is a list — and I’ve already whittled it down — of the artists
I’ll be choosing songs from for tomorrow’s show. It is by no means
a complete list, but it names the artists I have music by. Some will
reach the air, and some won’t, but all are members of the tribe
of hearts, the portable community, the gypsy spirit which keeps
our lamps trimmed and burning. They have things to tell us. For
a few hours tomorrow evening, my radio show will be their living
room. Bring your own chair…or cozy up on the carpet.
Sweet Honey In The Rock
Mary Chapin Carpenter
J B Lenoir
The Dixie Chicks
Loudon Wainwright III
ARTISTS OF CONSCIENCE
Sunday, October 28th
5:30 – 9:00 pm, Pacific
Please see Links page for a link to Doug Lang’s myspace page.