Music » Music Feature

Protest singer by necessity

John Trudell's anger hasn't softened with age

by

comment

John Trudell's resume boasts an impressive roster of celebrity endorsements from the likes of Amy Ray, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and Angelina Jolie (executive producer of Trudell's latest release, Bone Days) to name a few. When asked if he sometimes gets a little star-struck, Trudell says, "No, I'm too old for that, and too busy."

In fact, the 56-year-old singer/songwriter is busy touring in support of Bone Days, distributed by Ray's Daemon Records. Sunday at Eddie's Attic, he delivers his unique brand of Native American rock poetry with a full band.

A Vietnam vet, Trudell was a full-time activist and leader of the American Indian Movement throughout the '70s. The FBI watched him closely -- close enough to compile a 17,000-page file. So it's with no small amount of irony that he includes a blurb from the FBI's file in his press kit -- "extremely eloquent" -- along with all the celebrity raves.

After a mysterious house fire took the lives of his wife and three children in 1979, Trudell needed an outlet for his pain. He began writing poetry and setting it to music. The activist became an artist -- though he rejects labels of any sort. "I guess if we have to use a term then, yes, I'm more of an artist," he says. "I don't really consider myself an activist. That was a life and a time period I went through; it was a learning process. Now I write these lines, I make these records, and I have to get them out."

One of those records was the 1992 release AKA Graffiti Man, which contained the track "Bombs Over Baghdad," a vicious, angry song Trudell wrote during the Gulf War. By the time it was released, the tune seemed almost obsolete. Now, 10 years later, it's become eerily relevant again.

"Yeah, it's still vampires drinking blood-and-oil cocktails," he says, quoting the song. "It's kind of ironic that it has more relevance now than it did then. The names are the same. It's still King George's war."

When Trudell speaks about Bush and Iraq, it sounds like a cut from one of his albums, minus the music.

"As long as they're talking about Iraq, Cheney doesn't have to explain Enron, does he? It's like a convenient diversion for these guys," says Trudell. "The Bush administration represents the extreme religious right wing of America. Literally, this is America's Taliban, forcing this upon the citizens the same way the Taliban in Afghanistan forced its will upon the citizens there. This administration, this American Taliban, is doing the very same thing here, and they're doing it with threats, lies and intimidation. Which Taliban is which Taliban? I get confused."

Although he gets pigeonholed as a political artist, Trudell spends just as much time in the landscape of love and relationships. "I don't set out to write a certain kind of song," he says. "I just try to address what I'm conscious of -- my experiences or my perception of my experiences. On the other hand, when you get right down to it, there is a certain politic that goes to sex."

When reminded of Pete Seeger's quote about the hope for a time when protest songs wouldn't be relevant anymore, Trudell remains a realist.

"That's a while off yet," he says. "Civilization -- this whole technological, progressive, civilized reality we live in -- is based upon bad behavior, upon aggression and violence. It's based on the blood of the people, the animals, the trees and the land."

Does Trudell have hope for the future?

"I don't believe in hope," he says. "Hope is like heroin. You cling to it and you do nothing. My whole point behind what I do is about doing something. It's all about feelings and thoughts and trying to communicate with people. I use words and music to do that."

Add a comment