TALKIN REVOLUTION BLUES
James Campion in discussion with Ani DiFranco Part I
is about, "If you dont like your government, change it. If
you cant change it have a fucking revolution." They wrote it
right in the constitution.'
you dont think one person can make a difference, spend a night
in a room with a mosquito."
Consider Ani Difranco
a fellow soldier in these ridiculous, sometimes humored, but always-rewarding
sieges on the elusively hidden truths of our silly human collective. Since
the night this magazine sent me to an old theater in Portchester, NY to
watch her perform eight years ago, Ive been a fan. That night she
spoke to me like few other artists have. Ive seen her play a half-dozen
times since, and each one brings a new experience, always effusive and
For over 12 years and 15 records, her biting lyrics usually reflected
my own well-crafted cynicism of a politically ambiguous world bloated
with lethal doses of sweet propaganda primed to reduce us to merrily marching
mindless hordes. But along with being a kindred spirit, DiFrancos
independence in the manipulative landscape of creative distribution has
been a great inspiration for a young author butting heads with publishing
icons. More than once Id used her name as less noun than verb, as
in: "These fuckers keep this shit up and Im going to Ani this
book"; to which I did, happily.
So when we met on a chilly, overcast spring day in the industrial pall
of Poughkeepsie, NY, in the bowels of the Mid-Hudson Civic Center, set
on the shores of New Yorks famous river of simpler times when the
folk singer might earn a cup of java from a passing stranger for spinning
yarns of heartbreak, Ms. DiFranco and myself had ourselves a chat.
Two admitted lunatics dissecting the greater good -on a morning beatific
in its indian summer breeze - on the day that America fell to its knees-
after strutting around for a century without saying thank you or please
james campion: This stanza of the poem you
performed so movingly at Carnegie Hall a few weeks ago hits home for me,
because it succinctly projects what Ive been writing about for years
concerning the U.S. presence in the Middle East and our inability to fully
understand the cultural, racial and religious issues that are prevalent
there. ani difranco: Except to exacerbate
them. (laughs) Well...yeah. I really dont have a mind for the hyper
details of foreign policy, or of what the "stupid white men"
are doing, but I feel compelled to express things like the United States
exploitation of not just the Middle East, but also the "Third World".
Our capitalist selfishness in terms of using the worlds resources
and labor and just manipulating weaker countries for strategic and economic
reasons. Thats a very obvious and basic thing to say, but somehow
I feel the need to keep saying it.
jc: You refer to yourself as a folksinger,
which I find enlightening, because throughout the centuries folksingers
or minstrels used music to comment on social mores or social wrongs of
the time. So, as a folksinger, do you feel you can tap into those same
things and not be sitting on CNN pointing the literal finger?
ani d: (chuckles) Well, CNN would probably
be an impossible place to tap into anything real since all of the information
is completely co-opted and controlled by corporate forces. So, yeah, it
is a much better venue to pick up a guitar and walk into a bar and talk
to people one on one.
I love my job; traveling and making art in very common, open spaces and
feeling totally free to talk about political or social issues. Music is
a very effective way to communicate and inspire. I think that every room
is a perfect venue for political change, whether its a theater with
a stage in it or a whether its a classroom or whether its the halls
of justice. Ive been engaged in conversations recently where people
ask me, "What do you think is more important?
Whats more effective? Whats a more legitimate statement: To
make radical art or to try and get in the system?" And for me its
Yes! Yes! All of it. Whatever youre fucking good at. I used to dance;
I went to art school for years. I love to paint. But there was something
about music and the inclusion of words, the literal communication through
words that I really felt was my most effective way to make change, to
inspire people, to become myself. But for somebody else it might be raising
your kid to be a respectful, loving, thoughtful questioning person. Theres
infinite numbers of ways we can change the world.
jc: Yes, but do you believe there is still
a chance for grass roots movements?
ani d: Ah! Its happening as we speak.
You know it. Its all around us. I feel a new sense of optimism out
there. We may even be surfacing from the 80s, (chuckles) culturally
speaking. Of course I have a bit of a slanted perspective from standing
at my microphone, in terms of what cross section of young folks I encounter,
but I am impressed and hopeful with the political will of the young people
now. They recognize that they were born into... jc:
A fixed game.
ani d: Yeah, an homogenized culture, and
wanting to dissect that. We were probably born just early enough to know
a time when you could actually buy a record at the local record store.
jc: Youre taking me back.
ani d: Yeah, (laughing) I think that young
people are beginning to question that sort of corporate super structure.
You know, all of the protests in New York and Seattle and Prague. I find
those all very inspiring.
jc: So, youre optimistic.
ani d: I am...optimistic.
jc: Youve mentioned Ralph Nader at several of your shows these past
couple of years. I voted for Ralph the first time around. I vote for people
with no chance. I voted for John Anderson in 1980 and Ive had high
hopes for a third party candidate to arise for a long time. Do you have
any confidence that politics is really any way to get to the crux of any
ani d: Absolutely, now more than ever. I
think that is of primary importance. I was ten years old in 1980, so by
the time I was coming to any kind of adult consciousness the political
system was a corrupt, capitalist club of elite corporate CEOs. The
whole Reaganomics, and the whole Reagan/Bush regime we are still living
under, and I think young people completely divested themselves from their
government. There was such a disconnection.
jc: Theres a deep seated cynicism. I know. Im there.
ani d: Well, the cynicism is well founded.
Weve had our citizenship stolen and consumerism foisted upon us,
and at this point, ironically enough, there is a reinvestment in the belief
in government, a reinvestment of energy and involvement, and that is the
only thing that can recreate or salvage our "democracy". I just
dont see a lot of young people getting involved in party politics,
trying to infuse themselves into the system if there is nobody to vote
for. So, not only do we have to get out and vote; we have to get out and
I have a friend I was just talking to last night who spent the last week
in D.C. meeting with all these representatives and senators about this
Yukka Mountain in Nevada. Theyve already spent four billion dollars
on nuclear waste all over the country, and they have this plan where they
want to ship it all to Nevada and dump it in an Indian Reservation.
jc: (sarcastically) Thatll work.
ani d: Yeah, and itll never leak and
itll be fine. No problems. So, here is my friend Susan attending
meeting after meeting after meeting with all these senators, and shes
trying so hard to get these people to vote "no". And when I
spoke to her last week she was saying, (dreary tone) "Okay, Im
going to D.C. and Im fixin to get really disillusioned and
Ill probably come back as a car bomber..."
jc: (laughs) Into the mouth of the beast.
ani d: (excited) But after days and days
of meetings, she called last night and it was so great to talk to her
because she was re-inspired at the possibility of one person to make a
difference. These senators just vote on what their aids say they should
vote on. You know how it is. But she felt that her presence really had
effectiveness that week.
If people had any idea how much power they have, shit could really change.
If we just started exercising it. Theres some kind of African proverb
that says; "If you dont think one person can make a difference,
spend a night in a room with a mosquito." So, yeah, I am longing
for an inspiration of progressive young people to change the system, and
really get inside the system, not just working from without.
jc: When you write in your songs and speak
at some of your shows; it is from a humanist standpoint, politically.
You have this artistic individualism about you. So how did you react to
the whole patriotic fervency that we just passed through? Not to demean
why people lean on the group dynamic, but sometimes individual thought
can be sucked out by this conglomerate -"Unless youre with
us youre against us" mentality that happens when a nation is
wounded. Did you feel at all ostracized from the vox populi?
ani d: Well, thats nothing new. The
day I stop feeling that way Ill have to start questioning myself.
(laughs) But yeah, its just so sickeningly sad the way calculated
propaganda and these huge media outlets could twist the idea of patriotism.
Theyve done it forever. Completely inverting it. Go back to McCarthyism
and the House Committee on Un-American Activities? When it is the most
American activity of all to express yourself, to fight the government
when its wrong. Democracy is about, "If you dont like
your government, change it. If you cant change it have a fucking
revolution." They wrote it right in the constitution.
jc: "Ready your muskets", I always say.
ani d: (laughs) Yeah! Theres some quote,
I wish I could remember which Founding Father said it.
jc: Jeffersons "Lets have a revolution every ten years."
ani d: Oh, I dont know, thats
a good one.
jc: Im paraphrasing, but he did say it.
ani d: You see? There is always this, "hear
what you want to hear - see what you want to see". They can twist
things like the constitution or the Bible into any kind of oppressive
jc: But isnt the Bible an oppressive tool?
ani d: It depends on how you read it; same
as any document. They are just tools to be used, they can be used against
us as well as for us, but there are certainly many positive messages in
the Bible. I think Jesus...
jc: Ah, love and forgiveness.
ani d: Sure, I think reading any document
literally, especially something like the Bible, which is all metaphor,
is so misguided. Im not really interested in Jesus as a "walking
on water" kind of guy, but as a revolutionary, as a guy who was trying
to free the slaves, fuckin A. There it is right in the Bible: "Slaves
bad." (laughs) "Love your brother!"
jc: They took care of that guy.
ani d: But there was some quote I read somewhere
recently, it might have been from Jefferson, that "to not criticize
your government, especially in times of war, when your government is perpetrating
violence on another people, to not be critical is an act of treason."
jc: I think it might have been John Adams. Those guys were all maniacs.
If you read about the Founding Fathers, and get outside of the textbooks,
they were downright radical. When you discuss McCarthyism it was in the
1950s, not the 1850s. And that gets back to the original question
about your art, because I believe the only true voice left is through
free expression. Art may be the only thing not annexed in a fluent dialogue
between people and ideas, but every once and awhile when someone gets
close to the bone, so to speak, they try to manipulate their words or
tear pieces of them away like a Jesus or a Gandhi.
ani d: Right on.
A Discussion with Ani DiFranco Part II
mens experience is universal a womens experience is...threatening'.
For the complete and unedited transcript of this discussion go to http://www.jamescampion.com/ad-dialogue.html
© James Campion May 2002 - The Pope's favorite writer
Righteous Babe and the Reckoning
Wynne explores the radical singer writer Ani Difranco
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