Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email


Byron Coley / No More Bush Tour

Byron Coley

By Marc Masters | Posted 8/6/2008

Byron Coley is best known as a pioneering rock critic for Spin, The Wire, and the legendary Forced Exposure. But he's also been writing poems for decades, often for a journal edited by longtime friend Thurston Moore. In 2003, Coley and Moore led a revolving tour of poets and musicians ranting against the Bush administration, dubbed "More Hair Less Bush." Now, as George W. Bush's departure looms, Coley has concocted a sequel--"No More Bush"--with another cavalcade of artists who "honk the horn of freedom with both hands." Said honkers include guitar wizard Jack Rose, noise magician Karl Bauer (aka Axolotl), and avant-folk duo MV/EE, along with poets such as Valerie Webber and Charles Plymell. Coley also adds new participants at each stop, from Mike Watt to Loren Connors to Damon Krukowski. When No More Bush hits Tarantula Hill on Friday, Aug. 8, exclusives will include local poet Roxie Powell.

City Paper: How did the first tour arise, and why did you decide to do it again?

Byron Coley: Thurston and I were talking about how much we hated Bush. [laughs] And we got the idea of doing some shows where we make fun of Bush. Now, since Bush will be gone soon, we thought we should get our last licks in. So it's a celebration of what we hope is the end of this era. Also, traditionally in the last season of a presidency, people start to feel nostalgic, regardless of how much they hate the guy. So we want remind people never to forget [how bad it's been]. But the vibe of the shows tends to be pretty convivial. It's usually 10 to 20 minutes per reading and 20 to 25 minutes per musical set. I encourage people to give it their best for a short period of time. Rather than try to set up and sustain a mood, let's blast a mood out there, see how high we can get it, and then stop.

CP: Do you suggest any particular political content?

BC: I don't tell people what to do--I just tell them how long they can do it. But there's some material specifically made for this. Valerie, Thurston, and I write this pre-haiku form of Japanese poetry called tanka. Usually we pick a band and write reviews of their full discography in tanka form, but this time we took George Bush's iPod playlist, and we wrote tanka about that. Those poems are really mean. Thurston wrote some Laura Bush stuff that made my jaw drop. [laughs]

I personally was so upset early in this decade by what was going on that I wrote a lot of anti-Bush and anti-Cheney poetry, much of which was of a very graphic sexual nature, but wildly unattractive. I've got a poem about some Iraqis who go inside a cave, and it turns out to be the interior of Dick Cheney's penis. That's always a crowd-pleaser when I can pull it off.

CP: How did you get John Morton [former member of legendary Cleveland noise punks Electric Eels] involved?

BC: [At the time of the first tour] he was living in Brooklyn, and 9/11 affected him deeply. He and I traded a bunch of poetry online, and he did some unbelievable "Fuck Bush" tanka. So we had him perform at Tonic in New York, where he read, played, and then disrobed. This time, he's going to play guitar and theremin in a duo with Bill Nace, and read more anti-Bush tanka. But I never know for sure which way he's going to go. A lot of the performers are like that. We had Gary Panter read in New York, and he read a passage from the Canterbury Tales in an old English accent, really fast. People were pretty baffled. This time, in Philadelphia, I think I've convinced Charles Burns to pull out his "Johnny 23" routine, which is kind of his Burroughs tribute. When he used to do it in San Francisco, he would go up on stage in a mask with a tape recorder hanging around his neck with cut-up poetry on it, and he'd alternate reading and playing the tape.

CP: How do you think being a writer has been affected by the recent political climate?

BC: The weirdest thing is how Americans are viewed internationally. You're expected to prove that you're not part of the ruling party before people are willing to give you any kind of access to stuff. I've noticed that especially when I travel abroad. Also, people here have seemed to be toning stuff down, because there is a Big Brother feel to things. It seems all you have to do is use a particular combination of keywords, and suddenly you're no longer under the radar. Have you felt that at all?

CP: Yes, but I was also thinking about how print has changed, especially in the underground. Could there even be a Forced Exposure now?

BC: Well, the music industry is on its way out. They made some decisions in the 1990s that were suicidal. They never understood the value of good packaging as a value-added kind of thing, rather than something disposable. And when they got rid of that, they lost the ability to sell something as a commodity. A magazine like Forced Exposure could exist any time, though. I don't know how popular it would be, but you just need a couple of knuckleheads in their 20s to do it. It's the kind of thing you can do for a while, and then you either burn out or you become a parody of anything interesting that you were doing initially.

CP: Do you think it's weird that there's not more political stuff happening in the writing and music compared to, say, the Reagan years?

BC: It is bizarre. The Reagan thing was so overwhelming, but in retrospect he seems much more benign than the current guys. I think people just feel beaten down by the inevitability of what's going on now. At the same time, the manipulation continues to get more and more sophisticated. They play these patriotic cards in weird ways that seem to be very effective. Anything you say against a politician is painted as a personal attack on some high school dropout in Iraq. Anybody would feel bad for that guy, but I'm not the one who sent him there.

The media machine is just so sophisticated and instantaneous that it makes it difficult to get traction with an alternate narrative. There are some that do--[Stephen] Colbert, [Keith] Olbermann. But they're sort of the loyal opposition. They're predictable and acceptable as rage valves. There's not much going on right now that's really random and freaks people out. When you go back and look at the Weather Underground or the Days of Rage, those were crazy, unpredictable events that really shook people up. Because it was not clear what they wanted or what they were even against. It's really hard to do something that surprising now--to do anything that a computer has not already predicted.

Related stories

Q+A archives

More Stories

Laura Whitehorn (2/24/2010)
The social-justice activist talks about the Weather Underground, Black Panthers and the double standard of violent action in the U.S.

Remembering Donald Goines (10/22/2009)

Q & A: Jessica Hopper (8/19/2009)
A conversation with the music writer, This American Life consultant and author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking

More from Marc Masters

Banging on Cans (10/21/2009)
And anything and everything else in So Percussion's strange, not-just-percussion universe

Phantom Power (3/11/2009)
Guitarist Loren Connors resurrects a 28-year-old recording made in a legendary Connecticut cemetery

Present History (9/3/2008)
Tony Conrad's Multimedia Art Continues to Mine The Intersections Between Yesterday and Today

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter