Six weeks ago we ten awaited our candidate for Governor in an Amherst living room. At a Northampton community hall meeting a month earlier, all persons present had donated up to their respective limits, so none of us had money to give to the campaign this time. I didn’t give either time. No money. I may look old with my long gray beard, but most others in the campaign are older yet. I’ve been a fan of Jill Stein since she spoke in Northampton on her 2002 Massachusetts Gubernatorial run. And now she’s the Green-Rainbow Party nominee again.
“How can we get Jill Stein to speak at UMass?” someone asked. “I wrote a Rock Opera;” I said, “I think I could get it presented at the University of Massachusetts, and she can speak at the event.” People were surprised. Those most familiar with my political activities stared suspiciously at me. “Does this have anything to do with Marijuana?” one asked. “Yes. I work with the UMass Cannabis Reform Coalition (CRC). They would sponsor it.”
“I don’t know if she’d want to associate herself with the Marijuana movement,” my suspicious friend said. “But it’s one of the Te–” “I know it’s one of the Ten Core Values [of the Greens], but I still don’t think she’d want to.” At the same time, someone asked a brilliant lawyer (an avowed Socialist elected to the Governor’s Council as a Democrat) about the sitch. He said “Well, she could, if she gets an official invitation from a campus student organization, like the Cannabis Reform Coalition…” I waited for him to say “…but…” but he just trailed off…
When Dr. Stein got to the meeting, she walked across the room to shake my hand and say “I want to associate myself with the Marijuana movement.” She’d begun associating with our movement in April when I invited her to speak at Extravaganja, Amherst’s annual Marijuana-legalization hemp rally, on 4/20 weekend. I asked “Do you want to speak at next week’s event in Boston?” referring to the upcoming [September 18] Boston Freedom Rally. “I’m going to speak at the Boston rally,” she said, both of us remembering that I’d introduced her to its organizers at 4/20. I told her about my Rock Opera idea. She said she’d do it, and that I should talk to her Campaign Manager about scheduling it. Both her Campaign Manager and Field Director are veterans of large Democratic campaigns, but this third-party run is a different animal altogether.
Two days later I floated the idea at the CRC meeting: “I wrote a Rock Opera. It’s called ‘Protest PG.’ I’d like to present it at UMass. Jill Stein said she’d speak at the event.” The words were out a scant second from my lips when the roomful of students erupted in a spontaneous roar of consensus assent. The club president immediately shouted “We’ll do it!” then quietly added “It’s already written, right?” Soon UMass rejected our proposed date for the event, and told us that the room we’d requested, the Cape Cod Lounge, could never be used for political events. They offered two alternative dates, in the Student Union Ballroom, only one of which was workable for Dr. Stein. So, two-and-a-half of weeks after the idea was hatched, we had our date, our auditorium, and not much time left to plan and promote it. Now, to be fair, we invited all four Gubernatorial candidates to open for my Rock Opera sponsored by the CRC. Casino-backed Democrat-turned-Independent State Treasurer Tim Cahill, casino-backed Republican Charlie Baker, and casino-backed conservative incumbent Democratic Governor Deval Patrick all politely declined to take part.
We issued press releases. I printed 700 fliers and personally posted or handed out 500 of them, getting help with the rest. The CRC also printed fliers and distributed them. I emailed hundreds of similar (yet individually personalized) letters to professors, arts professionals, environmental organizations, and student groups who might be interested. Everywhere I went I enthusiastically told everyone who’d listen about Jill Stein and the Rock Opera. I gave many of them fliers.
It seemed that God and/or the Goddess and/or the synchronicity of the Universe and satellite TV wanted me to pull this off: Suddenly, they’re showing Hair and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, neither of which is called a “Rock Opera ” in the encyclopedia, but they kind of are. Then came a special about the Kinks (including Rock Opera composer Ray Davies). Next the brilliant Zeb Buffman production of Webber’s Joseph. Finally, the special about the Who and its leader Pete Townsend, whose Rock Operas are important to me. I am still vibrating from the time I saw the Who live, decades ago. At the University, for a dress rehearsal before the event, I walked into a nearly empty cafeteria, and student radio played Cannonball Adderley’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. His brother Nat Adderley was the first Ybor City artist to write a Rock Opera. I may be the third one. Ybor City is the artists’ ghetto of Tampa, also its Latin quarter and entertainment district. God(dess)/Universe Does want this to work! I couldn’t help it, I began to dance, with glee and enthusiasm. Cannonball wasn’t even to his first lyric and I was already gliding across the floor. Within seconds the food workers were dancing too.
How I love Rock Operas! People who’ve seen only television and movies (but no live theatre) can’t even imagine the thrill and spectacle of actors, musicians, singers, and dancers, all treating me like I’m royalty, bringing the poet’s message directly to me, the audience member, filled with the composer’s music. We the audience transcend our superficial differences and become one. People leave awestruck, and remain so for days. By the end of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, my face was bright red with excitement. I was sweating and crying and laughing and smiling so hard that the corners of my mouth pushed my red cheeks up into my teary eyes. That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!
Then the day before the opera, Governor Patrick decided to come to UMass, and speak two-and-a-half hours before our event. And where did the University put him? In the Cape Cod Lounge. I guess he’s not all that political. Actually, he’d requested the Student Union Ballroom, but the CRC had already rented it for $200. As I reached campus I saw what looked like a gaggle of Mormons walking down the University sidewalk. Probably the Governor’s entourage, seven guys in black suits. I’m not stereotyping here: Mormons really do dress in black suits, and people dressed like that on campus usually are Mormons.
It seemed like the Governor was trying to upstage us. But his appearance actually drew attention to his opponent being at UMass the same day. So their photos shared the front page of both the student newspaper and the town paper. The student paper shows the survey at UMass wherein the morning of the twin events, Governor Patrick led Dr. Stein 43% to 16%, with Stein polling much higher at the University than she does in other parts of the state. Now that their appearances have sunken in and taken effect, she’s gained 5 points on him, and now it’s 40%-18% in the four-way race. A UMass employee who attended both events said ours had 30% more attendees. And there was a huge enthusiasm gap. As you can see by watching video of the Patrick event, the students look bored. The suits try to get applause going, but it doesn’t work and they give up.
But at our event, Jill Stein was interrupted for applause several times, and so was I. She spoke about single-payer healthcare, about Marijuana legalization, about industrial hemp, about banks and insurance and drug companies. She told us of how, when Exxon deforested a patch of Brazilian Amazon rainforest the size of Rhode Island, causing extinction of one tribe and permanent displacement of four others, that Exxon then hired “civil rights lawyer” Deval Patrick to get them off in court. (I hope to get video of Jill Stein and my Rock Opera uploaded to YouTube and FDL.)
With our audience, we bridged the generation gap, from elderly lefty ladies to the freshest freshmen. Friends came from afar to watch the show and meet the candidate. A friend of mine, a visual artist and bicycle athlete older than me, told me on the way in that he was going to vote for Governor Patrick. The candidate took questions from the audience after her 50-minute speech. One woman said she’d never heard of Stein before seeing the fliers, but now intended to vote for her. Neighbors I’d met on the bus showed up, and left carrying large Jill Stein signs for the neighborhood. When my artist friend left, he said he’d be voting for Jill.
My Rock Opera “Protest PG” laments the fact that people aren’t protesting the Pashtun Genocide. The Pashtuns are the people American warriors are killing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They call themselves the “Children of Israel.” Their national hero is Moses. Their national symbol is the Star of David. They are pleading with the US to end its Genocide against them. Most Americans don’t know who the Pashtuns are. The PG I’m protesting also stands for the Pariah Gases, Prison Guantanamo, Prohibition of Ganja, and Pinocchio Government. A reporter becomes an actor, then uses the actor’s characters to draw attention to the newsman’s reports.
The Rock Opera begins with a scene I’ve been performing for 26 years, the anonymous English-Scottish border region poem The Laily Worm and the Mackerel of the Sea. And I’ve performed two of the songs from the show and told one of the jokes at each of the last two years at Extravaganja, so Tommy Devine’s review notes that he’s heard some of the material before. Tommy Devine shot the photo of me above, in my work clothes. The student techmaster who was to set up the screen for the video part of the one-man multi-media performance didn’t set it up. So I had to do major revision at the last minute, cutting a scene, cutting out characters. With the video playing, I’d have had time and cover (behind the screen) to change costumes. Now, the monk, Osama bin Laden, and Uncle Sam could stay in, but Crazy Al and the newsman were suppressed, ironically.
The room burst into uproarious applause late in the show when I sang “The honored US Military is dressed in baby blood and khaki,” and again seconds later, when addressing the President, I sang “You’d not’ve got a goddam vote if you hadn’t lied, if you’d told us you wanted private armies and Pashtun Genocide.” Democracy Now! had revealed the fact that Blackwater/XE is Monsanto’s private army the day before. The Pashtun Genocide news bite hasn’t made the US media yet.
In most major media, Jill Stein has been ignored: She’s experiencing a “brown out” (named after the good press coverage Jerry Brown gets, nearly none). Here’s a UMass Daily Collegian editorial endorsing Stein. Independent Amherst/Granby State House candidate Dan Melick introduced Jill Stein. He’s a member of the CRC, a recent graduate from UMass, and a longtime cannabis activist. CRC organizer Terry Franklin introduced me. In the days approaching the performance, he advised me that students would relate better if “George Bush” were mentioned rather than my original lyric, “Oliver North.” He was right. He also told me that a former CRC officer had given me unbeliveably glowing praise during my absence from a meeting, and that she had called my work “life-changing.”
After the performance, one student tried to buy a CD from me, but I had only been joking about selling them. Another ran up to me and shook my hand, saying “Your Rock Opera was fantastic! Life-changing!” If you added the ages of the two women who used that term, I’d still have a few years on them. I knew the second one must have heard it from the first one, but she was sincere: Her face was red, she was sweating and laughing and crying and smiling so hard her red cheeks were pressed up into her teary eyes.
I called Jill’s Field Director to tell him about her rise in the UMass poll, and he shocked me by telling me that this Rock Opera was her most-attended campaign function. What?! Why didn’t I do ten times as much? Why didn’t ten people do ten times as much? One person with no money writes some poems, and that’s the biggest event? I don’t get it.