Roy Zimmerman, Donald Trump, and “House of Cards”
For the past three days, I’ve been laying on the couch with a high fever, sore throat, and deep cough. I’ve been too weak to pick up my guitar or make my way through the dense academic biography of Folkways’ Records founder Moe Asch that my oldest son gifted to me last Christmas. Instead, I’m sneezing, wheezing, and binge-watching the latest episodes of Netflix’s original series House of Cards. (Don’t be concerned, no spoiler alert needed.)
Now, after 14 hours of watching Frank and Claire Underwood continue doing to America what they’ve done so far — best described here as a metaphor involving the four-letter word for sexual intercourse — I’ve started to think about Roy Zimmerman.
For over 20 years, across 12 albums, dozens of videos, and what appears to be a determined effort to present his brand of satirical folk music to every single left-leaning Unitarian congregation in America, Roy Zimmerman is the last of a dying breed. Blending elements of Woody Guthrie’s lyrical populism with the social and political protest music of Pete Seeger, adding liberal amounts of Tom Lehrer-like humor, Zimmerman has consistently made his case using a six-stringed axe rather than a sledgehammer.
Zimmerman lives in Northern California with his wife and frequent co-writer Melanie Harby. His website bio offers an exacting description for his style of music: “Original songs about class warfare, creationism, same-sex marriage, guns, marijuana, abstinence, Republicans (a lot of songs about Republicans), ignorance, war and greed.”
I heard Zimmerman for the first time five years ago, and the song that introduced me to him is as on-point today as it was back then. If just a handful of you readers could take the time to give it a listen, the YouTube views will go over a quarter-million. And seriously? It should be 50 times that number.
Before I became sidetracked by the antics on House of Cards, the working title for this week’s column was, “How The Hashtag Usurped Folk Music,” and it had nothing to do with Roy Zimmerman. What I had planned to ramble about was why we don’t have more musicians coming out and raising their voices against not just this year’s Republican primary vibe in general, but specifically Donald Trump. And to that point I was going to mention what happened the last week in February when HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver aired.
In just under 22 minutes, Oliver presented a brilliant takedown of candidate Trump, whom Huffington Post describes in virtually every news article as “a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther, and bully, who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.” After Oliver delivered an excruciating long list of lies told by Trump, we learned that, like many other immigrants to this nation, his family changed their name ever-so-slightly. His given family name is not exactly Trump — a fact that begat the hashtag seen around the world on every social media platform: #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain
In addition to people who watched Oliver’s show either live or on demand, it has also been posted to YouTube, where to date it’s approaching 20,000,000 views. I can’t imagine you missed it, but if you did and care to watch it, here it is.
It’s taken me a few weeks to come to terms with this old-school-curmudgeon-like 1960s notion that music and musicians have some sort of responsibility to take up social and political causes and become the voice of their generation … blah blah blah. They don’t owe nothing to nobody and they’re certainly off my hook. Nonetheless, when was the last time you recall a song that caused people to actually do something? I’m thinking maybe Ray Stevens’ “The Streak.”
If I’ve learned nothing else from John Oliver and that #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain hashtag, its that real change will only come when someone like Kylie Jenner, with her 15 million Twitter followers, stops posting selfies and starts to talk about Black Lives Matter and supporting Planned Parenthood. And until that day comes, I’m going to keep my eye on Roy Zimmerman’s tour itinerary. (Far out! He’s coming to my local Unitarian hangout next month here in NY.) Meanhile, I’m going to listen to his music.
As we stand on the edge of the end of the world as we know it, maybe laughter is the best medicine.
Postscript: Just as I was getting ready to submit this column to Kim at No Depression, an email sent out by comedian Louie C.K. just hit the socials. Don’t know the hashtag for it, but you can read it for yourself here. Be forewarned that he doesn’t mince his feelings on Trump, comparing him to Adolf Hitler. Whether it’s one of another “game-changing” social media rants that lasts for a couple of days or will have any actual impact, here’s Louie’s conclusion: “I’m sure a bunch of you are very annoyed by this. Fucking celebrity with an opinion.”
You can follow me here at No Depression to get notified when I’ve added something new. Many of my past columns, articles and essays can be accessed at therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate and post daily on my Twitter feed:@therealeasyed and Facebook page:The Real Easy Ed: Roots Music and Random Thoughts.