Copyright Alliance: 5 Questions for Michelle Shocked

This week we would like you to meet one of our Individual Creator Members, Michelle Shocked.

1. What was the inspiration behind becoming a songwriter? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I started writing songs at the same time that I started learning to play the guitar. It was a natural progression because I felt like nobody could tell me that I was playing the songs wrong if I had written them. If you sing someone else’s song, they always have something to compare you to; but if you sing your own songs, you’re judged on the merit of your originality rather than some technical standard.

2. Can you take us through your process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
Without even realizing it, you’re thinking about song ideas for most of the day. You may write down two or three, and by the end of the day, you may have had a dozen, of which you won’t really remember or archive most. But every now and again, an idea comes along that you just know will work. You can see the whole thing, you can feel the whole thing – how it works, where it turns, what it’s purpose is and how it applies universally. Then it just become a bucking bronco ride. You hang on for dear life and try to corral as much of it as you can into the most economic expression possible without losing the intensity of the creative experience.

3. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
I think the biggest misconception about songwriting is that we are songwriters. I’m beginning to suspect that we are idiot savants. It’s both a curse and a calling, the obsessive-compulsive drama of the gifted child.

4. Have you experienced copyright infringement and if so how has it affected you personally and financially? And what do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?
Yes, I have been victimized by copyright infringement. In fact, I have been blacklisted and unable to tour or record professionally for over three years because of my outspoken dissent against copyright infringement. When I encounter someone stealing my stuff, I have no more nuance to my response than if I had woken up to find someone had broken into my bedroom in the middle of the night. I’m going to scream and holler and hope that when I turn on the light it was just a bad dream. The exponential increase in blatant disregard and selective enforcement of my rights as a creator does not invalidate those rights in any way.

5. If there was one aspect of the copyright law that you could change, what would that be and how would you change it?
Simple. Congress needs to provide creators with a small claims venue for challenging copyright infringement. Going through the federal courts is simply not an option for 99% of us. There are several worthwhile proposals already on the table that legislators could effectively pass with considerable bipartisan support.

Michelle Shocked

Photo courtesy of Russell Cusick. | Slider photo courtesy of Mickey Deneher

Are you one of our Individual Creator Members? Participate in our Five Questions series! Please email us at And if you aren’t already a member of the Alliance, you can join today – at no cost – by completing our Individual Creator Members membership form!

My compliments on your “bizarre” reporting…
Re: your Times Union report of Putnam Den concert

Dear Steve,

My compliments on your “bizarre” reporting! Please see my corrections on your errors of fact in bold.

“staged a musical protest against what was to have been her own concert inside.”
I was occupying my own concert, which was advertised as mine even as the cops arrived and the marquee stated as much, where I was threatened with trespassing if I entered the venue.

“Shocked, whose touring career was largely derailed three years ago after she made what were interpreted as antigay comments during a show in San Francisco,”
I was targeted and persecuted by a group called NO H8 which operates as a reputational exploitation profiteering extortion racket

“Instead, according to witnesses and participants in the events, after a falling-out with her musical and business partner,”
I arrived for a soundcheck at 7pm, gave my gear to the soundman who offered to set my levels and was then met outside by Josh Chambers who informed me that if I performed, he and his sidemen would be packing up and leaving instead.

“she sat in the back of Chambers’ Jeep, playing songs and refusing to get out.”
I sat in the back of Chambers Jeep to have an opportunity to resolve the conflict. Instead, he called the cops.

“After police convinced her to exit the vehicle, witnesses said, Shocked put up a banner in the alley behind the club and began to play again.”
After police requested that I step outside to talk with them, one of the officers went in to talk to Josh Chambers and emerged to report that the venue owner would have me arrested for trespassing if I went inside. I left and returned briefly with a banner stating that an “Art Project” was taking place and that I was occupying my own concert

“Putnam Den owner Tiffany Albert backed a truck into the alley and began blasting heavy metal music to drown out Shocked, Chambers said.”
After police spoke to the venue owner, she began harassing me by taking video footage. I reminded her that she had stolen $150 from the previous engagement as she was verbally abusing me and disparaging my reputation. I began performing for the fans that were gathering, many whom had driven considerable distances to attend my concert. This was the catalyst for Tiffany to attempt to drown out the performance. It didn’t work. I sing in a gospel choir.

“Shocked answered her cellphone Friday afternoon but refused to comment, referring a reporter to her Twitter account.”
A reporter called my cellphone after my private number was posted publicly on Twitter and I was inundated with harassing callers.

“Thursday’s Putnam Den concert was to have been their third performance, after the earlier show at the Saratoga venue and one in Syracuse.”
The show in Syracuse was live streamed without authorization and Josh Chambers was responsible. The links were removed from YouTube via DMCA notice shortly before I arrived for soundcheck. Josh Chambers should have taken responsibility for the infringement as it is the entire basis for our understanding as an artist collective that unauthorized bootlegs are exploitative of artist rights and not to be tolerated. As a matter of fact, the comments that were interpreted as antigay three years ago were also in response to unauthorized bootlegging and not directed at the LGBT community in any way.

“According to Chambers, events that led to Thursday’s scene started earlier in the week, when Shocked texted photos to Chambers that suggested she had gone through his parents’ house and found a number of bottles of medications that had been prescribed to him as part of treatment for mental-health issues. “
Nothing happened earlier in the week. The only event related to Thursday’s scene took place Wednesday afternoon when Josh Chambers and Luke Ruedy drove to Saratoga to open bank accounts and I discovered the live streaming links on YouTube from the Syracuse show. Furthermore, Josh’s prescription medication was not the cause of alarm but rather notes containing quantities of prescription drugs and dollar amounts and addresses and names in Mexico.

“One photo shows the bottles, another a handwritten list of medications from 2014, a third with several empty bottles of alcohol. Shocked later posted them on Twitter with the caption, “Addiction: A Triptych,” and texted them to Chambers’ mother.
When he returned to his parents’ home that evening, Chambers said, Shocked was locked in her room. She later left on foot, he said, and refused to get in the car when he followed her.”
Your timeline here is completely reversed. When Chambers returned home Wednesday evening after opening the bank account in Saratoga earlier that day, my bags were already packed and I was hoping for a ride as there is no public transportation in Greenwich. When I left the house with my packed bags, Josh Chambers mother tried to stop me from leaving and so I began to depart on foot instead. Later that evening, she texted me stating “You’re not who I thought you were.” I replied, “That’s alright. Neither is your son” and sent her the photographs that indicate narcotrafficking to anyone with two brain cells and lacking a mother’s complete capacity for denial of her son’s substance abuse problems that landed him in the hospital earlier this year. As for Josh following me in the car, at no point did he offer to give me a ride out of town but instead was satisfied to leave me stranded in Greenwich. At no point was I ever locked in my room, and there was no lock on the door. The report given seems contrived to appear as if I was upset or causing a drama, but I merely left the house with my packed bags and made no statement concerning my departure. Luke Ruedy was a witness to this departure and suggested to Mrs. Chambers that I simply had “a different path to take” and that she stop trying to detain me.

“After two days of no communication from Shocked, Chambers said, he and his fellow band members, drummer Sam Zucchini and bass player Luke Ruedy, decided Thursday evening to perform a free show of Chambers’ music at Putnam Den and to refund pressed tickets for what had been billed as an evening showcasing all of Shocked’s second album, “Captain Swing, from 1989.”
It was less than 12 hours between my departure from the Chambers residence and the soundcheck at Putnam Den. I had tried calling Putnam Den several times from my Saratoga motel but after no answer, went over for the soundcheck. I’d had no contact with Josh Chambers at this point. As I said before, he did not indicate that tickets had been refunded. Also, as I stated before, the marquee was displayed with my name on it even at 7pm, one hour before the doors were to open. Also, as I stated before, he inquired whether I was performing that evening after the soundman was given my equipment to check.

“The doors were about to open and the sound guy told me, ‘I just ran into Michelle. She said she’s going to have a mic check in the alley in five minutes,’ ” Chambers said. He said he went outside and found her sitting in his Jeep, playing music.”
The factual errors in this statement are critical. I will divide them in smaller sections:

“The doors were about to open”
I arrived at 7. The doors opened at 8. The show was at 9.

“and the sound guy told me, ‘I just ran into Michelle.”
After conferring with the soundman, I went across the street to the motel to get my equipment.

“She said she’s going to have a mic check in the alley in five minutes,’ “
What does this even mean?!? I think what you were trying to say was that I told him five minutes ago in the alley that I was coming back to do a mic check in the club. Or are you saying I was planning to do a mic check in the alley?!

“I championed her and celebrated her eccentricities,”
As a feminist, I quite object to this characterization. “Eccentricities” is a dog-whistle term for a strong-willed woman.

“but when they started to land in such a way that was personal and abusive — when she was verbally abusive to my mother, who had given her a place to live and had been feeding her for more than a month — it crossed way over the line.”
I did quite the opposite of this. Josh’s mother was very upset that I was leaving the house with my packed bags and wouldn’t say anything. When she asked, “Was it something I did?” I replied, “Of course not.” For Josh to use his mother as slander when I have been witness to her desperation and tears in regard to his substance abuse and addiction is quite irritating to me. This, I call a Dick Move.

“The Chambers-Shocked war escalated Friday on Twitter, with Shocked seeming to refer to him as a drug addict”
Sheesh. There is a real war in Syria. A coup attempt in Turkey. A neo-nazi putsch in the Ukraine. Get a grip. There is no Chambers-Shocked war. I am a seasoned Twitter user, having been engaged for three years continuously to defend my reputation and I am well aware of the limits of 140 characters for conflict resolution. Using subtweets was a diplomatic opportunity to speak to Josh when he would have much preferred to engage by text message. I did not mention him by name and was discrete to blur out any identifying features of the prescription drugs. It was entirely his over-reaction in a volatile situation to identify himself as the subject of the ‘Addiction: A Triptych’ subtweet.

“and Chambers responding with insults and, in apparent reference to what he see as Shocked’s hypocrisy, photos showing her support for socialist politician Bernie Sanders juxtaposed with an ATM receipt listing a bank balance of more than $81,000. “
Yes. Yes he did. But I have learned during our brief collaboration that the over-reaction and what you refer to as insults (which I am clear is emotional abuse), is almost always fostered by a drug and alcohol related toxicity and I refuse to take them personally, even as my reputation is slandered. As for the $81,000 ATM receipt, it isn’t mine. Sorry, I wish it was.

“By midafternoon, Chambers deactivated his Twitter account. He said he felt Shocked was baiting him, adding, “I just can’t respond in a civil manner.”
He really can’t. Abuse is to an addict what gaslighting is to a narcissist.

Hey, Steve, you’re a food critic. Don’t blame yourself if your investigative journalism isn’t up to snuff. You got played by a junkie. Here’s a cool watermelon gazpacho recipe to cheer you up.

Michelle Shocked
notorious provocateur and recovering alcoholic


BROOKLYN, NY — Grammy Award winner Michelle Shocked returns to the stage after a 3-year hiatus with a tour of “The Mercury Trilogy”. These performances will showcase Michelle’s classic albums: “Short, Sharp, Shocked”, “Captain Swing”, & “Arkansas Traveler”. These albums will be played in their entirety at each concert and will incorporate an unprecedented theatrical dimension yet to be experienced in Michelle’s work.

Michelle has chosen the artistic nexus of Saratoga Springs, NY, as the staging ground for this historical event. The Saratoga shows will be followed by various stops throughout the Northeast in June and July, culminating in a 24-night residency at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world.

At Edinburgh, Michelle will play The Mercury Trilogy over 24 consecutive nights, playing each album in sequence in three-day intervals. After each three-day cycle, she will augment her backing band with top players from around the world, as well as local Scottish talent, to create an ever evolving accrued sonic density. This experience will reach its cathartic and celebratory apex as she performs the trilogy over the final three days of the festival with a gargantuan collective of performers behind her.

Immediately following the Edinburgh Festival, Michelle will embark on 8-week tour of Ireland, England, and Scotland, bringing the spirit and anarchic core of the residency on the road.

In 2017 Michelle will expand the Mercury Trilogy Tour to include twelve weeks of dates throughout continental Europe followed by twelve weeks of dates in the US and Canada.

In the Spring of 2016, Michelle created the arts / activist collective “1000 Yard” with Co-Artistic Director Josh Chambers. The mission of “1000 Yard” is to decimate exploitative institutions in the American performing arts culture, while providing viable alternatives to artists everywhere – challenging the belief that humane, respectful, sustainable production models for the performing arts is unattainable – and asserting that this mentality comes from either a complete and utter lack of imagination, or from the pervasive interests of those who benefit from this exploitation. “1000 Yard” is also a producing entity – producing opera, film, music, theater, visual art, and literature while adhering at the bare minimum to the nationally accepting living wage of $15 per hour. “1000 Yard” intends fight for those individuals who have been dismissed, debased, and disenfranchised by the culture at large, and to support and cultivate their artistic efforts.

Michelle Shocked is a traveling troubadour whose musical talent is so eclectic it is difficult to categorize. As a young feminist, she left Texas to travel, Kerouac-style, and was caught up in Reagan-era grassroots politics. Her musical career was ignited by a bootleg recording made around a Kerrville Folk Festival campfire on a Sony Walkman. In a 30-year career that has seen critical acclaim at every juncture, she famously escaped major-label indentured servitude in 1996, subverting the artist-label relationship that helped lead to the current trend toward artistic self-containment. She has made good use of her independence, releasing more critically-acclaimed albums on her Mighty Sound label. Her 2009 album, Soul of My Soul, was the latest of these.

“Michelle Shocked” is the nom de guerre given at her arrest in a political protest called “The War Chest Tour” during the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, California. The demonstration challenged the practice of U.S. corporations receiving lucrative military contracts from the U.S. government while giving generous campaign contributions to both political parties, thus benefiting from political favors regardless of election results. “Michelle Shocked” was intended to invoke the specter of “shell shock” as a result of Reagan’s Cold War policies. A committed Occupy Wall Street activist, she is now engaged in the Bernie Sanders revolution, and a fierce supporter of the grassroots artists’ rights hashtag campaign, #IRespectMusic.


Laugh Trite by Michelle Shocked

LAUGH TRITE by Michelle Shocked

Any thoughts on why the UK voted Marriage Equality in 2014 but, blindsided by SM (social media) echo chambers, the election went hard right in 2015? Ipso.. will indebted Ireland be manipulated by the same SM machine?

Follow the links below like a breadcrumb trail, and see if you come to the same conclusion I have.(* Please note – #4 is VERY important!)

#1 CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Stirling

#2 Wikileaks. “We Open Governments”

#3 Pierre Omidyar, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and the Liberty Racket

#4 Eric Schmidt & Googlegate

#5 Fannie Mae & DOJ: Beth Wilkinson & Jamie Gorelick

#6 Hilary Clinton: Ready for Oligarchy?

#7 UK’s NSA, GCHQ: Rainbow Lights & Conquering the Homos

One Songwriter’s Opinion – Michelle Shocked’s DOJ response

Do the Consent Decrees continue to serve important competitive purposes today?

No, they are egregiously outdated if, in fact, they should have ever been dated at all

Why or why not? 

Apparently, at the time the decrees were created, broadcast was considered a delicate new technology that needed anti-trust protection from songwriters who were organizing to -ahem- protect their property. Needless to say, the times they are a-changing.

Are there provisions that are no longer necessary to protect competition?

The provision that protects competition from the so-called free market might be a worthwhile place to begin an examination.

Are there provisions that are ineffective in protecting competition?

Sure. It’s called lobbying and unlimited corporate political contributions.

What, if any, modifications to the Consent Decrees would enhance competition and efficiency?

Call me radical, but eliminating the decrees entirely is a modest modification.

Do differences between the two Consent Decrees adversely affect competition?

Not one iota.

How easy or difficult is it to acquire in a useful format the contents of ASCAP’s or BMI’s repertory?

Compellingly easy. An online database is available for all to purvey.

How, if at all, does the current degree of repertory transparency impact competition?

It simply makes it easier for tech advertisers to copy/paste our intellectual property to their spreadsheets.

Are modifications of the transparency requirements in the Consent Decrees warranted, and if so, why?

No. You’re putting new wine in old wineskins. The cat is already out of the bag on this one.

Should the Consent Decrees be modified to allow rights holders to permit ASCAP or BMI to license their performance rights to some music users but not others? 

The premise of regulating rights holders but not tech advertisers is downright ludicrous. You want to shore up a levee to hold back a tsunami?

If such partial or limited grants of licensing rights to ASCAP and BMI are allowed, should there be limits on how such grants are structured?

Face it. It’s a jungle out there and everyone knows it. This review process is a farce. There is little to no enforcement currently protecting rights holders and in that context,  considerations as to modifying the consent decrees will only produce derision – both from rights holders who are being ravaged and the rapacious industries of finance who commodify derivatives anywhere they can. My intellectual property is just the latest bumper crop for this locust horde.

Should the rate-making function currently performed by the rate court be changed to a system of mandatory arbitration? 

Sure. Give us a few more months to eke out a livelihood before their lawyers figure out how to exploit a new loophole for their rigged juries.

What procedures should be considered to expedite resolution of fee disputes?

Two words, three times: Free market. Free market. Free market.

When should the payment of interim fees begin and how should they be set?

Now? Is now good? As to how they should be set, please see above.

Should the Consent Decrees be modified to permit rights holders to grant ASCAP and BMI rights in addition to “rights of public performance”?

We are going around in circles. Modifying the consent decrees to grant rights holders additional rights in this lawless climate of unregulated greed by tech advertisers is like offering to put a sail on a slaveship so that the galley won’t have to row so hard. Thanks for all the concern, fellas.

Addendum – Spot Loves Spotify

Michelle Shocked News – July 2014

Click here to see online

May Daydreaming

If you’re sunnyside up, spring is here on the hemisphere. What joy! The only thing that could be more exciting is news that a Google insider has turned whistleblower. This is Big. I declare the effort to Occupy Google a complete success. Bring on the class action! Party on! The Google AdSense leak is in Part 1 and Part 2

Last month I had the sublime pleasure of swinging a few tunes at the Viva Cantina roundup with Deputy Dave Volk and the Regulators. Dave posted this video and I don’t believe I mind the cameo.

In case you’re interested what straight, white (slightly albinist!) dudes pretending to be offended lesbians look like, this Twitter troll named ‘Anna K’ took umbrage at Deputy Dave’s gracious invitation. The only follower on “Anna’s” blogspot is the ersatz Yahoo News/Hollywood Reporter who first ‘broke’ the “Michelle Shocked is a Hatemonger” story, Chris Willman. When the hysteria dies in Sterling Vs Reality, the evidence that will remain is that a ho blackmails her john while a pimp observes from the shadows.

Last night at SAG’s screening of Richard Montoya’s new Chicano noir Water & Power, I coulda swore I saw Vivenne Dominguez herself amongst the luminaries in the crowd. This film opens today in AMC theaters in SoCal. Orale!

To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I posted the first chapter of Perrin Blackman’s stranger-than-fiction epistle, Truth Vs Reality.

I was supercharged by Vulfpeck’s most excellent Spotify spoof,Sleepify and the subsequent success of raising $20,000 with the concept, described here. I’m gonna try my hand at a variation on the theme; Inaudible Women.

Enjoy the sunshine, people!

A St Patrick’s Day Hangover Cure

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! Admittedly not above the radar, I have been quite feverish. By the time you read this, I’ll be in situ at the inaugural Content Creators Coalition meeting on the west coast with plenty to contribute and observe in the discussion of copyfight and artists’ rights. Here’s a snappy little video selfie that I made for the Copyright Alliance ‘Art Matters’ and the #iRespectMusic campaigns.

I guess my big news is that I am publishing an iBook by an author who has keenly observed events of the past year and I’m gauging interest in preview  material. The ebook, Truth Vs Reality, will be released this spring.

It’s an interactive project, so I need appx 2 dozen UN observers monitoring social media for a known group of conspirators who, by now quite familiar to me, have targeted my livelihood and reputation. I will provide the dossier on those involved in this smear campaign and the preview material will provide ample background for the purpose of the effort. Hit me back if you’re interested in participating.

With that in mind, I can cautiously announce plans for a UK tour in October and a US tour in November. And any who are in the LA area are invited to come down to Viva Cantina in Burbank on April 3 for their monthly Western Music Association jam. My favorite intellectual property rights lawyer, Greg Victoroff, will be swinging the brushes and I heard rumors that a delightful singer named Vivienne Dominguez sits in on a few songs! Orale!

Otherwise, it’s been a plethora of self-improvement projects; Jedi classes with Master Guo have incepted the first 15 Chen Taiji moves; a former Stockhausen disciple has infused piano chords into my fingertips with minimal catechism,  and a wonderful senora in Pasadena has me conjugating verbos and splitting infinitivos en espanol. Me gusta mucho!

© 2014


This is not a story about Michelle Shocked.  This is a story about a leviathan. This is a story about click-happy consumers who have become the by-product, and of thought leaders who operate with paid and unpaid legions of enforcers that we might as well call “thought police.”

This is a story about hate.  Not H8.


It isn’t pretty.  But it sells!  How we love getting caught in the current of righteous indignation!  Get caught in that current and faster than you can fathom, you’ll find yourself front page news.

The underlying message: Keep your head down.

The darker message: This isn’t limited to red states or blue states.  Media content is filtered for all but the most glaring and blaring statements.  Subtlety and nuance lost, critical thinking is the casualty unless you’re willing to actively and doggedly pursue every suspicious fact you are fed.

Like pre-cooked meals, anger (and fear) sells.  Packaged and processed, news is now sold a la carte.  This is a business model that ensures profits for NOH8 campaigns. And HATE campaigns.

How? By registering your likes and dislikes, but mostly, by harvesting your clicks.  Anger feeds this monster and daily fuels the click-machine. “A click is a click,” Ryan Holiday explains in “Trust Me, I’m Lying.”  It doesn’t matter whether you clicked on a well-researched story or a sensational headline that asks, “Is Barack Obama Gay?” Even when the answer is, “of course not, silly,” it doesn’t matter because… you clicked. And hopefully you shared the story as well.

As for this story, while I am using continue

Michelle Shocked News – February 2011

Click here to see online.

Why Was Michelle Shocked Shell-Shocked? by Paul Krassner

Published on Alternet

“Please do not understand me too quickly.”
–Andre’ Gide

Which of the following ten denials are true and which are false? Richard Nixon: “I’m not a crook.” Vladimir Putin: “I’m not a thief.” Bill Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Edward Snowden: “I’m not a traitor.” Paula Deen: “I’m not a racist.” George Zimmerman: “I’m not a murderer.” The New York Times (In a crossword puzzle, “Shylock” was a clue, and “Jew” was the answer): “We’re not anti-Semitic.” Lance Armstrong: “I’m not a doper.” Donald Trump: “I’m not a total asshole.” And Michelle Shocked: “I’m not a homophobe.”
In March, singer-songwriter Michelle had spouted between musical numbers what appeared to be a fanatical Christian anti-gay rant at Yoshi’s in San Francisco:
“But I was in a prayer meeting yesterday, and you gotta appreciate how scared, how scared, folks on that side of the equation are. I mean, from their vantage point — and I really shouldn’t say ‘their,’ because it’s mine, too — we are nearly at the end of time, and from our vantage point, we’re gonna be, uh [facetiously], I think maybe Chinese water torture is gonna be the means, the method — [off-handed, flippantly] once Prop 8 gets instated, and once preachers are held at gunpoint, and forced to marry [in a character voice] the homosexuals. I’m pretty sure that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back.”
Audience: [laughter] “Whaaat?”
“You just said you wanted reality [laughs]. If someone would be so gracious as to please tweet out, ‘Michelle Shocked just said, from stage, “God hates faggots[laughter]. Would you do it now?’” [laughter]
Disappointed fans walked out. Yoshi’s gay manager shut off her microphone, insisted that she leave the stage, and banned her from performing there for life. At least fourteen gigs at other venues were annulled, and her career swirled its way down the drain. So she decided to issue this statement:
“I believe in a God who loves everyone, and my faith tells me to do my best to also love everyone. Everyone: gay or straight, stridently gay, self-righteously faithful; left or right, far left, far right; good, bad, or indifferent. That’s the law: everyone. I may disagree with someone’s most fervently held belief, but I will not hate them. And in this controversy, that means speaking for Christians with opinions I in no way share about homosexuality. Will I endorse them? Never. Will I disavow them? Never. I stand accused of forsaking the LGBT community for a Christianity which is — hear me now — anathema to my understanding of faith. I will no doubt take future flack for saying so. I’m accused of believing that “God hates fags” and that the repeal of Prop 8 will usher in the End Times. Well, if I caused such an absurdity, I am damn sorry.
“To be clear: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of any so-called faith, preaching intolerance of anyone. Again, anyone: straight or gay, believers or not: that’s the law. That means upholding my punk rock values in the most evangelical enclaves and, in this case, speaking up for the most fearful of fundamentalists in, well, a San Francisco music hall full of Michelle Shocked fans. As an artist in this time of unbearable culture wars, I understand: this means trouble, and this is neither the first nor last time trouble has come my way. And that’s fine by me. I know the fear many in the evangelical community feel about homosexual marriage, as I understand the fear many in the gay community feel toward the self-appointed faithful. I have and will continue speaking to both. Everything else – Facebook, Twitter, whatever – is commentary.”
At midnight on Friday, June 28th — the day after the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, and the beginning of the San Francisco Gay Pride weekend — Michelle was a guest of Daniel Flessas, host of a weekly radio program, The Outside World, on listener-sponsored KBOO in Portland, Oregon. The call letters of that station were borrowed from a marijuana strain known as “Berkeley Boo.”
Having also been invited to participate in the dialogue, I asked Michelle, “Why did you convert to born-again Christianity?”
“I was making an album in 1991 called Arkansas Traveler that had its roots in blackface minstrelsy,” she replied. “My fiancee was a journalist, deeply researched on the history of the genre. He suggested we attend a local African-American church to explore the contemporary expressions of the music that had inspired the genre, and it was an easy justification.
“Gospel music, what’s not to love? Soulful, passionate pyrotechnics, a choir. But I went one Sunday too often and next thing I knew, my feet were making the altar call. The rest of me decided to join them. I went for the singing but stayed for the song. Originally, I recall thinking, ‘You know, this music would be so good if they’d just cut out all that Jesus crap.’”
And then Michelle had a question for me:
“My experience has been that people don’t wanna let the truth get in the way of a good story. My question to Paul is, having been the instigator [laughs] of more controversies than I will manage in my lifetime, the absurdity of this situation often causes me to[laughs] ask myself — I’m not exaggerating — ‘What would Paul do?’ Surely, there has to be some hilarity that I have overlooked, ‘cause I have tried everything I can come up with to make people laugh and to lighten the situation up. What have I forgotten?”
My response: “I think what you forgot was that audiences don’t always know the references, and so when you said, ‘God hates faggots,’ they might not have known that the reactionary Reverend Fred Phelps had said ‘God hates fags’ and meant it, and therefore they assumed that you were saying it as representing your belief when you were really, as I understood it, parodying the hatred that Phelps exuded. I mean risk-taking is risky business.”
Daniel: “But you didn’t always explain everything to everyone, did you, Paul?”
“No. When I published satire, I wouldn’t label it as satire any more than Jonathan Swift’sModest Proposal. He didn’t say, ‘I’m only kidding, folks, I really don’t mean that Irish babies should be eaten by the British in order to simultaneously solve the overpopulation and starvation problems.’ And I didn’t want to deprive readers of the pleasure of deriving for themselves whether something was literally true or a metaphorical extension of the truth.
“There was a singer named Tonio K. I was invited at the last minute to open for him at the Roxy Theater in L.A. — Harry Shearer was supposed to do it, but he couldn’t — and I had never heard of Tonio K. This was at a time when there were all those TV evangelicals —  Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker — and they were involved in one sex scandal after another, and so I did some material about that. But the audience didn’t laugh, and I couldn’t figure out why.
“Only later, a review in the L.A. Times concluded that I was obviously not aware that Tonio K. was a born-again Christian singer, and his audience was filled with born-again Christian fans. So I felt relieved, because it was funny material, but humor is totally subjective, and I think that’s what Michelle got caught in. The gay community has been so mistreated by people who actually do express hostility toward them, it suddenly landed Michelle in that category.”
Michelle: “Paul, can I hold your feet to the fire? As the original Zen Bastard, you did not provoke for the sake of provoking, you would never ridicule an audience simply to express some sense of smug superiority. There was always a point and a purpose to the endeavor, and so I would like to submit to you that my efforts were to confound an audience that has grown so self-righteous that they needed a little prick, they needed a little poking. What was that Abbie Hoffman quote? ‘Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.’ I gave them a little taste of the medicine, and they did not like it, not one bit, no sir.
“I am reflecting back that your sensibility was not that of a provocateur, but always of one that would inspire people to think, and my experience with this is that they had grown so entrenched in their dogma that, rather than think, rather than rush to curiosity, I was subjected to a rush to judgment, and I cannot think of anyone that I would like to give more tribute to inspiring [laughs] my instigation than you. I’m blaming you for all this, Paul [laughs].”
“Yeah, right — I’m the little prick that you referred to.”
Michelle confirmed that she would be at the Gay Pride celebration on Sunday morning, “but I will be part of the contingent that is making a statement that San Francisco is proud of Bradley Manning for pursuing his duties as a whistle-blower in revealing secrets that the government would rather not listen to. And we’re basically just all gonna raise points that San Francisco Pride leadership rejected the election by all of the former SF Pride grand marshals to name Bradley Manning as this year’s grand marshal in favor of allowing their sponsors, their military and their corporate sponsors, to dictate the conscience of a community they claim to speak on behalf of, and I would love to be in that great number, marching, proud of a gay soldier who has the interest of everyone in this country above the interests of a few in this country.”
On Monday, I emailed her and asked how that event went.
“The Bradley Manning contingent in the SF Pride parade was a feisty attempt to put context to the Yoshi’s fracas,” she replied. “My story, the one I’m sticking to, is that it was a laugh riot, a second line of soul in the middle of a privilege parade. The truth is that I saw and heard countless reasons why any spirit of passionate resistance that once existed has left the disco long ago. It now resembles a Bourbon Street Mardi Gras without King Zulu. Show us yer tits! It’s the Rose Parade, and the corporate sponsors write the script. Even the Manning contingent played to the half empty grandstand like dutiful dissidents. The Star-Spangled Burqa was a hit, waiting for the photographic/video evidence to appear. So far so censored. I’ve got this nifty little shot occupying Google at the parade.”
And so, returning back to that night at Yoshi’s, was Michelle homophobic? Please pass the analogy. In 1952, there was a French-and-Italian film, Seven Deadly Sins, consisting of seven vignettes, one for each sin – greed, lust, avarice, pride, Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful – and at the end of the seventh sin, the narrator told us that we were going to see the eighth sin.
On the screen were all those images that we had been conditioned to associate with the intimations of sin – sailors, hookers, an opium den – and then the narrator explained that the eighth sin was the desire to see sin. The audience groaned with a spontaneity that served only to underscore the narrator’s point. Sometimes the ultimate target of satire should be its own audience.