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COLUMN SIXTY-NINE, MARCH 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

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ENLIGHTENED MUSICIANS

Subject: Chumbawamba Turns Tables & Singers Against Death Penalty
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002 10:26:28 -0500
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The Observer (London)

January 29, 2002

Chumbawamba's tune turns the tables on US car giant

Anarchist band sell song to General Motors for $70,000 - but give the money to activists' campaign against the firm

By David Rowan

It is the world's biggest car-maker, boasting a turnover of 120 billion last year. Sales of Vauxhall and Pontiac cars have propelled General Motors to the top of the auto industry. So when executives heard a song called 'Pass it Along', they immediately wanted to use it as the sort of 'youthful and hip' tune that perfectly suited the image their new adverts sought to reinforce. But what they didn't know was that the British band in question - Chumbawamba - were lifelong anarchists opposed to big corporations like GM.

The band was embroiled in controversy in 1998 when member Danbert Nobacon poured a bucket of water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the Brit Awards.

GM thought nothing more after handing over a cheque for $70,000 to the band for the use of the song. But behind the scenes, Chumbawamba were negotiating with anti-corporate activists to see if they would take the fee and put it to use. The band contacted CorpWatch, a US campaign group aimed at 'holding corporations accountable', to see if it would 'put the money to good anti-capitalist use if we accepted the ad'.

CorpWatch had no trouble in agreeing. Chumbawamba vocalist Alice Nutter then sent an email 'in solidarity' to IndyMedia, a radical global network, to enquire if it would accept half of the money. 'We're offering this money to you because the work you do and information you supply is invaluable,' she wrote.

After much anguished internal debate, IndyMedia also agreed to accept. As a result, the two leading campaign groups are now spending GM's money to mount an aggressive information and environmental campaign - against GM.

'We're planning on using some of the money to document some of the social and environmental impacts of General Motors itself,' Joshua Karliner, executive director of CorpWatch, told The Observer.

'It's known for resisting the kinds of change in production that would assist in reducing climate change, and for helping debunk the science of global warming. If the company knew how its fee was being used, I'd imagine it would make executives squirm in their big comfortable leather chairs.'

The company last night said it was unaware of the work it was financing. Dayna Hart, publicist for Pontiac at GM, said: 'I didn't know that. I did know [the band] had quite a political background in England. That's very interesting.'

Perhaps GM should have seen the problem coming. Chumbawamba have a history of using advertising revenue to fund activist causes. They accepted a Renault commercial in Italy only after Italian pirate radio stations said they would use the money. The band also gave Ford's money for a South African ad to local anti-capitalists.

As guitarist Boff explained on the band's website: 'We pass the moral buck, let someone else justify the decision, and in turn know that some people will vilify us for it. We'd discovered through all the years of having no money just how powerful it can be if it's in the right hands.'

Some corporations, however, are apparently too risky for the band. 'When Nike offered us just short of a million dollars to use "Tubthumping" as the music for their World Cup ad in '98, we had to say no,' Nutter said.

The band also turned down 500,000 from General Electric to use 'Tubthumping', its biggest hit, to advertise an X-ray machine, after discovering that GE also makes engines for military aircraft.

IndyMedia said it would use some of the money for 'corporate-jamming actions', publicising the flaws of firms such as GM. At CorpWatch, the money is powering an internet campaign against GM and corporate globalisation.  ##

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From Rick Halperin:

Source: Rolling Stone

Death Songs Vs. Death Penalty---Langford, Earle, Case fight capital punishment with murder ballads, Singing hangmen's songs---The Music Behind "Storytelling"

The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, who consist of Jon Langford and Steve Goulding of the Mekons/Waco Brothers and former Bottle Rocket Tom Ray, will release their third album, The Executioner's Last Songs, on March 19th on Bloodshot Records. As with their previous tributes to Bob Wills and Johnny Cash, the Cosmonauts have enlisted a rotating roster of guest vocalists, and this time out the material is a collection of songs of murder, execution and mob justice. And it's delivered with a wink, as partial proceeds will benefit Artists Against the Death Penalty and the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

"I'm just really horrified by it," the Welsh-born Chicago native Langford says of the death penalty. "There was a big movement up here in Illinois, and it's one of the first states to issue a moratorium. The inequities of the system were so glaring. I have a son, a four-year-old boy, and finally felt I should exercise my voice in American politics as much as I can. Previously, people have said to me, 'You're not from here. You should shut your mouth.' I just feel like it's quite compelling for me, because it's not something that exists in Europe."

Despite the moratorium issued by Governor George H. Ryan, the cause remains urgent in Illinois, as his term ends next year. "He's made himself fairly unpopular by following his conscience rather than his party's rules," Langford says. Langford also credits a Chicago attorney named Dick Cunningham with being a driving force behind the album. Cunningham, who was killed last year, was largely responsible in the push for the moratorium and freed a number of wrongly convicted men from death row. "I wanted to do something for him," Langford says. "I've been involved in several kind of lefty causes, but I never really worked with people who actually got things changed. This guy's a hero. He got in on the inside and rolled his sleeves up and pushed for what he did. He's not a kind of Weatherman [laughs], blowing a few things up in the Sixties and hiding for 20 years. This is another way to look at political action.

I think there's so many unsung heroes who've given up on the romantic angle and have actually enacted change."

For Langford, the project started as a one-off gig in Chicago.

"I fell afoul, when we did the original benefit, of some humorless lefties who didn't really get it," he says. "But it was encouraging to me that some of the guys who had been on death row came, and they totally got it [laughs]. They thought it was hysterical. It's gallows humor, I guess. But it made sense to me and everybody else who played."

Langford went into the project with about a dozen songs he wanted to include, but for the most part, he left selections up to the singers. The result is a range that leans heavily on old Appalachian murder/death songs including traditional "Tom Dooley" (covered by Steve Earle) and "Knoxville Girl" (the Handsome Family's Brett Sparks) bluegrass father Bill Monroe's "Walls of Time" (Paul Burch) and the old-time country of Hank Williams and Fred Rose's "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" (Rosie Flores). The collection also taps Seventies country, including covers of Charlie Pride's "The Snakes Crawl at Night," Johnny Paycheck's Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill," and even art-punk, the Adverts' "Gary Gilmore's Eyes," which was selected after the Cosmonauts decided to jettison Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat," after a definitive recent reading of the song by Johnny Cash.

Langford and a number of the vocalists will perform some of the songs at Austin's South by Southwest Music Conference in March. And having whittled 30 tracks down to eighteen for The Executioner's Last Songs, he already has a head start on a second volume, which he does plan to release. Mark Eitzel and Lambchop's Kurt Wagner are among those on board for the next one. "I don't want to say anyone who hasn't done their bit yet in case they don't," Langford says. "Suddenly they'll have a blinding vision that the death penalty is marvelous and they don't want anything to do with it [laughs]. But, essentially, I tried to think of this one as a bluegrassy, country sort of thing and then the next volume will be a bit darker a bit more electric."

The track listing for The Executioner's Last Songs:

"Knoxville Girl," Brett Sparks of the Handsome Family
"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," Rosie Flores
"Gary Gilmore's Eyes," Dean Schlabowske, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan and
   Tracey Dear
"The Snakes Crawl at Night," Janet Bean of Freakwater
"Tom Dooley," Steve Earle
"The Hangman's Song," Christa Meyer and Tom Kelley of Puerto Muerto
"Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill," Lonesome Bob
"Poor Ellen Smith," Neko Case
"Miss Otis Regrets," Jenny Toomey
"Judgement Day," Johnny Dowd and Jon Langford
"The Great State of Texas," Chris Ligon
"Sing Me Back Home," Edith Frost
"Oh Death," Diane Izzo
"Hanged Man," Rick Sherry of Devil in the Woodpile
"The Plans We Made," Jon Langford and Sally Timms
"25 Minutes to Go," Frankie and Johnny Navin of the Aluminum Group
"Idiot Whistle," Tony Fitzpatrick
"Walls of Time," Paul Burch  ##

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