Hamell On Trial - as big as life and a little concerned about everything

Ed Hamell. Pic:-  Susan Alzner.

Ed Hamell. Pic:- Susan Alzner.

“THE TERRORISM Of Everyday Life is my life story and how it was heavily influenced by rock’n’roll, or at least my interpretation of that term. I’m constantly rewriting and updating and as Galway hasn’t seen it yet, I’m looking to introducing it to them.”

So says Agit-folk singer, performance poet, songwriter, punk, humorist, and social commentator Hamell On Trial (aka Ed Hamell ), who plays upstairs in the Róisín Dubh on Tuesday August 12 at 8pm.

On the night Hamell will perform sections of his acclaimed one man show The Terrorism Of Everyday Life, which he premiered at Edinburgh last year.

“Around the USA, it appears we’re in a constant state of fear,” Hamell tells me of the show. “As to why I’m not exactly certain although I’ve got pretty good evidence it’s because big bucks can be made scaring the s**t out of people, ie, the security systems, the war machine, the weather channel, the prison system, etc.”

Guitar man

Ed Hamell was born and raised in Syracuse, in Central New York State. Its people, factories, and economic woes have left a deep mark on the man and his music.

“It’s very much a blue collar factory/industry town,” he says. “Most of the industry moved out to greener (read: cheaper ) pastures in the 1980s and not unlike in the Michael Moore movie Roger and Me it was devastated economically.

“It turned to a real crime and desperation atmosphere. It always had a ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ attitude anyway, so that was further accentuated by the upheaval. It didn’t tolerate a whussy soft strumming show of sentimental emotions and I’m sure that cynical ‘Get ‘em before they get you’ vibe influenced my style.”

It certainly has. Hamell’s style is characterised by a rapid torrent of words, which nonetheless have an eloquence and articulateness, as he holds forth on society, politics, popular culture, loves, pet hates, and life. All the while he is backed by furious strumming on his guitar - his cherished 1937 Gibson acoustic.

“Oh my baby!” Hamell declares. “I’m wayyyy too dependent on an antique! I’ve had it since 1989. I bought it in a guitar store I was working at in Albany, New York. It had a huge crack in the face plate so it was never going to go up in value. It was never going to be a ‘collector’s item’ if you will.

“I just loved the look of it. I think, like Johnny Ramone and his Mosrite guitar, I was looking for something that was going be distinctively my calling card and, with its old time Gibson scroll, it fit the bill. Because it wasn’t pristine I had no aversion to putting a pick up and - here’s the key for you tech heads - a pre-amp in it and when I heard it and its thunder I knew I was on to something.”

That, plus a need to stand out from the general throng of singer-songwriters, helped Hamell to develop his idiosyncratic guitar style.

“I think I missed the power of a band so I compensated by developing a right hand strumming style,” he says, “and because I wasn’t a great singer and my strength was more in more story telling, I figured, why not? There’s plenty of great singers, how was I going to set myself apart?”

However it was not just Syracuse and an antique guitar that shaped Ed Hamell, the late, very great US comedian Bill Hicks is a hero to the songwriter. In what way?

“Incredible courage, smart as a whip and integrity beyond belief,” Hamell replies. “Brilliant inspiring stuff...and mostly unknown by the mainstream over here. There’s not many comics like Hicks, but all kinds of art forms - film, poetry, literature, painting, etc, is all rock’n’roll to me...if it has that real courageous rebellious attitude.”

Free speech?

Although Hamell admits he would “much rather sing about personal politics” than politics per se, his work has become more pointed and political since the election of George W Bush as US president in 2000 - and the accompanying influence of the Christian right and the secular neo-conservaties.

“I was able to let Reagan slide figuring f**k it, he’d go away, but I think these thugs turned my stomach to the point where it was intolerable,” says Hamell. “It was impossible in this current climate for me to ignore it. It enraged me. Didn’t help my profile in America one iota either I might add, but I just couldn’t let it go unattended.”

Given his articulateness and his fearlessness in expressing his point of view, how does Hamell view the thorny subject of freedom of speech? Is it an absolute right or a qualified one?

“Absolute,” he says, “but...it’s up to the media, and this is where they failed miserably - in regards to the Iraq war, weapons of mass destruction, Guantanamo, etc, - to show both sides of the story. To see the Iraq families as people, to see the horror and destruction of war... we see NO footage of that. Our news is celebrity and human interest based. It’s appalling.”

He agrees with the view that ‘Freedom of speech is a right, not a weapon’ but that it can be abused to express all kinds of despicable and repugnant views.

“Far right talk radio does it all the time,” he says, “but when the dust clears, I like to believe, as in Joe McCarthy, these assholes are proven to be the hate mongers they are and hopefully - ahem...I’m showing a huge optimistic streak here - history won’t repeat itself. Although it just did, so f**k if I know.”

However the humour and compassion with which Hamell infuses his songs prevents him from becoming consumed by his anger at the state of the world.

“Yes and thanks for interpreting my work that way,” he says. “I’m glad you feel it. That’s the way it’s supposed to be intended but in the USA they have a hell of a time seeing it as such.”

We are now some four months away from the US presidential election. Does Hamell feel Sen Barack Obama represents a potentially fresh start for the US and can rehabilitate America’s reputation across the globe?

“Yes,” he replies. “Globally he’ll do much better than he will here. If elected, he’s going to inherit a s**t storm that could ultimately backfire when he doesn’t turn things around in two weeks- remember we’re the fast food nation - and it might go ultra-ultra conservative. But maybe that’ll be great for the artm. We’ll probably get some cool Chinese/American rock’n’roll bands because that’s who we’re going to be in bed with, one way or another (jot Hamell’s prophesy down friends... )”

Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh, Zhivago, and Redlight Records.


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