when I set out on our year long road trip which ultimately resulted in the film part of POLITICS•ART•RELIGION•REVOLUTION or The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America, I didn’t have a script, this, what you’ll see wasn’t planned as a full length documentary… when we hit the road our sponsor dumped us at the kick off, the questions I had at that point were tame, they beat around the bush… After we were dumped, the idea of asking just what was on my mind, searching for answers to questions that really bothered me, the subjects I’ve been told to never bring up in a bar, the topics that create war among friends came into focus… why not, it wasn’t like we’d lose our sponsor.
I was angry, angry from my lower middle class childhood, angry from societal injustices my wife and I suffered prior to this project, I was just angry and looked to blame the fake american way, it was the lack of art appreciation and free speech, it was religion and it’s misguided flock, it was politics and the unfair voting system. And the only fix had to be revolt… this was before the tea party co-opted the lower middle class rage, before the word revolution sold books… this was where all that rhetoric began, in my zipcode, not theirs.
The goal was to paint a damning document of america and then leave, in search of a land that could live up to the idealistic beliefs our history books push… A land where it’s ok to be who and what you want to be, full of opportunities for those who want to make a better life for themselves, a land where it’s ok to not believe, to be skeptical of even the most sacred beliefs.
I planned on eventually editing the pieces down to only feature the worst of the worst… Three years of crying and trying later, I don’t think that happened.
I decided to ask questions like… “Do we need a revolution to fix the system?”, “If you vote, why?”, “Is there a difference between religion and spirituality?” “Is there such a thing as too much free speech?” – We spoke about politics and art, and religion and revolution, and believe it or not, everyone was more than willing to discuss these taboo subjects, what we found out was that they weren’t so taboo after all.
I’ve struggled with this film for over 3 years, self taught and naive, learning along the way and with what seems a dozen differing versions. The one I present today I’m extremely proud of… I usually don’t feel that way too much when I finish a work or project… I usually hate myself even more than before… Maybe this is the hope I was looking for as we left our horrible life, I think subconsciously the wife and I were thinking less about painting a damming document and more that there had to be a better life out there than the one our families afforded us…
As we traveled we stayed with total strangers, folks who for the most part, we’d never agree with and who’s political or religious persuasion would deeply offend us. I tried so hard to find people I’d have no problem painting as hate filled or idiots or both, yet all I found was humanity in one of it’s purest forms, a peaceful, welcoming and kind humanity… Almost every person we ran across on the road shared their stories open and honestly, they gave and it seemed they would have given the shirt off of their back.
Speaking with strangers from state to state also confirmed the belief system I’ve built up throughout my years… I guess I shouldn’t say SPEAKING with, I should say LISTENING to… as I listened, I found that even the folks I was vehemently opposed to, the religious, the republican, the drug addled dreg, I found that my “live and let live, be as free as you need, fuck with me or my loved ones and get hurt” belief system stood as ultimate truths and I found that more folks than I thought espoused those beliefs… whether they knew it or not. The listening tour also added some things to my belief system, stuff like people are decent not despicable, and it’s ok to trust until given a reason not to.
We were real lucky to run into the subjects we did… the only one in the film that was planned, not by him mind you, but the only subject we planned from the beginning to visit was Ian Mackaye, when we planned on ending our trip in Washington D.C. most assumed it was for the white house. I wasn’t… the plan from the start was to end at the Discord House, a symbol of all that is right, a symbol of the DIY movement, and the home of Ian Mackay, founder of Discord Records and Fugazi among other bands… A person who is a role model for Amy and myself and a person who influenced me and my business since I was a wee lad.
The reason I say we were lucky with the subjects we landed for the film is simple – they were and are amazingly smart… talk about sage advice, wizards and truth speakers… it was almost mystical the way they gave the answers whether we liked them or not, the answers that seemed the sooth the inner demons… I’ve traveled the USA many times, and never have I had the luck to run into so many amazingly smart and insightful individuals.
I hope you find the film stimulating.
I hope you read the book.
The film and book were birthed together, they are one, a two headed siamese twin of sorts.