Music/Popular Culture

#Occupy Rock & Roll: Warrior Soul at The Maywood

Warrior Soulby Jon Epstein

Concert Review: Warrior Soul at The Maywood, Raleigh NC, July 14, 2013. 

As I write this review, CNN is on the television, the talking heads essentially lipsyncing the propaganda fed to them by corporate and political interests and doing their best to sound convincing. It is news, after all. People shooting other people, some individually some in groups, your favorite plastic celebrity du jour has committed a horrible faux paux resulting in embarrassing video, compromising cell phone photos, and defenses revolving around the “disease of addiction,” and solemn promises to seek treatment in Malibu just as soon as scheduling allows….“George Zimmerman is ADHD and medicated, which altered his mind,” the mannequin just announced. How convenient….Jodie Arias is suffering from PTSD which manifested itself in unhealthy relationships and sexual manipulation…well how about that…The economy is a mystery, says the financial analyst….hmmm…that’s not good….This corporate shill says this, that lobbyist says that…and now another look at the “beautiful people” and the opulence that you too should really, really want… Jesus freak tightrope walker crosses Grand Canyon and lives because Joel Osteen endorsed him….”And in other news things are bad all over and getting worse: War, famine, death, disease, drought, pollution, poverty, violence, drug addiction, ecological disaster…. It turns out that America seems to be the cause of most of this…. Now here’s a well endowed blonde with sports”….. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…. And now a word from our sponsor… Whose by prescription only product might help….

And so it goes. Some things never change.

Twenty-three years ago, a CD came across my desk that totally resonated with everything I had seen, been disturbed, angered, and confused about for as long as I could remember, and the questions that consumed me and led directly to my decision to become an educator, writer, and activist. That CD was Last Decade, Dead Century, and the band was Warrior Soul, fronted by Kory Clarke. Clarke was a very, very angry man. That’s not really anything new in the world of heavy rock, where anger is often mandatory and manufactured. But, you see, Clarke was REALLY angry, and very smart. An excellent songwriter with a flair for visual imagery and the dramatic, coupled with passion for the truth and a genuine concern for society’s invisible casualties and castaways and fury for the blind eye we are all manipulated into turning away.

1009831_10201648053833900_139504434_nWhen the band began with the opening chords of “I See the Ruins” I knew that not only did some things never change, but sometimes they are not supposed to change until they have fulfilled their purpose. As the band vamped on a “Big E.” Clarke took the stage, smiled and nodded at familiar faces, slowly opened his arms into a “Jesus Christ Pose” and let loose with a furious whisky and razor blade scream:

I am the child of the new generation
The psychotic product of total frustration
Lost in the void of the social soup
Yesterday’s plans gone awry
I found you standing there cold
So I picked up on the usual topic
I feel the pain of a thousand wars
I feel the pain of a thousand wars
I got no problems man I got no problems man I got no problems man
I live in TV land
I’m an electronic image beaming out to you…

What followed was an hour and a half of some of the finest and most furious hard rock music ever written, which also happened to contain the most important and timely social and political message that most rock fans have never heard, but should have. The band performed songs from most of their albums, but focused on material from their debut, the follow-up (Drugs, God, and the New Republic) and this year’s release, Stiff Middle Finger. I was also pleasantly surprised that the band chose to showcase four songs from 1994’s criminally ignored 1994 Salutations from the Ghetto Nation. Individually, this album’s first three songs (“Love Destruction,” “Blown,” and “Shine Like It”), which the band played in order, stand as unrelenting and angry anthems. Taken together they become a furious eulogy to the burnt out, confused, dangerous and dying culture that America has become and a condemnation of the guilty, which as Warrior Soul sees it is pretty much all of us, but with a special kind of pissed off for the politicians and their corporate masters who have taken us all there, but allowed only a select few to benefit on the way.

Much has been written about the failure of Warrior Soul to achieve the mainstream success that they deserve. Some focus on the inflexibility of Kory Clarke and his insistence on being honest, and on his unwillingness to meet music industry demands to tone down the intensity and be more warm and fuzzy. This could be true, but no one, and I mean no one, who has ever witnessed Warrior Soul in all their fury would seriously suggest such a thing to Kory. It would be like asking Franklin Graham to star in a porno.

In the end, the reason is obvious. America is medicated, propagandized, overweight, manipulated, placated and ego-inflated. We are unwilling to confront the truth of our complicity in the sorry state of affairs that passes as history these days, and we sure as hell don’t want to hear people sing about it. While it’s OK to sing about how neato it is to find a groovy old sweater at the thrift shop, it is not OK to discuss why it is that the thrift shop is there to begin with. While it is OK to sing about the heroism of the American solider, it is not OK to sing about why, exactly, they were in a situation requiring bravery to begin with. While it’s OK to sing about how hard it is for an honest man to make a living in our gutted and hijacked economy, it is not OK to sing about why it is that the economy got gutted to begin with. It’s OK to complain, it’s not OK to question. Questions make us uncomfortable, so we shun the questioner and focus on Honey Boo Boo instead.

Warrior Soul is the rock and roll equivalent of Occupy Wall Street. Loud, often obnoxious, confrontational and essential. Like Occupy, Warrior Soul deals in the truth in all its messy glory. And like Occupy, Warrior Soul deserves your attention. The question is; are you too comfortable, or too misinformed, to care?

In conclusion please be wary where authority reigns
Control tightens as we sleep a false security
All our leaders answer to silent bosses where profit fills their greed
Think before action learn before acceptance
Decide what you should be

“In Conclusion” – Kory Clarke

Jon Epstein is a sociologist, musician, artist and writer living in Winston Salem, NC. Epstein has published widely on subjects related to music and popular culture. He, along with Sam Smith and Tim Lynch founded Rocklist, the first online community of academics and writers dedicated to the serious discussion of rock culture.