by Bill Clifford
Harmonic Dissidents will, we hope, advance the activist elements of Honk bands. The idea of launching this zine has been kicking around for more than a year, but we needed a kick in the pants to get it going. We actually got two.
The first was the brouhaha in Seattle over associating strippers with the Honk Fest name in a Seattle fund-raiser in February 2009 called “Tits and Brass.” The ensuing arguments about subsuming the progressive politics of the Honk movement to the neo-burlesque aesthetic were rancorous, hilarious, and multifaceted but did not resolve a single thing. (Look for the details on our blog; we may print a more complete story later.) Fearing an uncontrolled slide into unbounded hedonism, some of us called for a workshop at Honk Fest West 2, April 2009 in Seattle, that would focus on politics.
That workshop refreshed our faith in Honking for peace, social justice, and empowered communities. The 30 participants — from California to British Columbia—were respectful, communicated skillfully and were enthusiastic about the role of street music in promoting political and social goals. We touched on the many things our bands do for our communities and our souls.
When we brought up the idea of an e-magazine to stay in touch while sharing techniques and information for effective Honking, the workshop’s response was nearly unanimous: Let’s kick it into gear. Our second butt-kick resulted in the zine you’re now reading.
Although we posed a lot of questions in the workshop (How do you balance politics, fun, and different levels of musicianship? Can we keep a band going when we disagree? What makes a successful and politically topical tune?), we had time for only one:
Why Do We Honk?
The answers can be grouped into four categories:
1. Honking affects others. At an action or demonstration, our music is a positive focus that unifies the participants. Music can lighten a dark mood, give people hope, and connect them with other struggles. Several workshop participants described how a band can calm down police or counterprotesters, defusing tense situations. Others noted music’s ability to embarrass police into backing down. Working together in a band and with other groups builds community. Another person noted that traditional protest and movement music connects across generations, passing along a sense of people’s history. Protest songs with well-known words embolden singers to add their voices.
2. Honking affects ourselves. Playing in a street band is beautiful because it is noncompetitive. One honker said it helps her recover from her classical-music past; another said honking soothed the angry spirits of his army-brat upbringing. When your band begins to cook, it feels good, it’s infectious and unstoppable. Some admired street bands for years before they realized they could play too. Some just like the opportunity to raise hell in a protest or to say something controversial and have it be heard. With music, you have creative license to move the action into the street, to possess public space. Others noted the joy they get out of playing music for its own sake and sharing it with like-minded musicians. Some are attracted to the humanity of a band. Some said they got more pleasure out of their street band than anything else in life. Others said that their band had changed their life.
3. Honking promotes important issues. Honkers have marched against police brutality, neoliberal globalization, war(s), foreign interventions, apartheid, domestic violence, and every right-wing politician or fundamentalist preacher who dares come to town. We have played for deprived communities, gay rights, civil rights, biological diversity, free speech, affordable housing, immigrant rights, anti-commercialism, absurdity, the hell and a pitcher of beer.
4. Honking fosters creativity. We play in trains, in skits, and in collaboration with other performers. Some love the tactile experience of playing in a band. Comedy and music wake up the public because they communicate on unusual planes. Some like the practical experience of building an intentional community as their band develops. Others observe and record these changes and our effect on society.
Next Issue: Money
A lot of bands have narratives about their changing relationship with money. Some admonish “Don’t play for free!” and others say “Don’t play for money!” Most have a more complicated relationship with money. The Hubbub Club (Sebastopol, CA) policy is they don’t let money determine whether they play a gig. The Carnival Band (Vancouver, BC) has set up the Open Air Orchestra Society (a board of directors) to determine what to charge, so the discussion is outside the band. In Seattle last April, our workshop ran out of time to get any deeper into money issues and how to deal with them. So we’re hoping you’ll start the conversation with us: What does your band do about money, and why?
Harmonic Dissidents Magazine is published under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States license. A link to the full license is here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/