Spitfire Spoken Word Tour ProgramSpitfire
Spoken Word Tour
11/06/99, UC Santa Barbara
Featuring Exene Cervenka, Michael Franti, Andy Dick, Ice-T & Jello Biafra

November 6-- my birthday. I was so excited about this show that I bought my tickets probably a month or so ahead of time (as soon as I found out about it) and then ended up losing the tickets somewhere between my house and UCSB (they were later found in my car on the floor). Luckily my friend Jessica booked the show and was at the door, so she let us in. My pal Dennis and I agreed that Jessica rules. "She's my hero," he said, taking the words right out of my mouth.

I was a little surprised Campbell Hall wasn't full, but I guess that would take about 1000 people. the atmosphere of the show was very relaxed and informal. All of the performers sat on couches on stage the entire evening, watching each other perform, laughing, applauding, and supporting one another.

ExeneExene Cervenka began the evening, and I muttered about having missed the few reunion shows X had done the previous year. Also, back in what seems like a previous life, they came to my town when I was in high school, but you had to be 18 to go. She was interesting, and had a different style than the rest of the speakers of the evening. It was hard to distinguish between the poetry she was reciting for us and her discussion, which I'm sure was the point, considering her topic was the mental health of women.

Micahel FrantiMichael Franti was a complete joy. I loved both The Beatnigs & Disposable Heroes of Hipoprisy, but never got to see either of them. In fact, I missed Disposable Heroes when they played here around five years ago (also on my birthday!) because I went to L.A. to see Shadow Project. Franti gave off a warm, approachable vibe both as emcee of the event and while sharing his insights and experiences with us. His pieces depicted both life's struggles and beauty, and his rapping easily shifted from an aggressive style to a very melodic one. He incorporated some of the topics that he explored in Disposable Heroes such as "Television: the drug of the nation" to the applause of his long-standing fans.

Andy DickAndy Dick took the stage next, and acted pretty much like I expected he would. I like him. I think he's really funny both as a stand-up and comedic actor. His material was very frank and personal, mostly dealing with his overpublicized run-in with the police regarding drugs. Part of the time, I almost felt like I was at an AA meeting, just listening to someone saying-- albeit in a very funny way-- "Look, I screwed up, and I'm trying as best as I can to be better. I don't know if I'll be able to do it, 'cause this is really f*cking hard to go through..." Then he sang a very funny ode to a beloved old friend-- what else, pot-- that the audience died laughing over.

Ice-TWhen Ice-T got up next, the tone of the show changed. First of all, talk about magnetism... Ice-T's presence is undeniably intense. I'd seen him two or three times with Bodycount and really enjoyed him. Early on, his opinions attracted some overly PC hecklers, whom I thought were really annoying. But Ice-T basically said, "Good, that's good, I want you to speak out if you don't like something. What's the point of being your own person if all your opinions belong to someone else?" As for me, I'd think twice about debating Ice-T in front of an audience because he's so friggin' smart and sharp-witted.
Ice-T expressed anger and somewhat disillusionment with how the hell the people on this planet are going to make it together. And although he is angry, he's not sure what good it does anymore. He recommended for all of us angry twenty-somethings to pick a few things, or one, and really channel that anger into addressing it. Then maybe each of us can make a difference in some way (he credits Henry Rollins with this notion). Otherwise the best we can hope for, he figured, is for us to find a few people that we really get, and that really get us, and take care of each other. He also performed some rap pieces that were awesome. His rapping, gripping and dramatic, chills you and manipulates your feelings the way a good movie does. Both in his discussion and during his raps, Ice-T addressed young black men, urging them to stay away from a life of crime and drugs, and encouraged those who've already gone down that road that they can follow his lead and get out.

Jello BiafraIce-T introduced Jello Biafra himself, noting that when Bodycount was in its infancy, he was surprised (at the time) to get the most support from people in the punk movement such as Biafra and Rollins. The Dead Kennedys disbanded before I was out of my teens, but today they sell more records than ever. A lot of that has to do with Biafra's incessant spoken-word projects and ever-meddling in politics. I can't put my finger on what exactly makes him such an engaging speaker. I've listened to double CDs of him just talking for over two hours, and it seems like 20 minutes has gone by. Biafra's persona is very "everyday guy," which might be part of it. He doesn't use semantics, or dizzying, complicated philosophy to arrive at his points, but at the same time, if you were arguing with him, I think he would have YOU proving HIS own point for him in no time. It'd be infuriating-- like arguing with Socrates. Careful Jello, look what happened to Socrates.

All said, a really great night of ideas. I unfortunately had to leave a little early, but I understand that in very anti-star fashion, all the performers hung out after the show on the edge of the stage and audience members came up to chat. The Spitfire Spoken Word Tour has some other members that rotate in, such as (not surprisingly) Woody Harrelson and Perry Farrell, and was created in part by Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine. I wish more artists would get involved in grassroots efforts like this. Sure, lots of famous people do things for charity and attend events for $5000/plate, etc. But this effort to make a difference really meant a lot to me.

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