Blues Explosion’s Spencer Expresses His Outrage



By Steve Newton

Blues Explosion singer-guitarist Jon Spencer was on a bus with his young son in Manhattan when the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center that fateful day in 2001. But unlike the apparent majority of his countrymen, Spencer doesn’t feel his nation’s ongoing response to those attacks–its bomb-happy crusade to rid the world of America’s so-called enemies–is justified.

On “Hot Gossip”, the most pointedly political tune off his group’s new CD, Damage, he lays out his feelings: “There’s a war goin’ on now, and they blame it on you and me/Talk about safety, freedom, democracy–I don’t believe ’em/You know if they want my vote, they gotta try a lot more harder/You can’t talk peace when you’re making war”.

Of course, the Republicans never got Spencer’s vote–or even the majority of his fellow New Yorkers’ votes–but sadly, it didn’t matter. When the Straight contacted the blues-rocker at his Big Apple home on October 27, he said he was “hopeful” that the imminent election would take care of George W. Bush and his warmongering cronies.

“There’s a lotta terrible things goin’ on these days in this country,” he said, “and all around the world. So much of what this administration has done, it’s all comin’ from that event that day, and in that sense it’s sort of like it’s being done in my name, or in this city’s name. Well, fuck, I was here! I was taking my kid to school! And to see the great crimes that have been committed and the real tragedies that are goin’ on since then, just really makes me very angry, and very frustrated.”

On “Hot Gossip”, Spencer got a hand communicating those emotions from a rapper well-versed in expressing outrage: Public Enemy’s Chuck D. The two met last year while sharing a dressing room at Radio City Music Hall for a star-studded blues concert, which was filmed by Antoine Fuqua for the new documentary Lightning in a Bottle. Spencer’s performance didn’t make the director’s final cut, but he was happy enough just to hang with the Chuckster.

“Public Enemy’s one of my favourite bands,” he said, “and he’s a real hero of mine, so it was a thrill to meet him. And that night he kinda casually suggested, ‘Well, why don’t we do something together?’ So then about a year later, we were workin’ on Damage and we had this song ‘Hot Gossip’, and at the time it was just kind of an instrumental soul-funk tune. But when I put words to it, it became this political song, and it became real obvious that, ‘Oh yeah, we should get Chuck D for this one.’ ”

After 13 years of being known as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the trio of Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer, and drummer Russell Simins has shortened its moniker. But the raw, gritty, howling garage-rawk sound the band is noted for is intact on Damage, as locals will discover at Richard’s on Richards next Thursday (November 18).

And don’t expect to see anybody sitting in on bass guitar, either, because Spencer’s been going bottomless since his days with ’80s underground act Pussy Galore.

“There was never a bass in that band,” he points out proudly. “At times there was three guitars, though.”

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