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Marc Black on Fireby Tad Wise

I used to think of Marc Black as the tie-dyed troubadour of yore, whose killer band could summon up my misspent youth in three songs. Turns out Black had commercial savvy as well, writing jingles to support the family, while catching the computer wave when it was little more than a swell. The result? Here is one old dog who has indeed learned many a new trick, a hot lick, and a deep groove—while never losing that hippie-dipped sense of wonder.

In a single set Marc can morph from funkaholic to world-beat rant to velvet-voiced folkie. But one thing he wouldn't do—until a few months ago—is get political. I recently caught up with him at Karl Berger’s studio (more on that later) where he promptly admitted: “Yeah, I was cynical. Or let’s say I worked best with irony. When Three Mile Island happened my song complained: ‘I’m so disappointed/ the plant didn’t blow/ nothing ever happens no more.’” “So how is it,” I inquire, “that you’re suddenly leading the charge against the ‘un’-natural gas industry’s not-so-secret weapon?”

Marc explains: “Six months ago I had the opportunity to play at a small club in North Branch, NY. A few days before the gig I called and they asked me, ‘Do you have any songs about fracking?’ [High volume hydraulic fracturing, please see this month’s Roll Eco for more-ed.] I said, ‘What’s that?’ They said, ‘It’s the biggest thing in our lives right now and you might look into it if you’re coming out here to play.’ So I did some research, and wrote the tune. I’m the designated songwriter in the family: holidays, birthdays, deathdays—you name it—I write the song. A few nights later I’m trying out ‘No Frackin’ Way’ on North Branch, and the place just goes nuts. The verse is written from the point of view of the gas company:”

“Hey, how you doin’
I just came by to say hello
I work for the gas company
I just happened to be in the neighborhood, you know
but I was thinkin’ you must be tired of workin’
that rake and that hoe
I could make you lots more money
than those potatoes
I know you probably heard
Lots of that propaganda
How fracking’s bad for the environment
and we’re out to destroy the land and
Blah, blah. Don’t believe it
it’s safe as the day is long
We drill, you collect money and nothing can go wrong.”

“So the chorus,” Marc continues, “comes as a something of a surprise, but by the time I get to it everybody’s got their cellphones out, videoing.”

“No frackin’ way
Not on my land
No frackin’ way
I’m talkin’ to you, man?
Don’t frack with me
And I won’t frack with you
Go frack yourself, bro…go home!”

“Now it was instantly obvious that I was touching something deep and powerful. After the show I got to meet with a lot of these people and I learned first hand how—because of the financial temptation—the issue was ripping families apart. The gas company is waving checks in the face of folks with little or no work...they’re dividing communities, putting people at each other’s throats. And I also learned how hellish the situation is that gets left behind: poisoned wells, poisoned people, animals with fur falling out, people with their hair falling out. It happens fast, too. It reminded me of Bhopal, India [one of the world’s worst industrial accidents] where thousands died and thousands more were soon to die and the powers that be...wished them luck.”

Not surprisingly, Marc soon recorded “No Frackin’ Way” in Woodstock with his band, including John Sebastian and Eric (“Dueling Banjos”) Weisberg. Though the song has since been sung at rallies as far away as Ireland and Australia, he wanted to finish it with a group sound indicative of the grass-roots community that first inspired him. So he put out an APB inviting regional protesters to appear in his video. Over a hundred people showed up at the Bearsville Theater with signs and more than enough righteous indignation to do the job. And they showed up. (As of this date a pledge to complete the video can be contributed to at www.pledgemusic.com/projects/nofrackingway.)

Marc is no stranger to public relations—his latest CD Songs From The Highway features the modern media cultural touchstone “I Love You Rachel Maddow”, which, no sooner was the video posted on YouTube, than it was tweeted by Keith Olbermann the very day he left the air, and as of today it’s enjoyed over 38,000 hits. The equally uplifting Harry Nilsson-esque “Oooh, I Love My Coffee”—complete with playful animated video—is another winner which has yet to be licensed by a franchise. Hopefully the release finds success, enough to counterbalance his more adventurous works like the “Stroke of Genius,” project, wherein Marc composed songs to ad man/stroke-survivor Dan Mountain’s verse; or the collaboration with the remarkable pianist Warren Bernhardt based on variations by Shostakovich.

But artistically, the most exciting thing about the peripatetic Mister Marc (at present) is the song he just now recorded under the discerning ear of Karl Berger—Creative Music Studio founder, godfather of world music—at Sertso Studios here in Woodstock. In a lyric reminiscent of a Dylan dirge, Marc tells the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the poor fruit peddler whose self-immolation precipitated the fall of Tunisian President Ben Ali, and “lit the spark” of revolution still blazing across North Africa and the Middle East. Steve Gorn’s flute and the oud of Brahim Frigbane embroider the finest filigree on a strange minor-moded verse. The four-on-the-floor, rock chorus nailed down by Don Davis, Eric Parker, Mike Esposito, and the songwriter himself, attests that “Sometime a spark...will light up the world”. Indeed, Marc Black is on fire.

Marc Black and his band performs Saturday May 14, 12 PM at Club Helsinki, Hudson; and Sunday May 15, 2 PM, at the Riverkeeper Festival at Boscobel Restoration, 1601 Rte. 9D, Garrison. Visit www.marcblack.com for more information.



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