ROCK AND ROLL
This interview with the UP, a revolutionary rock and roll band from Ann Arbor Michigan, took place at their house - which also serves as the White Panther Party National Headquarters Commune. The house is truly far-out--a huge white panther stares out at the street from the front. There's about 20 rooms, all decorated with tapestries hanging from the ceilings kind of like clouds in the sky, and with psychedelic posters (Free John Sinclair) pasted up on the walls. The members of the group are Scott Bailey, drummer; Frank Bach, lead singer; Gary Rasmussen, bass; and his brother Bob, lead guitar.
Sun/Dance: What's different about the UP? Like, there's a certain image that the words "rock and roll band" brings to mind to most people - apart from the music alone, that is. You know, images of intense commercialism, the whole groupie scene--just a lot of waste and ego-tripping and fragmentation. Where do you depart from this image?
Scott: What I envision as the "typical" rock and roll band is one in which each one of the dudes are living with a maid of some kind, in an apartment or something like that, totally separated, you know. And every once in a while or maybe even once a day they get together and practice, or if not they just have a lot of jobs, which they go to in separate cars and things like that. Whereas in our situation we all live together in the same house, eat off the same table, and do the same work. We practice at the same time, go to jobs together - it's like a total thing.
Frank: And more than just being a communal rock and roll band by ourselves,we live with 24 people, who are deep into all other kinds of work - photographers, artists, poets, writers, printers, newspaper people--The house itself is really a community center.
Scott: People are drifting in all the time and have these killer parties. And it ain't like the Record Biz coming over and talking about the next record - it's kids coming in from the street, just getting down, having a party, and getting high.
SD: What exactly is the relationship between the UP and the White Panther Party? Are you members?
Scott: Yeah, we're members of the party. The band is the cultural arm of the WPP. We do educational work just by, more or less, what we do: by playing on stage the way we play, by the things we say when we're playing and the things we say and do when we're not. It's all related to the program of the party.
SD: Your whole life, then, is that message.
SD: Commercial success is affecting a lot of groups in weird ways. One manifestation of this are all the groups shooting heroin, fucking themselves up. Could this happen to you-as you become more successful, get a record contract, tour, and things like that?
Bob: Well, we know what smack does. We know what it feels like, and we can't relate to it, because it isn't a life-drug. It's a death drug. And the Party is involved in an anti-smack campaign in the community--so that should help keep us off smack (laughter.)
SD: Why do you think people are taking it, especially bands?
Bob: Cause it's easy--it's a cop-out. If you're a junky for any length of time, pretty soon you don't care about anything - if you continue to live, if your music is progressing forward-anything. It destroys all your energy. A lot of this has to do with the overall situation on the planet today. People are frustrated, they don't know where they're going, they don't see a real alternative. They think that the only alternative is to just cop-out, cause everything is just too oppressive and confusing. And the best way to cop out is to start doing junk. Cause you don't have to think about anything . . .
SD: The MC 5 used to be the band that lived with the WPP, and there were all these dreams and visions about what was going to happen with them, you know. Now they're just star-tripping, into success and money and that whole scene. What have you learned from what's happened to them?
Bob: Like, John Sinclair and other people have said, and we agree, that for them to do something like that just means that they never really had the true spirit to start with. As soon as they started getting contracts, once John went off to jail, and people like Jon Landau came in, they started getting away from the original idea of a true people 's band. Landau told them they were lousy musicians and they didn't know how to keep a beat and they were sloppy and had to get it together and had to start using smaller amps . . . Their second album is just a manifestation of the changes they went through; of what happened to them musically, where their heads went--everything.
Frank: Two years ago everybody thought things were gonna be a lot easier, the revolution was gonna be a lot easier. As it turned out, there was a lot we didn't know about, and we made a lot of mistakes. Some people reacted to those mistakes and went in the wrong direction completely--and some people just didn't. The MC5 reacted.
Bob: Overreacted. And we were living right next door to them all that time. Like, we've seen this movie before, you know?
Scott: We've been educated, so to speak.
SD: Right, learn from the past. Do you all, as a functioning part of the White Panther Party, study revolution? What is the political intake--what you read, talk about--you see what I'm getting at?
Frank: We've all read what's considered classical revolutionary literature--Mao Tse-Tung, Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Huey Newton...
SD: What value is there in a rock and roll band reading Mao Tse-Tung?
Frank: Well, Mao tells us a lot and it's all centered around being where the people are at. And proceeding from there to take them higher and higher, to free them from the past and bring them closer to the future. That's what we do that we do with our music. We take the rock and roll that we've all been brought up on, the black music we've heard, the dope, and all the highest aspects of our life--we put all these things together in a purified, simplified, and concentrated form of music. And I shoot it all back to the people. It's a liberating force.
Scott: Oh yeah, readings's cool, but all you really gotta do is look out the window.
Frank: Like we think of being a revolutionary rock and roll band more in terms of effect, you know? And not simply in terms of what people have read or who they've defined "revolutionary."
Gary: We ain't spouting a bunch of revolutionary rhetoric. Like, revolution is what it's all about, but a lot of people are confused as to what it actually means.
Scott: They think it's running around in the fir-pines with a 4-10 and a knapsack full of Molotovs, waiting for the next p-i-i-i-n-g to come by, and, you know, blow him up. That's not what it's all about.
SD: What is revolution to you?
Scott: Well, mostly education.
Gary: Rebirth, you know?
Scott: Education for the rebirth.
Frank: It's what's new, what changes people, what's unique, what brings about something higher, something better. It's what brings people closer to themselves, closer to freedom, closer . . .
Gary: To each other. We just played this job in Nebraska, and when we played all the people stood and started dancing and sweating and getting high and moving around. These people would never have been brought together like that if it wasn't for rock and roll.
SD: So your situation is truly unique: you live communally, you're the cultural arm of a political party, you're all these really weird and different things. How does this affect your music? Because the music is the most important thing, anyway.
Bob: Well, the lyrics talk about revolutionary things. Like the song "Sisters, Sisters" is about women's liberation. "Just Like an Aborigine" is a song about people freeing themselves stepping out of the death-mold, and getting closer to the planet. As opposed to singing about balling eighteen different groupies in one night or shooting bogus dope or just being fucked up and confused-which is what so many groups talk about.
SD: Do you do much original material?
Frank: About a third of what we do is original.
SD: Who produces it?
Frank: We all write it together.
Gary: We take drugs and play, and when we come down we say "What was that?," and go "Well, OK," and play it again. Then people from the house come down to the music room and add their ideas; "I think it would really sound good if you guys did that just one more time there. " We get criticism from 24 different people, instead of four, like most bands. And they're all listening to the music just as intensely as we do.
Scott: In your normal band you have four, maybe five musicians. They do their tune and get it written down and then put it on record - not really knowing what the fuck they think about it. "Well, the kids'll dig it, " you know? And they wait until the charts come out in order to gauge the response. But the charts are fucked, and have a lot more to do with business-hype than with music. So they don't really know what they're doing, since what they do doesn't come organically out of a community-they're just doing it by themselves.
SD: Alright. So the people in the house offer suggestions and help formulate the music. Now there's also your relationship to the audience at jobs that you play. How does that affect what you do?
Scott: Well, when you talk about rock and roll music you've got to be talking about moving. Moving involves energy. And the energy isn't one-sided, it isn't like the band is this monolithic generator that cranks out the energy and keeps it flowing, because that's impossible. There ain't nothing that creates energy.
Frank: That's not scientific. It's not real.
Scott: But there is an energy exchange. The band picks it up off the people while we're playing and feed it back out through various arrangements of wires, speakers, sound-waves . . .
Gary: Notes and chords . . .
Scott: And feelings. And once all that goes out, the people pick it up and stomp some more and it comes back again. The more they stomp, the more the band plays, and the more the band plays, the more they stomp. It builds up to a peak. That's where you get high.
SD: Have there been any really farout incidents where the energy level got so high that all sorts of strange things happened?
Frank: Yeah, I remember the last time we were in Nebraska. Towards the end of our performance people started coming up on stage, bouncing and dancing, flying around--the stage was just filled.
Scott: People were falling over, reverbing off the cabinets, coming over and hitting the cymbals, playing along . . . Whew!
SD: And you were digging it?
Scott: Yeah, we loved it! You would look up and see somebody that you'd never seen before, playing along with you, just going "A-AA-A-A- H-H!" You know. High.
Gary: When we get to a place we're usually pretty whizzed which makes it easier to pick up what people are into. Usually you walk In and see all these people sort of into being cool. They want to make sure that that girl over there thinks they look good, or . . .
Scott: Sitting in corners . . .
Gary: Then we play, and they start getting into it; start dancing, start jumping and humping, you know. By the time we get done everyone's hot and tired, feeling good and sweaty, blasted, smiling, walking around. People get opened up, turned on to more than just their own world.
Scott: It's a really pure form of communication.
Frank: I guess it goes back to communalism, to what we do here. A tribal experience. When we play it's an experience that's shared all around by the people there. They're the band, we're the band, they're the people, we're the people . . . There's no separation.
SD: So what you want to do is make people more aware of the energy within them . . .
Scott: And how much you get if it's all combined.
SD: And use that energy to . . .
Scott: Bring about a change in the way people live . . .
Gary: And the way they think. With a rock and roll band. everybody starts jumping around and listening to it, and everybody gets really turned on to their body and to everybody else's bodies. The whole pig ruse of separation just starts breaking down.
Frank: You know, we start out working in these little corners against each other. If we get together, working as one, for each other, then we've created something higher. A force that can really change the world.
Scott: And that competition and success stuff is all weird anyway. We don't need somebody saying "uh-oh, the person over there is starting to get into what I'm doing already--I'd better run him out." If he's starting to do what you're into, then far-out, killer, join up. And do more.
Frank: One thing we realize is that culture is not just a pastime. It's not just something that we do on the weekends--it defines who we are. It's how we live our lives. The things that make us come together--our music, our feelings, our sacraments--are the things that make us people. As a people we have strength, and can build a nation. Moving with other people--black, yellow, brown, red--to win the planet for all people. So All Power to the People, and Long Live Rock and Roll!