Enjoy these words, we did.
AUSTIN DAZE: Can you tell us about your transition from writing lyrics that were antiestablishment to songs that are emotional and spiritually uplifting? [fa:p:a=72157594267830938,id=233939281,j=r,s=s,l=p]MICHAEL FRANTI: The biggest change came for me when I wanted to write a song about AIDS. And the first song that I wrote was like, a really angry song. It was like, “f**k the government because they’re not responding to this crisis”, you know? And then I realized that I knew a lot of people who were HIV positive and who were dying from AIDS. And so, my song changed–it went from being what was like, f**k the government to being a song that was like, what am going to do if my test comes back positive. So, I went and got tested and I wrote a song about it. It really changed the way I think about song writing. So you see, the pointing the finger out at the people, but, that’s not always the most emotional way to connect with people. That’s what I really want to do, is to connect through the emotion of people. Not so much about the ideas, but about the emotions.
AD: What caused you to make a movie about your trip to the Middle East? What did you want to accomplish and what was your message with this film?
MF: Well, I had just grown tired of listening to the news every night and seeing Generals and politicians explaining away the war. We spent this much money on the war, and there are these economic issues and these political issues, but never talking about the people. And my experience with war was growing up–I was born in 1966–so my first memories of politics were of the Vietnam War and Nixon resigning from office. And so, I grew up with this image of war that was like, people die, people get blown up, people are killed, people lose their arms. So for me to see this sanitized version of the war I didn’t believe it. And so I wanted to see it for myself. The message of the film is really that the ultimate cost of war is humanity. And that’s human dignity. People are robbed of their basic human needs. That’s one side of it. But the other side of it is that it is possible for us to think beyond a world where we solve things through a violent resolution or violent conflict. I don’t know if we can ever live and love each other and be in this great idyllic hippie Jam Cruise own world, but I do know that it is possible for us to live side by side and not kill each other. And so that is the end to which I work. I ‘m not going to say that at the end of the film I’m more on the side of the Iraqis or the Americans, or Israelis, or Palestinians. I’m on the side of the peacemakers–from whatever country they come from. I’m on the side of the leader, Ariel Sharon, because he’s making steps towards peace. I have to support him. I have to support those on the Palestinian side who are making small steps towards peace. All of us have to support each other in doing whatever we can for peace.
AD: How did the soldiers react to you going over there? Were they receptive? Were they for or against what you were doing?[fa:p:a=72157594270496732,id=235372778,j=r,s=s,l=p]MF: They didn’t really know what I was doing over there. They had a hard time figuring me out. You know, I come in with a guitar, they didn’t know what the hell I was there for and I didn’t really know what I was there for either. And so, I had a hard time explaining it to them– that I was just kind of like a tourist, kind of there to see the war. But what I found was that there was a lot of soldiers that wanted to speak their pain. That wanted to speak their truth. And the unfortunate thing was that I couldn’t film them doing it, none of them wanted to go on camera telling their story because they’re not allowed to. So, I spent a lot of time just sitting and talking with soldiers, playing music for them.
AD: We do notice that you are barefoot on stage, maybe you can talk more about that?
MF: I’ve been barefoot for five, almost six years, it will be six years in April that I haven’t worn shoes at all, except I wear flip flops when I go onto a restaurant or when I go onto an airplane. You learn to be careful where you step. I do feel at times more connected to the earth, like yesterday when we went to these Mayan ruins and went off the path and walked through the jungle, I did notice the difference between that and walking on the concrete. As I walk through the jungle I’m careful not to break branches and step on growing plants that are coming up and not because I’m so caring, but because it hurts. When you have a layer removed, not because you’re more spiritually in tune, but out of practicality you sort of end up being a little softer on your body.
AD: We’ve heard that you are recording a new album. Is it going to be a soundtrack to the new film?
MF: When I came back I actually wrote about thirty songs so there are two albums. One is called, “I Know I’m Not Alone”, like the film, and it is somewhat of a soundtrack, some of the songs are in the film and some are just songs that I wrote about the experience and are not in the film. And it’s kind of a rocking, funky, reggae, more danceable kind of a rowdy album. But then I also wrote a lot of quiet songs. I spent a lot of time just with my guitar sitting in my room pondering everything I had experienced, pondering how I was going to communicate it to the world and being just kind of inside. So there is another album that’s all of the more quiet songs and that album is called, “Cool Water”. It was interesting because I’ve actually made a lifetime of music of writing songs that are loud, telling the system to f**k off songs. And I love to do that. But when I came back from Iraq, I found that I really liked about twenty songs that were about connection between people. And I found that the experience of being in the war didn’t make me angrier, it made me sad, it made me feel empty, and it made me feel concern, compassion for other people. But it didn’t really make me feel f**k the government. Because all the connections I made and all the stories I heard were just people saying, God, I really wish I had strings for my guitar, I really wish we had water today, I really wish I could talk to my neighbor.
AD: Have you ever considered running for office? For anything?
MF: I’m running from political office. I’ve thought about it. But two things: first of all, if you think Bill Clinton’s got a sorted history, wait till you open my book . The second thing is that I really don’t feel that I’m best suited to be a person to sit behind a desk or is out campaigning to try and convince people to like me. I just don’t really want to do that. If I could run for office, I would like to serve as court jester. Sit in the White House and wear a funny hat and curly shoes and sing songs about the President. I would try to needle his conscience a little bit. I think some people are really suited for (politics), but I’m not really suited for it.
AD: What inspired you to do the Power to the Peaceful Festival?
MF: Well that festival is really interesting because it started off as a day of art and culture for Mumia Abu-Jamal who is on death row in Pennsylvania. He was convicted of killing a police officer in Philadelphia and all of the evidence is really sketchy. So we were trying to do this concert and we called it, Mumia 911, and there were hundreds of artists from around America and around the world that put on poetry readings and art showings and concerts to make awareness for this guy who is about to die. So we selected the number 911 because it’s the emergency number and we decided to do the concert on September 11th, 1999. So we did the concert on September 11th, 1999 and then again in 2000. And then in 2001, the attacks occurred. So the whole scope of the concert changed from just being about the death penalty and this one person to being about social justice around the world. I really believe we are fighting a war on “terror” that we are not going to be successful making enemies of every villager in the world. We are doing the exact opposite. A more mindful strategy would be one of reaching out to other nations. Reaching to nations that are developing where maybe they had some ill feeling towards America because of economic policies, because of military policies and we go to those nations and we start to listen. We have so much abundance in our country and we would help to create the flow of abundance if we would reach out to other nations. And that’s how I feel we are going to bring an end to violence. I believe that all bombing is terrorism no matter who does it. Everybody says well, my political purpose is greater than this person’s political purpose so that makes my bomb ok. None of them are ok. It doesn’t matter if it is being dropped from F-15 or if it’s strapped to a guy who is going onto a bus. All bombing for political purposes, I believe, is immoral. I want to do everything I can in my life to spread that message.
AD: In your travels to the Middle East and on your music tours, have you experienced any anti-American sentiment?
MF: All the time. I get it a lot.
AD: How do you handle that?
MF: I try to be the best example of an American that I can be so that I’m showing people in another country that not everybody that lives in my country is the way. But I also try to be a one person Ambassador of our country because I see the masses of people in this country as being incredibly loving and incredibly compassionate. There is this tiny percentage that are in power in the government who run over and trample other nations and they give us all a bad name. What I found when I went to Iraq is that Iraqis said, I know that George Bush represent the American people any more than Saddam Hussein represents the Iraqi people. But still we have this representative so if we don’t agree with the way the rest of the world is viewing our country than we have to change it from the inside out. By voting. People ask me everyday, how do we change things? I say, well, what do you do if you don’t like the soup that you got in a restaurant. You talk to the waiter. You say, hey man, my soup is cold can you heat it up, or I got a salad instead of a soup or whatever–you speak up. Well that’s how it works in the rest of life. You don’t like something going on with your partner, you speak up. You don’t like something going on with your government, you speak up. I know a lot of people who work in media and television and radio and newspapers and they told me that if they get ten letters about an issue it’s going to be talked about in the next editorial meeting. So that’s it. We have to start speaking up about things in this country.
AD: Are you planning on bringing your film to Austin and doing a screening at SXSW?
MF: We are. And we are going to be touring throughout the year with the film all over the world. And we are also working with the World Health Organization and we’re going to be doing a screening at their headquarters in Geneva and we’re also going to be distributing it through the World Health Organization to get it a lot of places.
AD: What did you think about Jam Cruise? How does it feel to walk around freely as opposed to some other situations?”
MF: I love it. Any opportunity that we have to celebrate we should because people in other countries never have that chance. We need to exercise that. The other thing is that I’m really glad to see that the level of awareness is being raised on the boat in terms of recycling. Last night we went down and played a little mini concert for the people in the recycling unit in the basement and they showed me how they do their stuff.
You know on a boat like this it’s 24 hours a day and it gets a little tiring, saying hello to a lot of people. But I also realize that throughout the year, these are people that pay my rent, these are the people that my music has touched in some way. So much so, that they spend a lot of money to come onto a boat and see myself and a lot of these other great musicians. And that means something to me. There was a time when I couldn’t get anybody to listen to my music. So I really appreciate every person. **