Sounding Off: Musicians Talk About Our Environment
It will be quite some time before we dig out from the damage done and opportunities ignored involving our environment during the years of the past administration in Washington. Can we expect our newly elected leaders to make an impact on global warming? What about the bleak future for certain diminishing species? And about those landfills: Do they know we’re running out of land to fill?
Regarding such weighty questions, we asked a group of hip and worldly musicians to weigh in on their biggest concerns for the planet, and what they think might be done to alleviate them. These singers and songwriters listen to many people’s concerns, and they express their thoughts in a particularly pithy and most musical manner, so they are in a unique position to influence a great many people.
Gabe Dixon is the first face in this group portrait. His funky, piano-laced trio, the Nashville-based Gabe Dixon Band, is getting great buzz. Not only did Dixon get asked by Paul McCartney to play keyboards on the legend’s recent tour (Dixon politely declined), but Dixon’s own group’s EP, “Live at World Café,” has been used recently by NBC to promote one of its shows. Dixon, just getting off the road, spoke of his worldly concerns and how he tries, in his small way, not to make them more of a concern.
“One of the things I think human beings need to know is, we’ve been living in a way that is completely out of date; it jibes with the way the planet was about 150 years ago,” says Dixon. “That has to stop. In the last century, with the increase of industrialization, and especially the use of cars, we just can’t go on this way. With all the cars and other forms of machinery, I can’t see the earth, air and water being able to withstand it for too much longer.”
Sounding like someone from the first generation of Earth Day people, Dixon thinks that “every little way” we can think of to create less trash, destruction and pollution, will be help.
“Whenever I go to my favorite coffee place,” Dixon says, “I always bring my own mug now. I think I may have saved a couple of trees, just by myself, by not using paper cups. Anything you can think of that preserves a tiny bit of our natural resources, and that doesn’t raise the heat on the planet--which trees combat, by the way-- is a good place to start. With everything I do, whether I’m home or on the road, I tell people: The planet needs to be part of the equation.”
Dixon believes people need to see some inconveniences as a positive thing: carpooling, for one. “Everybody has to stop thinking in terms of what’s good for them. I meet a lot of young people when I tour and what’s great is, they’re starting to think it’s cool to care about the environment.”
Such a trend is indeed a positive sign. Is it on time?
“Maybe I’m weirdly optimistic,” Dixon muses. “But as far down the destructive path as we’ve gone, I still think there’s enough time to reverse trends like global warming. Hey, save a tree. Start by bringing your own coffee cup when you go to your favorite hangout.”
Lenka is poised on the verge of pop stardom. If you haven’t seen her on The Late Show, you’ve likely heard her deceptively bouncy “The Show” on promos for “Ugly Betty” or “Old Navy.” Other songs of hers have graced scenes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “90210.” This up-and-coming singer and songwriter was born and raised in Australia and has a familiarity with approaches taken to environmental crises from there to Los Angeles, where she currently resides.
“When we’ve had droughts in Australia,” says Lenka, “it’s dictated by law that you can’t waste water.”
Lenka adds: “We have, in general, back home, a sense of conservation of natural resources. There have been times in California -- recently -- when there’s been a drought and because they don’t have strict laws about it, you walk down the street and see people hosing off their cars! It really makes me upset. If people can do that with water when it’s scarce, no wonder they so often abuse other natural resources.”
One of the solutions is recycling water, at least during times of drought.
“Although Americans might recoil at the idea,” Lenka says with a mordant chuckle, “the idea of recycling water works in Australia. They do it in parts of England, too. It’s perfectly healthy and might just be the solution to this particular situation, if we can’t get the global weather crisis under control.”
“The idea of waste is really horrifying to me,” the singer declares. “And it will be to others, too, if we start to use up our most basic resources.”
Another long-range idea that Lenka supports? Education.
“It’s all about reaching kids at an early age,” she says. “If they can be taught, whether it’s oil or water, that we don’t have inexhaustible supplies of things on the planet and what the end of them could mean, the next generation might just do better than we have in terms of conserving.”
Los Angeles resident Inara George is half of a duo called The Bird and The Bee (one of their songs is featured in the film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), but is getting the most attention for her latest solo CD, “An Invitation.” This glorious work features exceptionally melodic songs, with strings by legendary Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks. For you classic rock fans, Inara’s late father Lowell led the truly great rock and roll band Little Feat.
“I’ve always been sensitive to the suffering of animals,” says George, who calls the peril facing polar bears “an absolute nightmare.”
Although not claiming to be particularly religious, Inara George says seeing the plight of the polar bear gives her a very uneasy spiritual feeling. “I’ve been reading about them, but nothing can touch the pictures of those animals sitting on blocks of ice, unable to get to the fish they need for sustenance. It’s absolute torture to see.”
“I’ve always loved animals and felt we’re all connected, George adds, rightly observing that the bears’ peril is our own responsibility. “We can’t drive a species to near-extinction and not have it come back to haunt us in some way.”
This songwriter, who just recently returned from performing with full orchestra in Europe, has a certain amount of hope that “we might get a handle on climate change”:
“Obama is the first leader we’ve had in awhile who not only thinks, but says, that everyone is connected. That life is global now. That we’re all in it together. Unlike recent people, he’s not holding up an example and saying, whatever happens, it’s God’s will.”
John Baldwin Gourley
John Baldwin Gourley, of the group Portugal The Man, is in a unique position to agree. This singer, whose most recent CD “Censored Colors” is getting incredible press (you’ll be hearing big things about them this year), is from that fabled state of Alaska. He has seen terrible changes take place before his eyes, and other corroborative evidence about our troubled environment, too, as he and his band tour the world every year.
“In a general sense, I see too many un-earth-friendly activities going on,” says Gourley from a phone on a bus in the Midwest, noting that humans haven’t left enough fish in the seas for the whales to eat. Then there’s Governor Sarah Palin.
“I mean, she hunts moose. She doesn’t care at all that the gray wolf is disappearing and she never talks about it.” Gourley hasn’t expected an environmentally aware approach from the state government. “But I can tell you, it’s been really hard seeing our state’s weather changing so drastically these last ten or fifteen years, without the governor addressing it.”
“Our seasons have almost completely reversed: Our summers are much colder than they ever used to be,” Gourley observes. “And our winters have been getting warmer every year.” Gourley points to the movement of the Iditarod dog races farther north every year as the snow recedes, while Palin appears oblivious. “She certainly never suggests ways we might start to combat the warming.”
Gourley says he sees lots of European cities as reacting to the crisis faster: “They can’t believe how much we use our cars over here. In the cities of Europe, there is so much bike riding. If we could start to follow that example, it would be so much better for the environment. Plus, we’d put the damn oil companies out of business.”
You can’t have turned on a radio (remember them?) in the 90s or in this new century without hearing Chris Barron’s naturally funky, witty voice. Barron led the multi-platinum Spin Doctors (of “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” fame) and is currently an in-demand solo artist, gigging from shore to shore, with the typically wry, rockin’ affair, “Pancho And The Kid,” his most recent solo CD.
Barron is worried, too. He’s deeply concerned about the “colony collapse disorder” causing honeybees to disappear, and knows other animals in the bees’ biocommunities must also be affected. He’s concerned about the polar bears too.
“Are we going over to the dark side, toward evil, as a species? Do we know it? And, if we know it, do we care?”
I have a 10-year-old daughter who’s just started violin lessons. Today, we were in the elevator together and we were talking about the time-space continuum theory. Just having a great time rapping. And I couldn’t help but wonder, with, say, certain species of bees disappearing, what kind of world am I handing to my daughter? Is she even going to have a world in thirty years, in which she can have a conversation with her kid? I know the bees are little, insignificant creatures to some people. Yet, I think of them as tiny yellow soldiers, trying to fight their way through life. If they get wiped out, heaven help the rest of us.
The singer pauses, then tries to end his ruminations on a positive note: “I’ve been playing music most of my life and I think people making art as one of the great things we’ve done in human history.
“Then,” Barron continues, “there’s all the destruction we’ve created, whether it’s the war on the environment or on animals. We can either realize that we share the planet with thousands and thousands of other species, or we can destroy the whole thing. As for life on this planet, it seems pretty simple to me. We live together or die together.
“It’s really all up to us.”