Red and Blue Blues is a parody song dedicated to the absurdist nature of our divided nation. First written in 2004, this song has gone through multiple lyrical iterations before this version, all of them more absurd than the previous.
In late summer 2004, I had just moved into a rented bungalow in Huntsville's 5 points area. My neighbors were a married couple and also musicians, so we chatted each other up and discovered that we knew some of the same folks from the local music scene. The husband offered to cut my grass until I got a mower and I paid him with a six-pack of beer. We had a few talks about music and vowed to set up a jam session soon. I was happy to have like-minded neighbors and we always greeted each other with a smile and a how are you, or maybe some random weather talk when our paths would frequently cross. After my girlfriend put up a Kerry sign in my front yard, they both refused to even acknowledge us when we greeted them. Our attempts to stay friendly were met with disgusted looks or they would look straight ahead or down to the ground rather than put their eyes on their ex-friends who had obviously gone to the dark side with Satan himself. Later, I heard from a friend that they disrupted a peaceful acoustic jam session and refused to participate when one of the pickers called the classic Grateful Dead song, "Friend of the Devil." Meanwhile, I met my neighbor on the other side of my house, a very friendly gay man who quietly explained to me how the window in his car had been recently smashed out after he adorned it with a Kerry sticker. Later that day, chatting on the phone with my 10-year-old son about his school he explained how he had been humiliated by his classmates during a teacher-run mock election for supporting Kerry. They used the same slurs their parents obviously used, 'faggot' and 'commie.' When he complained to his teacher, her reply was that he was supporting the wrong person. Needless to say, he was pretty conflicted about this dog and pony show his zealous teacher played with these kids. I'm pretty sure that the voting process is done in booths for a reason, a sacred tradition that this teacher decided would not be near as effective as teaching them how to cudgel their opponents. I still struggle with not getting in my car the next day and driving 150 miles to Tuscaloosa to confront this dimwitted excuse for an educator and call her to task on what she was doing to these kids but decided it was ultimately not worth providing her with more fire to stoke the hatred she was nurturing and just cause more trouble for Wil in his ultra-conservative town. He admitted that he regretfully voted for Ralph Nader to avoid further humiliation, and I tried to reassure him that what the teacher and students did was wrong and our voting process is designed to maintain the confidentiality of voters to avoid this tribal mentality.
At the time, this seemed like a pretty contentious election cycle, especially if you lived in deeply conservative Alabama and had the audacity (balls) to acknowledge that you might remotely consider voting for Kerry over Bush. Sixteen years later, this divide has gone beyond absurd and approaches something from a bad sci-fi film where each day offers us the next crazy move by our reality TV president. The run-up to the 2004 election. solidified my dismay at how illogical our interactions had become based on your chosen and public stance on politics. Some brilliant marketing genius had previously branded us Blue (left) and Red (Right). They even developed maps to show you exactly where all of these colors lived, so you wouldn't have a problem looking over your shoulder when you were in enemy territory, or as the media moguls had hoped, buy your shiny new SUV from the right colored area, and buy it from those fine folks being advertised on the "branded" 24/7 news channel that waves your color. Stay tuned for the next stupid reality tv (the ultimate oxymoron) show.
I was really shy about sharing this song with anyone for the past 16 years out of fear that they would be offended by my obvious blue side of the divide. I kept rewriting it in the third person with the proverbial he and they, trying to make it tone-deaf and stick to the absurdist nature of parody, but I could never quite shake away my blueness. At some point, I just said hell with it, offend as many people as you can offend. The easiest way to do that was to make it first person. Billy Boy and Willy Roy tell the story of two conflicted folks with the whole spectrum of colors in the red and blue realm, both of them zealots with a gun in the end. Each one lives a fantastical life of blue and red, but always has the blues, and finally dismayed they become the new American cultural icons, mass murderers. Ultimately, I was inspired by the great John Prine and hoped to capture some of his vibes. I've played it at gigs with BLP and at open mics and never had anyone smash my car window, so maybe we're making progress.