Drew Bardo and Will Linna have questions. They have a long list that addresses the U.S. government's war machine, the psychological deadness they say afflicts modern society, and members of what they call an increasingly "vain" rock 'n' roll community.
It's not surprising then that the two Detroit-based musicians who plan to bring all those concerns together next week in a music-based anti-war rally call their mind-bending performance project the Questions. It's steeped in Rimbaud's call for a rational derangement of the senses, the hipster spirit of the American beats, and a belief that, to change the course of history, all it might take is 5 million people to storm the capital. Got all that, Mr. FBI man?
"I know we're already under surveillance, but I don't care," Bardo says. The 29-year-old enlisted in the Army in the mid-1990s with the intention of going AWOL and writing a book about the experience. He was discharged about a year later for what he called "complete disobedience."
The book hasn't been written.
"We're writing the novel inside [ourselves], and acting it out in a concert setting," the 22-year-old Linna says.
On stage, Bardo and Linna use guitar, saxophone, organ, accordion, didgeridoo, wine jugs and railroad lanterns. They sing and do spoken-word rants through megaphones, and invite collaborations from other musicians and poets. In Bardo's words, their performance is as a "ceremony of life that belongs more to the audience than to the shaman who leads it."
The Questions are not, in case you haven't figured it out, a conventional music group with mere rock band ambitions.
Instead Bardo and Linna say they're more interested in "tearing down a fictitious world where freedom is an illusion." Also an illusion, they say, is the notion that a war waged against terror is winnable.
"By going to war, the government is driving us forward into extinction," Bardo says. "But this isn't anything new."
Linna has a personal stake in his opposition to the war; his sister is a member of the Michigan National Guard, stationed in Iraq. And Bardo is quick to point out that the Questions are fully supportive of the troops in Iraq, as well as elsewhere in the world where the U.S. military sends them.
"If we could, we would even perform there to try to boost the morale of the soldiers," he says.
Perhaps the biggest beef the Questions have with the U.S. government's decision to fight a war in the Middle East is that it's coming at far too great a cost at home as much as abroad.
It's senseless to spend billions of dollars a week in Iraq when we have people here that are not being taken care of, Bardo says. "We have a crisis in health care, homeless people are wandering around the streets, personal freedoms are eroding."
Among the Questions' targets are fellow musicians who fear the consequences of getting involved in individual or collective anti-war efforts. Bardo says that artists must not be afraid "to get naked" in public and become "troubadours of truth." He says a lack of involvement by many musicians in issues of social justice is a "mentality that drives me crazy. Somebody has to pay for what's going wrong, and rock 'n' roll could help bring the message. But lots of people are drugged by disinformation propaganda and by an increasingly self-centered media."
The Questions' anti-war rally returns to the Magic Stick on April 7. This time around, scheduled performers include Jeremy Freer, Siddhartha, the Bird Dogs, Sugar Spell, Friends of Dennis Wilson, Cincinnati's the High and Low and the Questions themselves. There will also be political activism groups on hand.
There might be special guests added by the night of the show, Bardo says.
They have high expectations for an even greater turnout at this year's rally, after packing 300 to 400 people into the Stick for last year's event.
"We'd like to see a line stretch down Woodward to Campus Martius," Bardo says. "People are getting worked up about the war. We are becoming more empowered. We want to pack the place and show the world that we're not all dumbasses who don't care about ending a bad war executed outside the law. We do care."
Saturday, April 7, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. Free. For more information, visit myspace.com/thequestions.
Walter Wasacz is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]