“The truth is the truth. Not just the government’s truth or the church’s truth or the truth that won’t upset the advertisers and stockholders but THE TRUTH and the TRUTH is that when the very institutions that we depend on to inform us and guide us omit any part of the truth for any reason whatsoever then that is called a lie.” — Steve Earle
Furious with the Bush Administration’s deceptions, and even more furious with the failure of major media outlets to expose and challenge those deceits, thousands of Americans are chanting, “Tell us the truth!” Their cries are being met not with the stony silence of Washington but with a protest chorus that mixes rock, rap, folk, soul and alt-country into a call to arms.
The Tell Us the Truth Tour has set the sentiments of millions of angry Americans to music, and taken the show on the road. Traveling by bus across the eastern United States on a tour that began November 7 in Madison, Wisconsin and will finish November 24 in Washington, some of the most innovative artists in American music — and a comrade from Britain — are raising a ruckus about the Bush administration’s push for greater media consolidation and for international economic policies that are devastating the economies of both the U.S. and its trading partners.
“Media consolidation needs smashing and globalization needs unmasking,” says Tom Morello, the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, who has joined the tour along with keyboardist Mike Mills of REM, British folk rocker Billy Bragg, genre-bending singer-songwriter Steve Earle, rapper Boots Riley of The Coup and Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers. They’ll be joined at a number of later shows by singer Jill Sobule and comedian Janeane Garofalo, and perhaps by other artists. Morello, who is performing as The Nightwatchman on the tour, sums up the sentiments of the musicians who have donated their time to the effort by explaining that, “When presidents and politicians lie, it is the job of the press to expose those lies. When the press fails, the lie becomes the law. The point of the Tell Us the Truth Tour is to help others make connections, and to show them that activism can change the policies of this country.”
The core group kicked off the tour at the National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wisconsin, where AFL-CIO President John Sweeney joked during his remarks about “opening for Billy Bragg” and a crowd of 1,700 ended the first night of the conference dancing to a version of the Chambers Brothers 1968 hit Time Has Come Today that featured Chambers and Riley trading vocals and chanting, “Now the time has come… to tell us the truth.”
Bragg, who has gained international acclaim for his work with the family of Woody Guthrie to put music to lyrics that were left without tunes at the time of the folk music legend’s death, helped organize the tour and has insisted from the start that the music be as strong as the message. “Bush is a serious threat, not just to America but to the world,” says Bragg, who gave up a chance to join protests against the President’s visit to Britain this week in order to join the tour. “We’re talking about that threat, the message will get through. But this isn’t a seminar. This is a show, we want people dancing, singing, getting into the music.”