Boston, Matthew Shepard, and Hamell on Trial

Welcome back to radio SAT, where I’m feeling a bit low following a recent tango with food poisoning, and looking for recovery and redemption–hence today’s topic, the redeeming power of art.

In between news bulletins about the mess in Boston, I took in a local production of The Laramie Project, which was composed by the Tectonic Theater ProjectThe Laramie Project drew upon hundreds of interviews with residents of Laramie and the surrounding area, court transcripts, etc., following the torture and death of Matthew Shepard, a student at University of Wyoming, Laramie, whose murder is rightly characterized as a hate crime. Mr. Shepard was gay, and it was clear that his assailants were guided by their hate for homosexuals and, in this case, a well-heeled homosexual male. (In brief: while it’s largely glossed over in this production and nearly every representation of the crime, the class divide between Mr. Shepard and Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson seems, if secondary, still significant.) In the wake of the crime, friends of Mr. Shepard’s transform themselves into heroes of decency and compassion.

The Laramie Project is hard-pressed to get into the heads of the killers, but one of them alleges that Mr. Shepard made a pass at him that night–which seems trivial, considering the brutality that followed. But the darkness that haunts young men is so difficult to parse. Lord knows what prompted the alleged Boston bombers to such rage and, in turn, to focus that rage on marathon runners and their supporters. We know so little, and it’s difficult to imagine how any narrative offered by  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19 (!), will help us make sense of this ghastly act.

Artists, though, may have their say, and here I’m thinking about Hamell on Trial, and “Hail” in particular.

On some songs, Hamell on Trial = (The Clash + George Carlin ) * acoustic guitar. On other songs, such as this one, he’s as earnest as they come, and yet offers a prelude of riffs on music education and The Grateful Dead, and thereby exemplifies the conflicted nature of the unconscious. “Hail,” as you’ll see, imagines Brandon Teena (see Boys Don’t Cry), Brian Deneke, and Matthew Shepard at a coffee shop in heaven, talking about everyday life now, and then. I don’t know if one can glean much about Hamell’s vision of heaven or religion in general, but–like Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, and Frank Zappa, to name a few–he has little tolerance for cruelty and hypocrisy, especially when perpetrated under cover of the banner of righteousness. His alternative to the pledge of allegiance (see below), which I’ve heard live and on disc dozens of times, still inspires.

Have a playful week!