Punk rock lifer Ted Leo has lately been busy with the Both, his duo with Aimee Mann, but he went solo a couple of months ago to release a split with Publicist UK. And now, as Pitchfork point out, he’s come back to drop a politically fiery anti-Trump banger called “In The Mean Times.” Leo wrote the song for a new Kickstarter political art series called Election Issues, and it’s a righteously choppy blast of wrath from a guy who knows how to put a melody together. Leo has a rare gift for knocking out a bare-bones DIY punk rock song but giving it enough heft to make it lift your heart, stadium-rock style. Below, listen to “In The Mean Times” and read the screed that Leo wrote about it.
I’ve been writing political or “issue driven” songs for as long as I’ve been writing songs (which, at this point, qualifies as a pretty long time). There’s been one thing that has always stuck in my craw, and that has thus always cropped up in my songwriting: racism and hatred of others because of their perceived “otherness.” AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT, this has also been a constant — if not THE MOST constant — theme in the political life of Donald Trump (other than the narcissistic advancement of Donald Trump).
THE AMOUNT OF NOISE IN THIS CAMPAIGN HAS BEEN RATCHETED UP TO A LEVEL THAT MAKES IT HARD TO EVEN UNDERSTAND WHAT’S AT STAKE ANYMORE.
Imagine your brain is a colander in reverse — information comes in like spaghetti in hot water, and your brain takes in what it wants and discards the rest. And the spaghetti and water, pouring in in the right proportions and at an ok speed allow your brain colander to do its work (in this metaphor, unlike in real life, you want the water and not the spaghetti — in real life, you obviously want the spaghetti). Well, my brain, right now, is like that colander, except instead of spaghetti and hot water, IT’S LIKE SOMEONE KEEPS TRYING TO RAM A TREE THROUGH IT WHILE SOMEONE ELSE TAKES A LEAK ON ITS TRUNK. The tree breaks the colander. Your brain has pee on it. There is that much noise in this election campaign.
One might argue that with Donald Trump, it’s ALL noise, and I would not argue with the person arguing that; and thus, I haven’t written a song about this election since before this election started. And when I started this one, I honestly didn’t even know where to begin. I thought I might pick one issue facing the Supreme Court next year and do a sort of civics lesson about it, but the more I thought, the more it just started making me feel like I had to go back to the beginning of this, myself; because at the beginning of this, loud and clear, before any of the other noise, Donald Trump told us who he is. He is a racist. He has always been a racist. And the Republican Party molly-coddling the racists among them FOR DECADES, enabled his ascent. Now, lucky for him, he’s not ONLY a racist — he’s a lot of other horrible things that apparently appeal to a lot of people, too. But he’s a racist. And he is where he is today, because America is, in part, racist. And I think of all my friends who are not white, who are not male, who are not cis/straight, who are disabled, who are not Christian or not even religious at all, who think of prosperity in terms of community and not just personal wealth, etc., and the malaise that I have sometimes found myself slipping into over the last year, starts to seem awfully selfish.
Now, this is just a song — and a hastily written and recorded one, at that. I am under no illusions that it’s going to play any part in changing the world. But going back to square one with Donald Trump and thinking about how he (and his party before him) has twisted the very real concerns of millions of working Americans of all ethnicities (whisper: “economic anxiety”) into a dog whistle the size of a bassoon, and how the entire apparatus invested in electing him President just glibly, daily, elides over it or ignores it completely… I got angry enough to use a curse word in a song again. It’s a song about my own economic anxiety, my anger at the way its been used by the Right, my own white privilege in being able to sit back and think and write a fucking song about this, knowing full well that it’s hitting other people much harder than it’s hitting me; my desire to gather close to the people that I love and to tell those who feel personally under attack by these politics of divisiveness that I love them especially right now, that everyone who’s been pushing back is an inspiration to me, and that I hope we all come through this together and ready to keep fighting after November 9, because this work will continue. These fights will be with us for a long, long time.
So, yeah — here’s a dumb song into which I tried to cram all of this. I should’ve thought about that colander metaphor earlier.
— Ted Leo
P.S. — I’m giving out the individual tracks for you mess with, should you be interested. Do whatever you want with them — remix, dub version, write your own lyrics, etc. Let me know what you come up with. @tedleo | [email protected]
Also, Leo recently recorded a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” for Let All The Children Boogie, a new Bowie tribute album that’s specifically meant for kids. Here’s that, via Paste:
Leo is heading out on a solo tour this fall; you can find the dates here.