Like most of his fellow Texan singer-songwriters, but unlike his hero Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Dale Gilmore rarely proclaims his politics in public, neither from the stage nor in his songs. But his second set March 9 at the Mucky Duck was different. He weighed in with his views on the roiling war in Afghanistan, and before it was over, three audience members walked out on him.
According to a letter written to the Houston Press by concertgoer Thomas W. Young, Gilmore said he "hated George Bush, Dick Cheney and everything they did," and that he considered himself "no longer a Texan nor an American but a citizen of the world." Although he disagreed with these sentiments, Young kept his seat and held his tongue. But when, according to Young, Gilmore claimed his own views were not just "unpatriotic" but "treason[ous]," Young could take no more. He got up and left.
"That's what put me over the edge," says Young. "I sat through the rest of it. I just assumed that people throw out things like that occasionally, and until he used the word 'treason,' I was okay with it." He went outside and joined another disgruntled fan, who Young says was "kinda muttering under his breath about how he wasn't very satisfied with what was going on in there either."
Gilmore played one last song. And when he got to the parking lot, Young was waiting for him, Jimmie Dale Gilmore CD in hand. The former fan handed the CD back to Gilmore and told him he didn't want it anymore.
"I don't make comments to my customers from a political point of view, and when he's on stage, in essence we're his customers," Young says. "I think sometimes entertainers use that unfair advantage of the press and the stage."
Neither Gilmore nor Mucky Duck regular Ray Redding disputes that Gilmore said these things on stage, but don't go calling him Jihad Jimmie Dale just yet. Both maintain that Young managed to take virtually every remark out of context.
According to Redding, Gilmore spent a lot of time early in the set telling the audience how weird this particular gig was going to be, for a number of reasons. He said it was peculiar to play his songs twice in such a short time. He warned the audience that this would be his "rambling" show, as it lacked the time restraints of the first set. He said it was also going to be his last gig under his own name for about a year. (With Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, Gilmore will gig solely as a Flatlander for the rest of the year.)
Last, it was the final night of a long tour, most of which was spent on the East Coast. Up Yankee-land way, Gilmore told the Mucky assemblage, there's a different attitude about the "war on terror." Gilmore then said, "I don't believe the stage should be used for political purposes, but there's just one thing that's bothering me." After a long pause, the audience begged Gilmore not to hold back.
"I hate George Bush and Dick Cheney!" Gilmore erupted. "I just don't believe in their policies or solutions." According to Young, this remark was greeted with surly muttering and shouts of "Just sing, Jimmie!" According to Gilmore, he almost got a standing ovation.
Though Gilmore says the Bush-Cheney slam was off-the-cuff, he admits that his stage patter is fairly polished after his recent tour. It even has a theme: opinion versus judgment. According to Redding, Gilmore spake thusly, "I'm at a place in my life where I think people should hold opinions -- hell, I'm the most opinionated person I know -- but not pass judgment. Hold to your opinions, but don't pass judgment. Think about that one. I know I'm still trying."
"Then I would say something blatantly judgmental," Gilmore laughingly tells Racket. Gilmore says he set up the Bush remark with this preface, though Redding's memory places it later in the show.
As for the "citizen of the world" comment, Gilmore says it was inspired by Diogenes the Cynic, the Athenian philosopher who famously and vainly sought "one honest man."
"This reminds me," Gilmore said, as he fiddled with his Dylan-ish harmonica rack that fateful night at the Duck. "I'm always put in the 'country' section in music stores, and I'm a folk singer. Folk singers have to protest something. I was born in Amarillo, raised in Lubbock, and I moved to Austin. But I'm not a Texan. I'm not an American. [Pause for effect] I'm a citizen of the world. [Pause for effect] And I just can't believe what the citizens of the world are doing to each other. It's just an opinion."
As a classical reference, Young admits flatly that it "went over my head, obviously."
Gilmore doesn't recall or deny the "treason" remark. But if he said it, the nuance Young didn't or wouldn't hear was that Gilmore meant he felt treasonous toward a specific policy, not toward America itself.
Still, Gilmore believes that Young's criticism is right on the mark in some ways. He apologized to Young after the show for his speechifying. "If somebody pays money to hear my music, I should just play my songs and crack my jokes," he says. "If I'm gonna talk stuff like that, it should be in some other forum."
So don't think you'll be seeing a braver, newer, more political Gilmore anytime soon. Even the mostly favorable reception to his remarks left a bitter aftertaste. "I've talked about this with my wife and everybody since I've gotten back home, and it didn't really mollify me that mostly everybody there took it in the right spirit," he says. "I was disturbed by the outcome of that whole evening. But I felt like it's mostly those guys [Republicans] that do that, and I don't want to stoop to that level, which is basically just what I did."
Furthermore, Gilmore felt that his cracks undermined his credibility. "I didn't really present my point of view, because my point of view is too complex to get out there in a couple of one-liners in a nightclub, you know?" he says. "That's really what it boils down to."
For one thing, he doesn't really hate George Bush. He hardly even knows him. It just seems that on that particular night, his mind had a mind of its own. "I've met the guy, and I liked him personally," he says. "But I disagree with him so deeply and drastically. I put my foot in my mouth with that one. I wish I hadn't said that, because it's just not accurate. I was trying to be funny at somebody else's expense, and that's against my own ethical thing with my performance deal, you know."
And yet Gilmore isn't ready to back away from everything he said, not by a long shot. He thinks most people saw his stage banter as the comedy he meant for it to be. And he seriously believes that there is far too little diversity of thought in post-September 11 America. "Lately it just seems like it has become such a taboo to have any opinion," he says.
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But Young's not backing down either. These days, he seems about as likely to spin After Awhile as he is to take in a Jane Fonda tribute. "Right now I feel pretty strongly about it," he says. "I've got a couple other of his CDs, and I'm considering sending those back to him also."
And Gilmore? No matter how many Texan feathers he ruffles, he's still proud to be a cosmopolitan. "I'll stick with Diogenes," he says laughing.
KPFT Pickin' & Swingin' host Rick Gardner aired his last show on March 9. Gardner was perceived by many of the newly victorious anti-Garland Ganter faction as one of the former station manager's "henchmen" and/or "lackeys." Even new station manager Duane Bradley is rumored to have called the show Pissin' & Moanin' before he took over the station's reins. If Racket knew his boss felt that way about his work, he might want to move on to greener pastures, too Houston acts at South by Southwest included country singers Jason Allen, Owen Temple and Mando Saenz; DJs Joe B., Cee-Plus, Juniper, U.N.T., Mr. E and Soul Free; hip-hoppers Bushwick Bill and Comp 1; rockers goneblind, Arthur Yoria, Pale and Westbury Squares; Tejano chart-topper La Mafia; Latin band Grupo Batacha; Piedmont/Delta bluesman Harlem Slim; and the uncategorizable Free Radicals. Discounting the DJs (who were all buried in unglamorous time slots), there are only 13 bands on that list. By comparison, Dallas-Fort Worth had 30. Not that Racket cares -- he's not a Houstonian, he's a citizen of the world.