#21 Hey Brett You Know What Time It Is-Cracker: The Ballad of Brett Netson. The Center Cannot Hold. Also The Wobblies vs Wombles.

Brett Netson of Built to Spill. Not to be confused with Brett Nelson of Built to Spill. Really i’m not making this up. Two guys in same band. Names vary by one letter.
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Hey Brett (You Know What Time It Is)-Cracker
Camper Van Beethoven was on tour with Built to spill in September of 2006 (2007?). This was our second tour with them and we had become pretty familiar with everyone in the band. So one day guitarist Brett Netson (not brett nelson) walks casually into our dressing room. He was staring at his cell phone. I don’t know if it was a text message or what. But he doesn’t look up, he just says “will we know when it’s time to start dragging the rich and the powerful from their cars?”* All of us in CVB are possessed with the smart-ass gene and so someone quickly blurted out “ yes you will get a text from us”. ‘Us’ meaning Camper Van Beethoven. This little exchange stuck in my mind

But wait this is a Cracker song right? Well yes. Hey Brett (You Know What Time it is) is on Cracker’s album Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey. About a year later Cracker was working on music for a new record and we had this one riff we thought was pretty catchy. We were looping it and I was just making up stuff to sing. At some point I started to sing “Hey Brett You Know What Time It Is” in reference to the Brett Netson incident. At some point Frank Funaro,– who is both Cracker and Camper Van Beethovens drummer— stopped and said “are you saying ‘Hey Brett you know what time it is’” I nodded my head yes. First he laughed but then he became mocked concerned “but he’s expecting that in a text”

I’ve never really asked Brett Netson about his politics, but I assume he is generally on the left. Most people in rock bands are-with the apparent exception of Ted Nugent. But i would like to point out that once i got into the songwriting i dispensed with the real brett netson and began to create a fictional character and narrative. In the song the protagonist is a 4th generation Boise Idahoan. A veteran, hard working in his own way: “trying to make a living playing on my SG Gibson tending bar and sometimes selling herb.” But not getting his due. “we live like serfs in this new feudal land we pay the bills we fight the wars”. He’s rightfully angry.

But heres the twist. I wanted to use the language of the right. Because the right is oftentimes better at distilling and identifying many of the injustices and problems in our country than is the left. The left may have a good point but it’s often so convoluted and nuanced it doesn’t have the same emotional impact. They don’t work as well in song lyrics. This was not always the case, think Woody Guthrie.

I realize the right also spends a lot of time on useless fantasies as well. Death panels, Fema concentration camps, forged birth certificates take up an inordinate amount of airtime on right wing talk radio. (Come to think of it, much of this makes good song lyrics –see the camper van Beethoven song writing formula in Joe Stalin’s Cadillac).

The bigger picture is that in our country the center is now hopelessly out of touch with the plight of the common man. Our center is solidly Corporatist, it’s designed to preserve the status quo. But for humans to survive, for our lives to become better generation after generation we must constantly innovate. And that includes our political ideas. We can’t have a static status quo. That is why it is only at the “extremes’ of the political spectrum that you are hearing at least some concern for the average persons plight. For the plight of future generations.

I know i am freaking a lot of you out. Rest assured I’m aware there are ideologues on the left and the right that exploit and manipulate people. Many are shills for powerful interests and when they gain power they’ll forget the concerns of the common man and become a sort of fith column for the elites. And many of their prescriptions are wrong and dangerous. But i don’t care about the leaders. We don’t need leaders anymore. That’s so 1998. This is a networked decentralized world.

I’m more interested in the rank and file followers of these so-called right wing or left wing ideologues. And here is why: when I talk to the individuals that identify with political ideas outside the mainstream (with the exception of racists and religious fanatics-let me be absolutely clear) I almost invariably find that they possess more compassion and empathy for their fellow citizens than you will find from virtually any elected official in this country. Further they tend to be thinking about the big long term problems we face as a country, as a civilization.

For this reason this song is a celebration of so-called extreme viewpoints. For weren’t, the Abolitionists, the Suffragettes, the civil rights leaders, Franklin and Jefferson all extremists in their time? We are in a time when “the center can not hold”. In our country’s history this often marks the beginning of an upheaval that on average and over the long term is for the the common good. I know that some like the Civil War were appallingly nasty. Fortunately most weren’t.

Most people do not share my qualified but positive view about these wrenching upheavals that occur when “The Center Cannot hold”. Indeed let’s examine the verses from The Second Coming by Yeats from which i borrow this phrase:

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Thats some real end times stuff right there. But read more closely. To me the “wrong” is not that “the worst are full of passionate intensity” it is that “the best lack all conviction”.

But my protagonist is subtly more positive (like myself). ”I ain’t no wobbly no pinko commie. let’s start the end times right now” By this he means he is NOT calling for a violent and bloody confrontation, an armed revolution. After all he is a pot smoking guitar playing counterculture type. But he is passionately asking for change and upheaval. Judging by our history most likely this “upheaval” will take place within the bounds of civilized society. Usually the good ideas from the “fringes” move to the center creating a sea change that realigns our politics. There is turmoil but violence is rare.

But yes i am saying our corporatist center can no longer hold. And that is a little scary.

Finally the one line in this song that everyone asks me about ” i ain’t no Wobbly, no pinko Commie”. what is a wobbly? They were a radical anarchist founded labour movement that began in the first part of the 20th century. They had a radical union model, the wobbly shop model, with recallable delegates, radical self-management, a flattened hierarchy. Totally anti-authoritarian. Of course they quickly morphed into a more traditional socialist labor movement. Their lumberjack offshoot in the pacific northwest was particularly effective. Perhaps Brett had a great grandfather in the movement.

Members of the Radical Anarcho-Syndicalist Labor Movement the Wombles.

Some Old Dude. He invented Ice Cream.


Proposed Flag of the State of Jefferson

And i am writing this blog as we drive into Idaho. How appropriate. Also later on this tour we spend a couple of days in the State of Jefferson. This is an area of southern Oregon and northern California that very nearly seceded from Oregon and California to form their own state. Some accounts suggest offshoots of the Wobblies were important in this movement. While in modern times the idea has been embraced by Libertarians. It is not so far fetched. Thomas Jefferson himself purportedly imagined the Pacific Northwest being it’s own separate nation. I can only guess that it was because he couldn’t imagine Washington governing such a distant part of the North America. There is a modern day secessionist movement in the Pacific Northwest that would like to call the proposed nation Cascadia.


Proposed Flag of the Republic of Cascadia.


Actual Flag of Humbolt County California.
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[F] [C] [G] [C] [Am] [C] [F]
[F] [C] [G] [C] [Am] [C] [F]
[F] [C] [G] [C] [Am] [C] [F]
[F] [C] [G] [C] [Am]

[Am] My people came out of the[C] forests and the mountains
In-[F]-to this unpromising[Am] land
Scratched out a living in this[C] desert valley
Hard[F] living for any man

It weren’t no Eden – As cold as Sweden
Like Hades in the summertime
We built the cities, we dug the ditches
We picked the fruit from the vine

CHORUS:
[F] Hey Brett,[C] [G] you know what time it[C] is?[Am] [C] [F]
[F] Hey Brett,[C] [G] you know what time it[C] is?[Am] [C] [F]
[F] Hey Brett,[C] [G] you know what time it[C] is?[Am] [C] [F]
[F] Hey Brett,[C] [G] you know what time it[C] is?[Am]

Skip forward four generations, comes a great first world nation
But I’m living in the third

Trying to make a living playing on my SG Gibson
tending bar and sometimes selling herb

We live like serfs in this new feudal land
We pay the bills and fight the wars

I ain’t no wobbly, no pinko commie
Let start the end times right now.

Hey Brett, you know what time it is?
Hey Brett, you know what time it is? You know what time it is?
Hey Brett, you know what time it is? You know what time it is?
Hey Brett, you know what time it is?


2 comments

  • Adam

    Adam

    This is the official flag of Humbolt County? Really?

    This is the official flag of Humbolt County? Really?

  • Mark

    Mark Milwaukee

    great shades of color commentary re the current political atmosphere. It seems the protagonist is caught between tuning in and dropping out. Saw your recent soulful show in Wrigley and was knocked out by your tight delivery of apocalyptic r&b. Any thoughts on Bernie?

    great shades of color commentary re the current political atmosphere. It seems the protagonist is caught between tuning in and dropping out. Saw your recent soulful show in Wrigley and was knocked out by your tight delivery of apocalyptic r&b. Any thoughts on Bernie?

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