05/20/16Which Side Podcast interview on activism, hardcore, veganism and more
This was a killer interview. Good energy, great questions, fun times all around.
The Which Side Podcast brings you people that are in the trenches trying to make a difference in this world. Created, produced, and hosted for activists of all kinds. Whether you’re a veteran animal rights activist or just exploring issues for the first time, Which Side is for you.
Episode 184: We talk with Greg Bennick; Vocalist of Trial and Between Earth & Sky, Professional speaker, Humanitarian activist, award-winning producer, and writer. We discuss Veganism, Technology, Hardcore, Music, Straight-Edge, Intersectionality and more.
On Episode 32 of PRP, Seattle punk rocker / lawyer / and soccer fan DJ Grendel sits down with musician/activist/professional speaker Greg Bennick (aka me). From how we derive meaning out of every day life to the ways that we have been changed as a society by technology, we get completely existential.
04/12/16New episode of the Right Action Podcast online now
Right Action Podcast is a consideration of where we, as passionate individuals, radicals, anti-authoritarians, activists, and anyone concerned with the pursuit towards total freedom can best apply ourselves on a daily basis. The creator, Scott Spitz, is a longtime activist and writer, but also known to dabble in long distance running, parenting, graphic design, and gardening. He is a total badass and also a cancer survivor. I took a few moments and interviewed him back, just three questions, about his show and why it exists:
1. WHY A PODCAST? AND WHY THIS ONE?
I’ve found that I consider personal and social issues only so intently as the current media I use allows. When I was writing for my zine, I would think about an issue as far as I could fit it onto a page or two. When I wrote a blog, I could think deeper and longer about an issue. When social media took over, I found I was restricting my thoughts to be concise and fit the parameters of however many characters we are allowed. Being concise can be an effective skill, but I found I was succumbing to the “dumbing down” effect to which our communication is being reduced. A podcast allows for a wide audience, but also a deep consideration of the issues facing us today, which we so desperately need. The more I try to align my actions with my values, the more I struggle against the forces of dominant culture that wants me to be a part of it’s continuation. This podcast is about trying to navigate those difficult areas of action that lead towards the ends I seek (anti-authoritarian, non-hierarchical, etc. in this case), but also not being relegated to the peanut gallery, symbolic gestures, or self-serving but relatively stagnant approaches. It’s about living within the belly of the beast and trying to find our way out.
2. WHAT LIFE EVENTS OR EXPERIENCES LED TO YOU WANTING TO PODCAST POLITICALLY / SOCIALLY?
I’ve always been a politically engaged person, but over the last 8 years (give or take) I found myself drifting away from political action, probably due in part to a discontent with the political communities I was once a part. I think I needed that time to just live outside organized political action. 3 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer, which oddly enough led to my deeper involvement with political expressions by way of the support I was given by my extended community. That aid (financial and physical) had such an effect on me and enabled me to very directly understand what a small group of people can do with minimal resources for those less fortunate. At every opportunity since, I’ve tried to reciprocate towards others, whether holding fundraisers, promoting worthy projects, contributing resources, etc. I’m now continuing to evaluate how to maximize the impact of our privilege and live in accordance with our values to bring about the ends we seek.
3. WHO ARE SOME DREAM INTERVIEWEES OF YOURS?
You know, I don’t feel like I’m disconnected from the people I admire and for whom I have the utmost respect, so it’s really just a matter of asking. I’d love to sit down with Chris from Propaghandi and I’m hoping to get an interview with the author Wendell Berry, but otherwise I can’t think of any “untouchables” I’d like to interview. I find the “common people” (to use a lacking phrase) have the most valuable perspective to offer. I suppose, however, if we are including the dead, Carl Sagan would probably give a stellar interview. And then there is Chief Tecumseh. Oh, Zach De La Rocha. I’d like to interview him. He’s probably relatively untouchable. I’ll see if I can remedy that. And yes, It’s not lost on me that everyone is a male…I’ll remedy that too.
01/11/16A true creative revolutionary: David Bowie
David Bowie was a constant presence and challenge for me. Twister of reality, exposer of awe. A true creative revolutionary. I’ve always thought that an artist is at their best when they cause us to take pause and reflect on the world, seeing it in a new way as a result of their influence. Bowie was that artist. Any time I encountered his work I was always left mystified.
I only saw him twice. Once on ‘The Glass Spider’ tour in 1987, with Peter Frampton on guitar, a tour that saw him onstage roving over a multi-layered detailed set which was criticized as self-indulgent at the time by reviewers. For me, that set served as a metaphor for the many ways he existed in my mind. No one could pin down David Bowie. He was here and not here at the same time. There was no space and moment specific to him. To see Bowie was to feel as though you had experienced a transcendent encounter, something larger than life. The presence of someone who had thousands of aspects to his personality yet was constantly himself no matter what aspect was shining through at that one moment. Bowie was relentless, unavoidable, untouchable. Just when you thought you might know him or that you were onto his true persona, he shifted gears and left you in wonder once again.
I saw him a second time on the ‘Outside’ tour he did with Nine Inch Nails in 1995. It was the first night of the tour in Connecticut, and while I heard the show got better as the tour went on, Bowie wasn’t at his best this night (though he did play some very obscure songs and covers: “Joe the Lion” and a Jacques Brel cover of “My Death”). I remember walking out with my friend Al past the sound board, and a group of well dressed men in suits and ties stood there beaming with pride. Everything about them said that they were the financiers or producers of the tour. As we passed, one looked directly at Al and asked “How’d you like the show?” Al, not wanting to offend, said softly “It was very nice”. We joked for years that had he said “Well…it wasn’t quite Bowie’s best night” that the entire tour plan would have been altered within minutes, maybe including the firing of NIN and giving Bowie the run of the night in every city he visited (which would have been a terrible choice, as the best part of the night was Bowie and Trent Reznor onstage together).
But it was exactly that, the choice to tour with NIN, regardless of how that particular show went, which makes the night stick out in my mind. I’ve thought about it for years now. Here was Bowie, almost 50, taking the risk to introduce himself to a much younger demographic by having the foresight to tour with Trent Reznor. And that’s what made Bowie so incredible. Foresight. Vision. It was like he could see into the future and make choices that we would realize decades later were so ahead of the time in which they had taken place.
Every step of the way, David Bowie challenged us. He was always one – or ten – steps ahead of us in terms of image, fashion, style, sexuality, creativity. He had an entire generation asking if he was a man, a woman, and alien, neither, none, or all of the above? He twisted and toyed with time and space when we were in the midst of wanting to root ourselves in the here and now. He constantly made choices which made us reflect not only on what had been, but what might be in the moment, or what might come next if we were willing to take the risk along with him.
A constant presence in so many ways. My world looks different having encountered David Bowie throughout my life. There was no way it could not. His vision and genius was a challenge for each of us which forced us to reconsider how we experienced life when we stepped into his version of reality along with him.
And what a reality it was. I hope we all hold onto even a little bit of the magnitude of creativity, the depth of risk, and the expanse of wonder that David Bowie brought into the world.
Rest in peace, truly, to one of the all time greats.
01/10/16One Hundred For Haiti: the what we do and the WHY
In this video, recorded just before the sixth anniversary of the earthquake, Greg takes some time to explain the difference between RELIEF and DEVELOPMENT and what they each mean in terms of an NGO helping in the third world.
This video explains the core of what the work is that One Hundred For Haiti does in Haiti and WHY they do it. With a local focus and support people on the ground for The Rural Water Project, and partners “Little Footprints, Big Steps” and “Kay Tita”, initiatives like the anti-sexual assault GTPE trainings are coming to life in a major way and impacting lives all over Haiti. Four and a half minutes is all you need to devote to hear the whole story.
Note to self in the early hours of 2016. Let every moment of this new year be a call or response to the need for revolution in my heart and mind. A devotion to writing, speaking and sharing about the upending and transformation of old patterns within…and from there to the world beyond the self.
“No illusion, sacred or deconsecrated, collective or individual, can hide the poverty of our daily actions any longer….Nothing is so valuable that it need not be started afresh, nothing is so rich that it need not be enriched constantly.”
– The Revolution of Everyday Life; Raoul Vaneigem
Desperation about our insignificance; terror about our mortality and our eventual non-being; social imbalances that lead to individuals feeling marginalized and ignored; a culture with the magical power to seemingly counteract ALL of those things in an instant by allowing any nobody to become famous online within seconds….plus easy access to guns for everyone; millions upon millions of dollars being used for war in a display of our highest cultural values; a turning away from humanity en masse in this age of the refugee, teaching us that individual lives don’t matter; a disconnection from cause and effect as evidenced by a world entirely out of balance due to lack of any sense of social connection or personal responsibility. Oh…another shooting today? What a surprise.
I can’t even let myself devolve into arguments and discussions about gun control, because controlling guns is like trying to put a tiny band aid on a gushing artery, while the person with the knife stands nearby ready to slash again as soon as the bandage is in place.
We are culturally insane, trapped amidst bonds of our own fastening. It simply can’t be that we realistically expect calm amidst the strivings we engage in. We can’t find balance when we put comfort for ourselves first without regard to the rest of the world. The world is cause and effect, and we need to stop looking at the planet as effect and instant solution. Instant solutions are part and parcel to the entire problem overall. We have been raised, and raise ourselves, to want instant fast immediate change / answers / information / decisions. The band aid on the artery. There’s not a chance that that life is going to be save. Likewise, there isn’t a chance that we will find easy answers by trying to back pedal from the effects of our causes.
I’m going to spend the next year thinking about our mental state. Why we are who we are. Why we do what we do. And maybe thinking through why it is that here in America, where we are the land of the free, the the best we have done with our freedom is trap ourselves in ways where the only hope for escape is to shoot our way out.
Today is as much of a metaphor (with all respect due to the very actual dead and injured) as it is an act in and of itself.
We are all potential killers, all losing our minds bit by bit. This, in a world that we ourselves have created as the lowest common denominator response to our deep inner fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams.
I hope we all reflect today on who we really are and how we have come to this place.
I am in Prague, at my gate at the airport about to fly home from Europe after a couple extra days here and just wanted to say thank you.
Thank you Europe. Thank you every single person who came to every single show. Thank you to the promoters who took a risk booking us, to the drivers who gave their energy to keep us safe and arrive at the venues on time, to the tour bookers who took their time to create the experience, and to everyone involved with the tour in the bands and otherwise.
But mostly thank you to the people who came to the shows. Thank you, all of you, for supporting us (and for supporting your local scene).
I am thankful that there was never a night where no one showed up. To be half a world away from home and have anyone at all show up for an artistic event is a gift. And not just show up, but engage and connect in different ways. It is a great honor. I’ve been reflecting on connection and how people connected on this tour. Some nights had the sing along dancing craziness, and others had focused attention. Every night, during the song “Are These Our Lives?” I take time to try and make eye contact with every member of the audience that night. That’s when I can tell who is with us in the moment, and even on the “off” nights on this tour, the connection was always there. It might not look like the hardcore photos we all admire sometimes, but that is irrelevant. Life is not supposed to be a caricature of itself. It is supposed to be as it is, in moments.
No band or artist deserves anything. Not us, not anyone (not even Rush). No one HAS to come to a show. That they might WANT to is incredible. When I wrote the lyrics to the Trial album, my goal – and I wrote about this in my journal at the time – was to write lyrics that I would still believe in and fully stand behind even as a 95 year old and even if we never recorded anything else. It didn’t matter if time passed. It still doesn’t.
When writing the Trial LP I was writing for a lifetime, not for a record and certainly not for popularity. I still stand by that. If we wanted popularity the topics certainly wouldn’t have been the ones that ended up on the record. I stand by the lyrics as if I wrote them yesterday. As I said on this tour onstage at the show in London (in regards to refugees), even the topics in the lyrics themselves are unfortunately still relevant. The world’s issues and our personal psychology are ongoing. The sixteen years since we recorded the record is just a blip in time ultimately. It might be twenty generations in hardcore and feel like a lifetime. But hardcore isn’t life. Life is life. Hardcore is a means by which we interpret life. I am thankful for all those who came out to the shows to share in this artistic interpretation.
Ultimately the deepest point in any performer’s bow should come when the audience is leaving, not when they are arriving. I’ve been on stages for my entire life, as a speaker, as a singer, as an entertainer. And oftentimes performers think that the audience is there for the performer. They are not. The audience is there for their own experience. The performer/presenter’s duty and obligation is to serve them, whether there is one person in the audience or a hundred, and regardless of how they respond. If a small audience stands and stares instead of cheering, then that, quite simply, is that night’s dynamic. If a large audience shows less energy than a single person, that too is how the proverbial vegan cookie crumbles.
And we have options in the case of disconnectedness. We can complain about it (and sometimes I have though it’s immature and futile), we can do something about it (by engaging the audience more or playing far more passionately – and i have done both in various ways on stage) but ultimately every night is a unique experience never to be repeated and we have to embrace it as it is. I see this on my spoken word tours. The same story told in one night might bring laughs, and on another night, tears. My responsibility is to be present here and now in those moments with the audience regardless. The bow at the end of any performance is a “thank you” to them, not a recognition of applause. The performer’s bow is deeper depending on the depths of a willingness to thank their audience for their time, and also for their attention and receptiveness, however they might have expressed it. Deep and humble thanks.
I don’t need pile ons and sing-alongs. I only ever hope for connection. I’ve had more than my share of Burning Fight crazy sing-along hardcore moments. That is all icing on the (yes vegan) cake. For me the foundation is and always has been about the people and the connection. And this tour had that at every single show. Even the one or two shows that we didn’t “like” due to this or that reason, or due to how the audience seemed to not be engaged. That’s irrelevant. It’s ego. And would be short-sighted of me to ever think that an audience didn’t care. Even at those shows there were people who connected afterwards with words to share about what the night or the band had meant to them. I am deeply thankful for everyone who shared thoughts and emotions and everyone who took the risk to connect.
The conversations I was able to be a part of and the intricacies and intimacies that people shared meant the world to me. Hardcore to me is and always will be about connection first and foremost. I don’t care what band I am in or with, or without. Trial has had some incredible experiences and impact both on us and on people who have experienced us. But in the end the vocals and music are simply a vehicle for connection. That I have had a chance to listen to hundreds of people share their thoughts and emotions on this tour means so much to me.
When all is said and done, I tour for connection. Not for profit. Not for glory. Not for anything other than face to face contact with people around the world. That’s the mission always.
On this tour, even the nights I wanted to cancel I am thankful for. I for example pushed to cancel London. I was tired and acting like a privileged baby. So I didn’t get sleep. Who cares. So I didn’t get enough food. Again cry me a river. Tell the people of Haiti that the worst part of my day was that the clean water i was drinking was slightly warm, and that i was drinking it while being driven to a room to play a musical show in a vehicle without air conditioning. The ones without homes will ask, “what’s a room?” The ones with homes will ask “What do you mean someone drove YOU around? And in a car?” I am wealthy with experience and privilege.
I’m so glad we didn’t cancel any shows London or otherwise (other than the one where we were stranded in the side of the highways be couldn’t get to Leipzig Germany). But even then let’s be realistic. We broke down at a rest area with a restaurant that made us custom vegan meals, and had a hotel where we could afford if we chose to sleep comfortably. It was SO difficult. My god. I had to carry a bag from the van to my room before sleeping for nine hours without anyone trying to break in or murder me past the locked door and hot shower. It’s shocking that I survived! My tour journal makes it sound like it was a mess. But really it was the slightest inconvenience at worst. If only that day was the worst thing that will ever happen to me in life…
I apologize to anyone with whom I didn’t have enough time to speak one-on-one or to anyone to whom I might have said the wrong thing at times. And I apologize too if in a moment I didn’t remember meeting you before. Tour gets chaotic. There were many moments doing merch when I was very rushed. A guy offered me a granola bar at the merch table in London and i was so rushed to set up after we had arrived late that I didn’t thank him nearly enough. He had read online that the drive had been long and offered that food as a gesture of kindness as soon as we arrived. I hope you’re reading this, granola human. I appreciate you.
The most consistent criticism in my life is that I spread myself too thin and that sometimes individuals might feel as though I am not present with them in moments. For anyone who found that to be true, my apologies. My heart was with you even if my body or mind were failing me in the moment, which does happen from time to time on any tour.
And this tour, with some longer than normal drives to faraway places certainly had its share of challenging moments. No sleep, no air conditioning…in retrospect: whatever, who cares. It was all amazing. Someone asked me how hard the tour was. My answer to her then and my feeling now: we had food, shelter, companionship, no war, no terrorism, no death, no poverty. And that means our “hellish” tour as I have referred to it previously in posts was a privileged heaven compared to a vast majority of the world population’s experiences over the last three weeks. I was stoked out of my mind to play those faraway places and meet people I never would have otherwise had the honor to meet. Getting to and from Serbia for example brought us to the limit of our sanity but it was so worth it. I am so deeply thankful that we got to play there.
In the end, I can’t wait to go out again. Spoken word in 2016, hopefully Between Earth & Sky in 2017 after completing our LP, and also potentially with a new musical project in the works as well.
I am spending the rest of this year finally writing a number of projects, hardcore related and otherwise, and also working on One Hundred For Haiti. I will be thinking about this tour and its lessons about connection and how to bring those lessons to other situations worldwide. Ultimately – after two decades – shows still have me feeling humbled and deeply thankful every night and every tour, this one included.
Until next time, and there will be many more next times in whatever form they happen to take…
07/15/15Activism and action: Mouth vs Mic podcast, Episode #35
The Mouth vs Mic podcast out of Vancouver BC brings together artists, poets, activists, emcees, singers and anyone else who utilizes words and voice to build community or increase social responsibility. I was honored to be on their latest episode talking about One Hundred For Haiti, straightedge and veganism, Between Earth & Sky and the upcoming TRIAL European tour, and so much more.