Home' Rhythms Magazine : RHYTHMS JULY AUGUST 2019 Contents 68
By Brian Wise
It has been a huge past year for Lukas Nelson. Apart from visiting us
here for Bluesfest and other gigs, touring with Neil Young (they just
appeared at California’s Bottle Rock festival) and recording a new
album, Nelson was involved in the smash hit film A Star Is Born that
put his name in front of millions of filmgoers who otherwise might
not have known who he was (despite the fact that he is one of Willie
Nelson’s sons). After playing tag with Nelson in person - we missed
each other in Byron Bay and by hours in San Francisco – we finally
catch up for a chat on the phone about his new album. Of course, he
is on tour. This time with Zac Brown, part of the more than 250 gigs a
year Nelson and his band have been doing recently.
“Australia was incredible,” says Nelson when I ask him how he enjoyed
his recent visit. “I think Australia is my favourite place in the whole
world. I went and met some incredible folks and some Aboriginal
folks that I was hanging with my buddy Tracker Pete and his family.
Me and my friend Isabel Lucas (who’s an actress) were out there just
speaking about the importance of preserving the land. So, we were
trying to stop Adani from strip mining this whole place. It’s completely
ridiculous. There’s no reason for it. There are so many alternative
energies out there that they could invest in where you don’t have to
disrupt an entire ecosystem.”
“So, I was just getting immersed in Australian culture. I’ve been there
since I was a kid and I came there a lot when I was younger. I went on
a walkabout when I was a young child with my mom with near Uluru.
I got enveloped in Australia since young. So, it seems almost like
another home to me in a way, even though it’s so far away.”
I tell Nelson that it looks like the Adani mine will be going ahead.
“Well, I hope they come to their senses.” he replies.
Nelson’s concern about Adani fits into his world-view that is
encapsulated on the new album. It’s not difficult to realise that there is
a message here: it is obvious as soon as you read the title and listen to
the title song. Turn off the news. Build a garden. These are sentiments
that you might expect to hear Willie Nelson expounding but coming
from a 30-year-old they are a little surprising. Even more surprising is
the passion with which Lukas talks about his beliefs.
“Imagine if you got not just your local news or your world earth news,
but you got all the news from the galaxy. I mean, how many near-
impending dooms, entire worlds that are about to end at any moment,
how much can you carry on when you expand it to that level?” says
Nelson in a cosmic tangent. “All you can do is do what you can in the
world around you. On a micro level, that means just your local area.
So, it doesn’t mean not being informed, it just means turn off your
device. You don’t need to know everything Trump says. You don’t need
to know everything that all these candidates are saying.
“Do your research in your own time by getting involved in your local
community and be a part of the community around you and get to
know your neighbour and then you’ll understand which politicians are
full of shit or out of touch. If you get to know the communities around
you, you’ll see most people are good and most people are cooperative
and care about each other.”
“So, I’m just encouraging human connection,” he continues, “and I’m
really afraid that these devices that everybody’s using are debilitating
them and they’re being used to pacify us and not allow us to have
what is the most sacred of connections, which is flesh to flesh, human
to human, eye to eye connections. I think the technology’s a tool. I
think it’s good to be used as a tool to stay informed, but most of the
news out there is designed to keep you watching 24/7 and keeps you in
anxiety and keep you in fear mode, and in fear mode all you’re doing
is trying to survive. You’re not actually trying to thrive and help people
grow because you’re too worried about yourself and surviving. But
99% of the things you worry about never come true. That’s what my
Dad always said.
If you were at Bluesfest this year I hope you saw Mavis Staples, who
turns 80 this month. As a legend of gospel music and an important
player, with her family, in the civil rights movement she has a right
to be considered an icon of American music. But Staples is not
standing still. In recent years she has gone left field and worked
with Jeff Tweedy who brought a fresh approach to the music and
now she is teamed up with Ben Harper who made Bluesfest special
because of his presence and whose affinity for her music is obvious.
The album cover features the famous Gordon Parks’ photo Outside
Looking In – a group of six African-American children look through
a fence into a playground from which they are forbidden. It is
a powerful reminder of how some things in America have not
changed. The message is obvious and when I saw Staples put in
another brilliant performance at Jazz Fest recently she said, “We’ve
got to get rid of him.” We all knew to whom she was referring.
Then she got a standing ovation when she added, “I should run for
Harper, who has written the songs, produced and played and sung
in the album, remains respectful and brings a sparse and intimate
feeling to the album and makes sure that Staples voice is the
“I would like to thank Ben Harper for all his hard work, guidance,
creativity, inspiration and overall positivity that he brought to the
recording process,” writes Mavis in the liner notes. “Ben, you are a
genius and I couldn’t have made this record without you.”
The strength of Harper’s writing is that many of the songs sound as
though they could have been recorded at the height of the Staples
family involvement in the civil rights movement! In some ways he
has managed to channel Pops Staples.
‘Change,’ ‘Heavy on My Mind,’ ‘Brothers and Sisters,’ ‘One More
Change,’ ‘Stronger’ and, of course, the title track are all redolent
with meaning. It’s not difficult to understand the meaning behind
the line: “Trouble in the land. We can’t trust that man.”
“What good is freedom if we haven’t learned to be free?” sings
Staples on the opener ‘Change’ and by the time the album
concludes with ‘One More Change’ we are certain what that change
needs to be.
There were several references to Woodstock at Jazz Fest this year,
understandable given the 50th anniversary coming up in August.
John Fogerty leant on memories heavily in his set, reminding us that
Creedence played at the festival (though they were not in the film or
on the original album).
Carlos Santana started his set with film footage of his band playing
the event, with him delivering a blistering solo and Mike Shrieve
drumming like a demon. My only complaint was that when they
actually performed ‘Soul Sacrifice’ it only went for about five
Santana actually launched his band half a century ago with a cover
on the debut album of Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji’s
‘Jingo,’ a tune that arrived early in the Jazz Fest set. Half a century
on from Woodstock– with many musical excursions in between - he
dedicates an entire album to Africa. The album begins with Santana
intoning: “all and everything was conceived here in Africa, the cradle
Apparently, the group – which now includes Spain’s Concha Buika
(a Latin Grammy nominee) on vocals - reportedly recorded some
49 songs over a 10-day session with producer Rick Rubin and ended
up with 11 selections for this album. Unlike some recent Santana
albums this is not loaded with special guests and it certainly doesn’t
sound like it was done to produce some hit singles. At his, and his
band’s, best all you need is the basic sound because Santana’s
playing carries so much weight on its own, aided here by the
amazing Cindy Blackman (Santana) on drums. Half a century on
from Woodstock, Carlos Santana still has the ability to surprise and
delight with his playing.
By Brian Wise
“So, you got all these people worried about everything to the
point where they’re eating shitty foods, they’re not exercising,
they’re staying at home, they’re not caring about education,
because it’s all instant gratification. It’s all instant on my phone.
I can get a little fix on my phone. It’s like a drug. I think there’s a
lot more to turn off the news and build a garden than just simply
turning off the news. Because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about
building the garden more than it is turning off the news.”
I suggest to Nelson that he seems to have a quite an old-fashioned
view (and avoid the word ‘hippie’). “You’re only 30 years of age,
aren’t you? It sounds like I’m talking to your Dad!”
“Well, I think some concepts are timeless,” he responds. “Human
connection is as old as human life itself. It’s not an old-fashioned
view to see that something is happening to humanity. We are
being assimilated by these machines. If we don’t learn how to
balance that with taking care of our planet and taking care of
ourselves and the people that we know and love around us........
and get beyond that so that we can culturally join a community of
enlightened beings that travel the stars and maybe colonize other
planets but know how to take care of those planets when they’re
colonised too, so they don’t make the same mistakes that we
made on this one.
“We just have to grow up as a human culture. I think humanity
itself is very new. We’re only like maybe 100,000 years old. Homo
sapiens. As soon as we got this cognitive ability to have agriculture
and grow our own food and then have possessions and then be
aware of those possessions and the relationships, all that, then
we started to develop and we’re just kind of learning how to be
a species on this planet when you think about the dinosaurs who
spent 300 million years on the planet.”
Another key song is ‘A Simple Life’. I ask Nelson if he has been able
to turn his life into a simple life.
I’m trying to give more, and when I give more things become more
simple because you start to realise the value of giving in your soul
and just the peace that it gives you every time you give of yourself
without any hope of receiving, right? Just giving is the answer.
It’s really a simple answer, but we don’t make time to do it. I
don’t think technology is bad. I don’t think it’s bad at all. It’s just
a reflection of who we are. But we need to learn how to use it in a
streamlined way to upgrade ourselves, not downgrade ourselves.
Turn OffThe News (Build A Garden) is out now.
WE GET BY
LUKAS NELSON &
PROMISE OF THE REAL
TURN OFF THE NEWS (BUILD A GARDEN)
Fantasy / Caroline Australia
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