Though he’s based in New York City, pianist, singer and songwriter Jack Spann has become something of an honorary Milwaukee musician thanks to his frequent work here with producer and engineer Gary Tanin and his regular performances at events like Summerfest.
Spann, who met Tanin through their mutual friend, record producer Tony Visconti (whose name you see on the backs of David Bowie records), has a new record out. Called "Propaganda Man," the disc was again made in collaboration with Tanin, who also added some keyboards.
We asked Spann to walk us through the 12 songs on "Propaganda Man" one-by-one. Here’s his take on the new record, which you can get here.
In the late 1930s Germany, the Nazi government created a product called the "Volksempfänger," or People’s Receiver. It was an amplitude-modulation, or AM radio, designed to highlight and pick up broadcasts by Germany’s government, both the national government’s broadcast, called ironically, Deutschlandsender, and local propaganda broadcasts, called Reichssender. It was a sleek, modern looking, attractive and efficient thing. It cost just about two weeks’ salary for the best models, and a cheaper version was produced which cost much less.
Later, after Germany lost World War II, and after about 130 million people died because of the war, and when the Germans most responsible were brought to trial, Albert Speer, Minister of War, said that with this radio, the Nazi regime "made the complete use of all technical means for domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man."
In 2020, instead of that radio, we have a thing called the internet, and a computer. That computer keeps track of every single thing you look at, buy, show interest in, or testify to, on the internet. It keeps track of your every key stroke, it follows you in all of your relationships. It knows of your beliefs, or the lack of them. It knows exactly where you have been, what you have eaten, when you slept, and when you rose. It’s watching you right now. And who is in charge of keeping track of the billions, trillions, the googolplexes of information about you that will be forever stored, that can never be lost, which is eternal, that can be and is always accessed, forever and ever, Amen? Surprisingly it is one man, and it is a man. He goes by many names, but we call him Propaganda Man.
RAGE IN THE GARDEN
God the Father (we’ll call Him "Nodaboddy") is a dick. He’s in a terrible, crappy mood, he’s lonely, he’s unsatisfied with his supreme and utter power, and his immortality. So on a whim, he creates this Garden, this complete system, this paradisaical land of wonder, where things grow, and are sustained by each other, a land of infinite energy and life. Then, he creates two sentient beings, a man and a woman, so he can show off his creation, and so they can be jealous of Himself.
But because that’s just a tad too predictable, and he being God, deserves more variety, Nodaboddy also creates a "Tree Of Life." If the woman, "Eve," or the man "Adam," eat any of the fruit from this tree, they too will become like Nodaboddy, and have complete and utter knowledge of the universe that He has created. But Eve and Adam obey, they’re perfectly happy to run naked and perfect in their Paradise, Seemingly, there was a flaw in Nodaboddy’s design. So, in a sadistic twist, Nodaboddy creates a serpent that will tempt them to eat fruit from the tree.
Of course Adam is too perfectly thick and stupid to be tempted. He doesn’t like fruit, he’d rather eat from the trees of meat and the fountains of gravy God has provided. He likes sleeping. But Eve is more curious, perhaps smarter, and definitely more inquisitive. Nodaboddy’s serpent knows this by instinct; he tempts Eve relentlessly. When Eve, and Adam, predictably take a nibble of the fruit from the forbidden tree, Nodaboddy gets angry. For this tiny act of rebellion, Nodaboddy curses both of his people to lives of unending toil, misery, hatred, frustration and violence. Instead of pure water, the meat tree, and the rest of the delicious food He has provided, Adam and Eve will scrabble in the dirt and filth to scratch out a living. Instead of life eternal, Nodaboddy promises them that they will lives lives of pain, and their bodies will be returned to dust when they die.
For Eve he reserves a special curse; she wanted fruit from the forbidden tree. So He curses her to be fruitful, and bear children in pain and agony, and to bleed over and over, as a reminder of her unfaithfulness. And banished from the Garden, wandering in darkness with crude clothing, cold and fighting for their lives, God gave them one final gift- Rage. Against the darkness, the violence, and the utter imbecility of it all, Eve and Adam create a civilization. Their weapon: Rage. Their Downfall? Rage.
ALL GO TOGETHER
Just a piano bar song to sing with your friends as they’re dropping the inevitable final bombs.
The British royals? Those leeches on the U.K., those historical imposters, hoarders of wealth, slayers of Indians in America and in India? Grabbers of land, stealers of other’s property, shoving their Nodaboddy rage religion on the "heathens"? Of all of the Slavers, the British were the best. The Royal family are like ticks on the world’s ass, and I sincerely hope that someday America stops worshiping them. "Sit Down! Your Majesty!"
SHE’S MY LOVE LINE
My curse? I always wanted to sing like Stevie Wonder, but I have a vocal range like John Lennon. And no judgements here, sometimes you want a delicious entree and sometimes you want a simple salad, and I hope this song is both.
I had a terrible, horrible, violent, unloving relationship with my own father when I was a child. This is the song I wish he could have written for me. It contains just a whiff of discord.
SING YOUR OWN SONG
Grandpa, my Mom’s Daddy, on the other hand, was great. He’d play with me, slip me a sweet, tell me I was OK, and when I was 6 years old, he died. This one’s for him. Like the song asks, "Do the dead owe the living, what they cannot repay"?
WHEN JOE SIINGS
When I was a young musician in St. Louis, I met Joe. He was built like Barney Rubble and had the personality of a title, he was shy and slow to react and could retreat into his shell at any time. But man, could that guy sing: opera, rock n roll, blues, didn’t matter when Joe sang.
MARRY THE FLAG WITH THE CROSS
Story of a guy I met when I was working in Vail, Colorado, playing in a house band for an apres-ski bar. Ever meet anyone who looks you in the eye when they’re talking to you, almost like they’re trying to hypnotize you? I’ve blended his character with another old chum, a woman who assured me that Buddhists and Hindus are worshiping Satan, and another old chum, who owns a safe full of guns.
DEAD MAN’S CLOTHES
I’m one who really believes in fate, and in close scrapes, and in a story like this, the closer the better. On the other hand, I’m just ripping off the story of the Count Of Monte Cristo, but if you’re going to borrow from someone, Alexander Dumas is a great place to borrow.
SHUT THE DOOR
It’s scary to be in love, and to surrender your heart to someone. Could this work out? When they shut the door, are you going to be able to open it again if you want?
GOOD NIGHT LULLABY
A retelling of the theme from "Lullaby," way to wind down after the stress of listening to this album.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.