Stories of politics and pain2/1/2017
Straight to the point with Dropkick Murphys vocalist Al Barr
Dropkick Murphys has a penchant for delivering blue-collar, pint-hoisting, Celtic punk rock in strikingly consistent fashion. With nine albums under its collective belt, including the January release of its latest platter, “11 Stories of Pain and Glory,” the Massachusetts-based group has proven that success can be achieved through hook-laden songs and an unwavering and consistent devotion to the working man. As the band prepared to hit the road in support of the new album (including a headlining stop at 7 Flags Event Center in Clive on Feb. 24), vocalist Al Barr took the time to speak to CITYVIEW about the music, albeit briefly. Not surprisingly, Barr, like many in the U.S., had politics on his mind. What transpired was classic Dropkick Murphys: Blunt, honest and straight to the point.
CV: Dropkick Murphys has a long history of supporting the working class and speaking out for causes. What’s your take on the 2016 presidential election?
Al Barr: People were fed up with what’s been happening in this country for the last 20 years. I’m not even talking about Democrat party or Republican Party, I’m talking in general. What we’ve been getting is corporate and lobbyist politics, so you can take your party affiliation out of the conversation when you’re listening to me talk. I believe we need to return to “bad is bad, and good is good.” The way things have been going, it seems like the people in power are spending more time making sure the people that gave money to their campaigns are happy rather than doing what’s right.
CV: So who was your candidate?
Al Barr: I was a Bernie (Sanders) guy, and when (Donald) Trump won, I wasn’t surprised at all. I remember early on listening to a non-partisan person say that Bernie would win if he could get a foot forward, and Trump would win if he couldn’t. And that’s exactly what happened.
CV: So are you of the “let’s wait and see what happens with Trump” mindset?
Al Barr: See, that’s the other part of this that drives me crazy. I can understand that if you’re a person who voted one way, it doesn’t seem like your vote is being represented now. But you have to just take it and deal with it. People are throwing fits, and it’s just, like, ridiculous. This is not what our children need to see for an example. That’s life. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s this attitude of, “Well, it didn’t go my way, so now I’m going to throw a temper tantrum.” So you have all these adults throwing temper tantrums, and it’s just insane. And that’s not a Donald Trump endorsement, that’s just a “grow up and be an adult” endorsement.
CV: Right. It’s over.
Al Barr: And I’ll say that I don’t think we would have been any better off with a Hillary Clinton presidency. I think that she is an evil woman. I don’t think she had the people’s best interest at heart. You look at the Clinton Foundation and all the money they were taking in and how little they were paying out. My heart was broken early on when the DNC (Democratic National Committee) stole the election from him (Sanders), which was proven. You have 6 million people who voted for (former President Barack) O’Bama twice who voted for Trump. And you have these people walking around going, “I’m a Hillary person, I’m a Hillary person. I’m pro-gay rights.” That doesn’t make any sense. Hillary only recently came around on gay marriage, and she took $25 million from Saudi Arabia, who executed 100 people last year for being gay. So what you’re saying is that when you leave American airspace you’re no longer pro-gay rights, but in America you are? She even said that she has private and public personas that are different. To me, that’s saying, “What I say isn’t always what I mean.” And that’s what we’re already feeling about politicians anyway, so when you’re coming out and saying that, no wonder you didn’t win. It is what it is. I felt like our choices were stomach or brain cancer.
CV: So what spoke to you about Bernie? What part of his message and agenda struck a chord with you?
Al Barr: What didn’t? The guy has been on the right side of history all along. When someone would try to take him to task on how he voted, he would reference that vote from 1993, for example, and explain that the main body of that law did some other things that were bad and outweighed the good. He always showed up. He has passion. When it came down to voting between Hillary and Bernie early on, it came down to me asking this simple question: Who would I leave my children with for the night if I took my wife out for date night? And Bernie won hands down.
CV: There’s no better way to understand a man’s core than through his family.
Al Barr: Yep. Uncle Bernie. (laughs) Kids are going to stay with Uncle Bernie.
CV: So where does your political edge come from?
Al Barr: I really don’t look at myself as an activist. I think that what we do as a band isn’t that. You’re coming to see Dropkick Murphys, not get political speeches and get moved. Our music speaks for itself and always has. You know that we’re pro-union, we’re anti-racism, we’re backing the working man. When you go to an Anti-Flag or Dead Kennedys show, that’s their thing, and you expect that. We stand up for what we feel is right or wrong and always have. We’ve never been the band that is trying to feed you from the stage with our own personal beliefs. When I go to see band, I want to forget about my troubles and what’s going on in the world and have a good time.
CV: Being a person who pays attention to politics and is in a band that isn’t afraid of taking a stand, is polarization of your fans ever a concern? One person may hear your music, read your lyrics and go, “Yeah, I can relate, I love this,” while another may go, “Screw that, I’m done with those guys.”
Al Barr: Yeah, I’m seeing families being torn apart by this election process. We’re being defined by our politics these days, and that wasn’t the case growing up. Politics and religion, that was all a very personal thing.
CV: It wasn’t something that was at the forefront of conversation when people got together. But then again, there was no social media either.
Al Barr: It wasn’t something you just brought up with a stranger for sure. Nowadays, you have people getting into it over who they voted for. If you voted for Trump, you’re a racist. It’s just as dangerous as saying you’re a Muslim or a terrorist. We’re painting with such broad strokes these days. I’m not going to say that everybody who voted for Trump is reading from Ghandi’s writings, but at the same time, I don’t believe that if you voted for Trump it makes you a racist. If you’re a racist, it’s because you’re a racist. I’m not defending him either. This is coming from a former Democrat. I’m an Independent as a result of this election. I feel like I expected more from the party I was once a part of. If we’re going to put forward someone, I expect the person to show the best of us. I feel like Hillary is the person who lives in a mansion, goes across the street to dance with the homeless people, and after 20 minutes, points back across the street and goes, “We gotta do something about those rich fucks!” I feel like people forget that quickly. She says she’s against Wall Street, but she’s taking money from Wall Street. I feel like this world is in a really dangerous position right now. Everything is moving toward war, toward the things that divide us as human beings. Being a father, it’s scary.
CV: Let’s talk music, shall we? (laughs) You have a new album, “11 Stories of Pain and Glory.”
Al Barr: We’ve always written about real life and day-to-day struggles within. During the journey, there’s the beauty and the ugliness, so there’s the pain and the glory. And this is 11 short stories of that. We talk about the (Boston) Marathon bombing and a variety of things. We talk about the good parts of life, too, but you have to go through the hard times to appreciate the good. ♦