By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
We should have seen it coming: Before the deadline for Radar Station's inaugural War Contest [Saller, "Radar Station," April 2] had even elapsed, His Fraudulency announced that "allied forces" had "liberated the Iraqis" and that the "combat phase" of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was "over." In fact, one contest respondent accompanied his entry with the following note: "Not sure if it's still on, on account of the war being over and all...." Never fear, Li'l Big Time! Radar Station is more convinced than ever of the contest's relevance. Once GWB's ratings start slipping, Karl Rove's cabal will magically catch a whiff of evil-stank in Syria, Iran or Susan Sarandonand whip up the flag hags into a fresh bout of imperialistic grab-ass and good ol' fascist fun. See, that's the genius of declaring war on an abstraction; as comedian David Cross recently observed, having a war on terrorism is like having a war on jealousy -- you just ain't gonna win. The more you fight 'em, the more they pop up, kinda like bacteria or Beatle Bob. So take heart from the Lee Greenwood story, all you composers of war songs: You never know when a fresh fight's gonna break out, and your jackpot might be right around the corner!
Of course, judging the contest wasn't as easy as it might appear. First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, we were fairly sure the Detainees would win before they even entered (and, to be perfectly honest, we pretty much begged them to enter). A single live performance at the Way Out Club last month sealed the deal: As if the genius band name weren't enough, the bespectacled insurrectionists write and perform songs such as "Let's Get Detained," "Arab Scare" and "Murder Superior" when they're not sending out mad love to Che Guevara and rushing to the defense of the proletariat. Mind you, Radar Station's never been one to "keep it real" -- we value sincerity in our cat-sitters, not in our rock stars -- but there's something to be said for this quality in the evaluation of war songs. To make a war song work, you've gotta be feelin' it, and it also helps if you have more than a couple of molecules of gray matter to rub together for good measure. The Detainees are both pure of heart and clear of head, earning extra bonus points for having at least one registered member of the Green Party in their ranks and previous stints in such left-leaning bands as the Red Squares on their résumés; in short, they're no bandwagoneering chumps like, say, the Living Things.
But, alas and alack, the Detainees' guitarist and lead singer is one Jason Toon, who, when he's not lambasting the ruling class and uniting the workers of the world punk-rock style, happens to write for the RFT's music section. To cover any Toon project is to risk the charge of cronyism, an accusation to which Radar Station is exquisitely sensitive. But to disqualify the Detainees simply because they don't enforce a zero-Toon-tolerance policy hardly seems fair, either.
That's why we decided to make everyone who entered the contest a winner, with some winners ever-so-slightly more victorious than others -- after all, we're living in Orwellian times, so we might as well rip off Animal Farm instead of our usual victims, Delores Shanté, Mr. Radar Station and the National Enquirer. Without further ado, here's a glimpse at our other lucky winners:
Li'l Big Time, "I'll Be Gone": This slow acoustic folk-waltz drags a bit in the middle, and the guitarist's clunky stylings lack a certain, shall we say, finesse, but LBT earns extra points for subtlety and Hemingwayish malaise. The singer sounds shell-shocked and brain-dead when he sings, "Oh, this is war, right? Might I die? Yeah."
Matt Ahearn/Sharky Farmers, Untitled: Even though we listened to this jammin' excursion into folk-rock three times consecutively, we couldn't identify a single war song, unless "smoking marijuana" is suddenly code for "killing terrorists." Yeah, there's something to be said for subtlety (see above), but people still have to get it.
Bad Folk, "Act of Treason": What with the banjo and blatant Farrarisms, this one has the potential to be very embarrassing indeed. But it's redeemed by smart lyrics such as "I've been called red, and I've been called white/And I sure as hell am blue/But I can't be all three like they want me to be."
FulmAr, "32:20": These guys are supposedly enigmatic English hobos, which Radar Station doesn't believe for one second. That said, this reinvention of John Hammond's reinvention of Robert Johnson only sort of sucks, rather like an outtake of Dylan backed up by the Dead after a month-long heroin binge.