Duo offers humor, politics and poetry
By NANCY REDWINE
sentinel staff writer
"I’ve seen Jack Kerouac in the back parking lot of a Stop and Go, pouring Wild Turkey into a Slurpee, sitting on the roof of a Yugo."
— from "The United States of Generica"
That’s a taste of the humor of raving performance artist and poet Chris Chandler, who now teams up with famed labor folk singer Anne Feeney.
Their high-energy antics, pyrotechnic poetry and theatrical musicianship will supercharge Henfling’s Monday night with the political and existential electricity just barely captured on their new CD, "Flying Poetry Circus."
Feeney sings political and labor tunes — new ("Have You Been to Jail for Justice?") and old ("Goin’ Down the Road"). Chandler rant-preaches poetry ("Fast Food Confederacy," "Let There Be Prozac") that he wrote with longtime collaborator Phil Rockstroh. Together, the duo deftly weaves lefty activism and literary surrealism.
Their first tour through the Midwest together followed the events of Sept. 11, and Feeney remembers being more than a little nervous about their strong anti-war stance as they pulled into parking lots filled with American flag-decorated cars.
"One piece we did talked about all the T-shirts celebrating the New York Fire Department being made in Bangladesh sweatshops by Muslim children," Feeney said.
"One or two people would walk out, but the other 398 stayed. I think that’s the demographic, but most people are afraid to say what they think."
Far from being afraid to say what he thinks, Chandler had been traveling around the United States for 14 years, performing his vaudevillian revolution with the likes of Pete Seeger, Ani DiFranco, Dan Bern and Allen Ginsberg.
In the chinks of space between his tightly packed touring schedule (265 days a year), Chandler has recorded such treasures as "Hell Toupee," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Abyss" and "Posthumously Live."
The son of a son of a son of a preacher man, Chandler was born with theatrics and histrionics in the blood.
"I was the guy in high school who wore all black and recited really bad poetry in an even worse English accent," said Chandler, who grew up in Strong Mountain, Ga.
At 16 he met Phil Rockstroh, who had returned to Georgia after writing comedy for television in Los Angeles.
"When I heard he was a writer, I went right out to my car and got the poetry I was writing," Chandler said.
"He was the first person to look at it, and he said it was terrible. He wadded the poems up and threw them on the floor. Then we became good buddies."
After Chandler graduated from the North Carolina School of the Performing Arts — where he wrote his first play, "Your Analysis" — they began collaborating on the high-wire poetic stuff of Chandler’s street, stage and coffee house performances.
While he still performs Rockstroh’s work, he now collaborates with Feeney, the granddaughter of a legendary mine worker union organizer and singer, William Patrick Feeney.
"He really wasn’t much of a singer," Feeney said. "He just learned tunes so that if there was a stool in the room, he could act like he was the evening’s entertainment until it was safe to talk union."
After raising two children and working as a lawyer for 12 years, Feeney recorded her first album in 1987. Her songs have been performed by many politically inclined folkies, including Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Feeney and Chandler met in 1988, when she was organizing a concert for Pete Seeger and invited Chandler to open for the legendary folk singer.
"I was knocked out by what he did then," she said. "Every time I’d seen him, I’d think he was at his peak — and then the next time he would be beyond that by at least two standard deviations."
In the past two years, the buzz about Feeney and Chandler has filled coffeehouses and festivals with people hungry for a dose of cynical optimism. "The audience changes from act to act," Chandler said. "These days it seems to be gray ponytails and 20-something Ani DeFranco fans. There’s this strange and wonderful alliance between aging hippies and people with a lot of face metal."
Santa Cruz Sentinel
January 16, 2003