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The new AKA Grafitti Man is a compilation of material from all three of Trudell's previous albums. In 1987 Trudell also self-produced a second spoken-word cassette called . . .But This Isn't El Salvador.
Widely praised for both its rocking music and tough lyrics, the new AKA Grafitti Man is filled with bluesy pop-rock over which Trudell speaks in a deadpan voice that recalls Lou Reed's emotionless croak. (Trudell says he's only peripherally aware of Reed's work.) He often breaks into a strained yet supple singing voice for the choruses.
Ably assisted by executive producer Jackson Browne and name guests like Kris Kristofferson and the late Jesse Ed Davis, the band fills the space behind Trudell's words with Reedlike grooves that vary from a funky chug to soaring melodies and outright Springsteenesque gut-pop.
AKA Grafitti Man has won honest praise from nearly every corner of the envy-ridden music business. Trudell's importance in the musical community was confirmed this past weekend when he delivered the keynote address at the 13th annual New Music Seminar in New York.
A new album is already in the works, and Trudell plans to begin touring later this summer with a revamped Grafitti Band. The most surprising aspect of AKA Grafitti Man is the depth of Trudell's rock n' roll fervor. Some of the same energy he once used in defense of AIM has now gone into songs like "Baby Boom Che"--a paean to Elvis. Trudell is quick to mention that he penned the tune in 1985, the year Elvis would have turned 50. It's not surprising that a tune about the white king of rock n' roll, or songs like the flippant-sounding "Rockin' the Res," have drawn the ire of some in the Native American community. Trudell, they charge, has abandoned his political commitment for the life of a rock star. Trudell himself admits that working on a rock album at Groove Masters Studios in Santa Monica is a long way from the stand-off at Alcatraz.
But he also shrugs off the suggestion that he's betrayed the Native American cause, preferring to speak about the roots of his music.
"If you listen to the melody of 'Baby Boom Che' you'll hear a variation on 'Love Me Tender,'" he says. "Elvis, in turn, got 'Love Me Tender' from an old folk song called 'Aura Lee.' "I'm not waving Elvis flags here, but I am acknowledging his social significance. Elvis sang the music of the blacks to the whites. He was a very important but overlooked part of the civil rights struggle in the Sixties. He also liberated the music of the whites. Up until then what did they have? Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Perry Como. No music of feelings."
Since the 1979 fire, Trudell has stepped back from politics, and is no longer part of any Native American organization. Music has become the medium through which he communicates.
"I identify with no political organization," Trudell says. "Politics are based on competition at at time when we need cooperation. They're based on control when we need free thought. They're based on ego at a time when we don't need any more of that."
He's especially reticent when it comes to speaking about AIM, the organization he as much as anyone else is responsible for shaping. "I don't need to adhere to a party line, even if it's our party, for a false sense of unity," he says.
"We don't need leaders or healers now; we need teachers. When people become leaders, they start liking the perks too much. And at the same time, having leaders means that the followers don't have to take responsibility."
Although it looks incongruous from the outside, switching from activism to entertainment has been easy for a man described by one writer as "an incendiary talker." "I really can't sing or dance," Trudell says with a laugh. "And to deal with the practical reality of it, I don't really know how to play a note, either.
"But for me, talking and music go together. Both can communicate feelings. "So for me, being onstage with a rock band is like a hallucination. So when Thunderheart came up, I said, 'Why not?' I wanted to see what it was like to do someone else's lines."
But Trudell also managed to do some of his own lines in the movie. Unhappy with the way his character was being portrayed, he was allowed to rewrite some of his dialogue.
There is a downside, however, to Trudell's new high profile--now anyone still looking knows where to find him. That's why he is, in many ways, on the run. Today, despite the time passed, Trudell can't stop looking over his shoulder. The memories of February 1979 keep him restless. "I've thought about leaving, but where would I go?" he says, a weary tone entering his voice. "If everyone looks the other way, that's their choice. But there is a price to be paid for priceless things. When your government and society turn authoritarian, regardless of their past record, then you're handing your children and grandchildren over to a monster.
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