Few artists have spoken more eloquently or more passionately about the high cost of life during wartime since Bush took the wheel as commander in chief than indie-punk hero Ted Leo. On his latest effort, Living With the Living, Leo sizes up the prospects of a soldier's life in "Army Bound" and signs off with a chorus of "Oh, CIA, only you know what you've done."
For as much as the state of the world continues to inform his music, though, he's never been much for the "ripped from the headlines" approach of bands like Anti-Flag. "I'm not interested in just setting some sort of political blog to music where it's like a real-time commentary on what's happening," Leo says. "That can get a little old, you know?"
He'd rather view those headlines in a broader historical context. In writing this album, for instance, he says he was thinking a lot about our national philosophy as it's developed since World War II and how that applies to the president's war on terror.
Ted Leo and The Pharmacists
Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe
scheduled to perform on Monday, April 9
The album's most explosive and explicit anti-war counterattack, for example, is set in Guatemala, circa 1954. And yet it doesn't take a Ph.D. in world history to see the parallels between "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb," with its urgent chorus of: "And when the crying starts, you won't have to see their bloodshot eyes turn red/And when the dying starts, you won't have to know a thing about who's dead," and fighter pilots dropping bombs in Iraq.
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He was hoping to comment, Leo says, on "war at a remove, the new precision-striking army where there's really a complete disconnect between the pressing of a button and the actual effect of that bomb on the ground."
As drawn as Leo is to writing songs about issues of the day, he's practical enough to understand that it would take more than another punk-rock masterpiece to change things, even when it's coming from an artist widely celebrated as his generation's Joe Strummer.
"They're songs," he says. "They help me order my thoughts and then express them. You can hope that some people are inspired by your songs to think and do things of their own. But I think it's a little presumptuous to have it as a goal, per se. I'm just kind of continuing the dialogue and putting my two cents in, which I don't think is a futile gesture."