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Hal Willner, Pete Seeger and the Resurrection of Artists as Tribunes For Change

Uncategorized Apr 12, 2020 No Comments

An #EasterSunday, a #Passover, a #resurrection, a gleaming rebirth message! Wake up! All that is creative in the universe, all that is creative in each and everyone of us, rise! The ability to make gold from nothing, to save humanity from its own, man-made abyss, is what we need today.

 

Yesterday, broken hearted by the loss of one of my dearest friends and collaborators, legendary music producer and friend to many, Hal Willner, I was sifting through dozens of photos, recordings, performances, memories I had with Hal, who died needlessly from the coronavirus this past week. Yes. I declare needlessly. There is no excuse for the leadership of the “first country” of the world to have stridently ignored all warnings against the virus, delaying the imperative response of locking down by 2 critical months.

 

By becoming the country with the highest number of infections and deaths months after the deaths in China, Italy, and Iran should have made it easy for subsequent countries to avoid such levels of pandemic, the current US administration is single-handedly to blame for the innocent and avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of American citizens. Our loved ones like Hal included. A president that has assigned a record trillions for defense but cannot provide ventilators, doctor’s masks, or food enough for our own people, somehow, still has time for his tanning booth.

 

As I was sifting through files, photos, and recordings, I couldn’t find my favorite photographs with Hal anywhere, photos taken by great photographer, Aaron Fedor. After scrambling through archives proved unsuccessful, I resorted at last to going through old emails from a decade ago when the photos would have been taken, to see if, somehow, by some unbelievable stroke of luck, I might find them there still, as if from the ether.

 

What I found was a bonecrusher. I found the photos with Hal in an email from Aaron, attached, to my tearful surprise, with some photos taken around the same time of me with civil rights and folk music legend Pete Seeger. And, there they were, with no advance notice, my last two great confidants, champions, mentors and collaborators staring me in the face, both gone. I bawled. I cried a river. I cried a Fukushima meltdown pounding in my head.

 

The poetic realism was hard to miss – it was as though Tweety bird just flew out of a cartoon sky and dropped excrement on the top of my head. Wake.the.hell.up. Your mentors are dead. Step to the plate. The world’s mentors are dead. We must all become the answer we seek. Each and everyone of us.

 

Hal was a legend on the same level as Pete, and if of lesser popular renown, of no less renown or impact. As everyone who knew or worked with him knew, and the list of those he touched is large and wide from Miles Davis to Paul McCartney, Lou Reed to Bono, Leonard Cohen, Marianne Faithfull, Sun Ra, Sonny Rollins, Allen Ginsberg, Pavarotti, William S. Burroughs, Robert Altman, Lucinda Williams, to generations of crews on Saturday Night Live, where for decades he was the wizard behind the curtain – the list is endless – Hal was an oracle. You can get an idea of his impact and reach just reading posts by Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, Questlove, Jimmy FallonSeth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, or of SNL cast members in April 11’ths tribute to him.

 

Hal’s high regard was manifest in a Kaddish (Jewish memorial/wake) zoom call we held the day after his death, which, on only 1.5 hours notice, included some 70 family and friends, including his esteemed wife, producer Sheila Rogers, and award winning artists, producers, directors, authors, from Steve Earle to Rufus Wainwright, Don Was, and more. The call was filled with immense shared grief at the loss of this giant guy, but also with unbelievable stories, intimate performances, prayer, and, of course, comedic anecdotes about Hal Willner.

 

Hal had the best ears in the music industry. He was perhaps the only person left in his position who still knew how to hear real greatness anymore. As I wrote in a facebook/IG post immediately after he died, if there is an ear at the center of heart, it was Hal’s. And, Hal.was.hilarious. No one could make you laugh at the absurdity of life as deeply as Hal. He was a walking encyclopedia of creative expression in all its forms.

 

But, back to the uncanny pairing of Pete Seeger and Hal in the photos that fell out of my proverbial closet to laugh at me – As friend, performance artist Penny Arcade discussed with me on the phone after the Kaddish call, Hal was perhaps the last bridge between, on one side, real artists who upheld the ancient legacy of art as tribune of the people, saving humanity from the boring but certain death of mediocrity with nothing but their sheer creative will, and on the other, the trillion-dollar modern entertainment industry oligarchy which has become a fake, fame-seeking, corporate sell-out saccharine society-killing Monsanto, spewing a genetically modified terminator seed crap culture soundtrack while our world has careened off an irreversible cliff.

 

Real, great art, music, humor, theater, TV, writing, has the power to steer the ship of humankind away from self-destruction, but only if we are listening, only if it isn’t censored by a mediocre monopolized corporate entertainment industry, and only if we continue to make that great art to begin with and refuse to self-censor for ignorant gatekeepers. As Hal would often say to me and others close to him in close encounters, we are all that’s left, we have to make it happen. And he meant it. What we do, every day, how we lift our voices or not, matters. And it matters now more than ever.

 

So here we are on Easter Sunday, in Passover, at the crepuscular start of spring – and we have a choice. This global pandemic is like a fantastic trick played on all of humankind by no more than a tiny protein to bring us all together in the same boat across borders.  We have the chance to seize this global moment to build a new, more equal world. Great art can lead the way – but only if we make it, and only if we listen to what matters most, and only if we create it, from nothing, refusing to silence ourselves before without the vision. In the name of Hal and Pete, and all the greats before, in the name of us all –

 

Go forth and create, be the answer, and damn the torpedoes! I feel these guys smiling down on everyone, and I’m smiling on all of you. Happy Easter, happy resurrections, unstoppable risings, deep redemptions, and love. Stephan

 

p.s. Here are the photos:

 

 

 

 

 

Stephan on WTJU, Saturday August 11, 9am

Uncategorized Jul 29, 2018 No Comments

Stephan will be on UVA”s radio Station, WTJU 91.1 at 9am on Aug. 11 discussing the release of his new single ‘We The People,’ and the music video directed by Matt Kohn (Call It Democracy), made collaboratively with Charlottesville and Richmond, VA youth, organizations, and the acclaimed One Voice Chorus. Tune In!

Hurricane Harvey

Uncategorized Sep 10, 2017 No Comments

Stephan and borderless are in Houston helping with relief efforts and filming for borderless in the midst of Hurricane Harvey. Check out borderless website for details, including this moving video from  one of Houston’s hardest hit neighborhoods, Homestead.

The Answer To Nationalist Populism is Global Populism

Uncategorized Nov 19, 2016 No Comments

Bring out the inspiration

Bring out the new American poetic tradition

The new global poetic and musical movements

That unite people of all races, colors and religions

In the fight for global economic and social equality

 

This is the populism that tramples the demagogues

Not a fake populism that is nationalist, inegalitarian, isolationist and closed

But real populism that is universal, global and post-national,

True populism is borderless

It is the truth that resides in every heart of everyone from Talahassee to Timbuktu

It says that we are all equals, and must be,

If there will be peace

It says that the farmers and factory workers from Harlem to the Heartland

are the same as the farmers and factory workers and engineers and doctors

in Iraq, in South Africa, in Mexico, Russia, in every country

And that there is a global class of monetary and power elites that are oppressing all of us

And destroying our planet

It is a populism that knows both communism and capitalism have failed to be sustainable

And that we must boldly create a new way

That compels us to come together and usher in an era of mutual responsibility

Across the world

 

It is time to make good on

Our age-old birth rite

the day when all people live as equals

The dream Isaiah, Christ, Mohamed, Buddha, all dreamt of

The truth that unites us all

 

Let’s slam dunk the fake populists

And give birth to a new global populism

Let’s demand equality across borders

between all nations, races and religions

Between humanity and nature

Then there will be peace

The answer to nationalist populism

Is global populism

Stephan Said and difrent: launch ‘borderless’

Uncategorized Jun 19, 2016 No Comments

On May 30, 2016, Stephan and the difrent: team launched borderless, an groundbreaking new docu-series and media platform featuring and connecting people at the frontlines of change. At the same time they went live with the new thisisborderless.com wesbite and social networking sites, Stephan and the film crew went live in refugee camps across Greece, where they began filming the third episode in the traveling series which began with its first pilot episode in Iraq just before ISIS invaded. The second episode was filmed in Pakistan where several of the featured and partnering organizations collaborated with Stephan and the borderless team to produce an historic concert for global unity in the country’s capitol, Karachi. Check out the new series, and follow borderless online on facebook, twitter, instagram and elsewhere.

The Orchard Distributing Stephan’s Catalog!

Uncategorized May 02, 2016 No Comments

The Orchard is distributing Stephan’s entire catalog except his 1999 Rounder Records debut “Now’s The Time.” This means that all of Stephan’s material is available across the world on all platforms, with previously unavailable albums and EP’s coming soon. Stay tuned for updates! For now, check out his music page for albums that are now available. Already available through platform worldwide via iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and more are Stephan’s albums difrent:, Slash and Burn, New World Worder, and The Bell. Previously unreleased albums and material, as well as future albums to come will be released and we’ll update you. For updates, join Stephan’s mailing list here

Stephan’s op-ed “The Solution to Extremism is Global Equality”

Uncategorized May 02, 2016 No Comments

Here’s Stephan’s widely circulated op-ed about the antidote to extremism, and the need to build a movement for economic and social equality.

#lighttheworld Pakistan in Dawn News

Uncategorized Nov 05, 2015 No Comments

Artist On Tour For Peace Holds Concert” The concert for global unity at Port Grand in Karachi, Pakistan was a huge success, and an unprecedented call for peace and unity rising from the region. This great piece in the Pakistan’s biggest English newspaper, Dawn, speaks about the concert, in which Stephan sang in several languages including English, Urdu, Arabic, French, and Hungarian. He was joined by the country’s most beloved Qawwal’s, Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad and Qawwals, for his “Love, Make The World Go Round,” as images of thousands of Pakistani youth who made signs for unity were projected from a large backdrop behind them, and the audience also joined, making and holding signs for peace and unity.

Stephan’s latest op-ed – School Shooting’s, We’re missing the Mark

Uncategorized Nov 05, 2015 No Comments

My latest op-ed, “The Cause Of School Shooting’s, We’re missing the Mark” has sparked conversation about the need to get beyond the symptoms of child school shootings and get to their cause. Most importantly, I believe, we have to speak to our youth, and listen to them, and we have to stop telling them what we think is their problem. They know what is bothering them. Haivng written several songs about the issue since the start of the epidemic, and spoken with thousands of youth at colleges and high schools across the United States on my tours, this is about what I know to be the truth, not some academic or other politically motivated idea postulated from an office far-removed from the source.

Engaged Lives: Stephan Said at The New School

Uncategorized Sep 07, 2014 No Comments

Stephan Said is interviewed by the Dean of the New School, David Scobie, on his career and on the launch of his #LightTheWorld global video and tour.