If we are going to clean up the music business, we are all going to have to be diligent, attentive, uncompromising and cruel.
A Radio Play // Terry Bisson
FADE IN (MUSIC): “Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.”
SENATOR: That’s quite enough. (MUSIC CLICKS OFF) Thank you. There is no “Dock of the Bay.” Are you aware of that?
SENATOR: There are various docks, and there are various bays. But there is no such thing as a, or the, “Dock of the Bay.” You are aware of that?
CHAIRMAN: as the Chairman of this Committee, I direct the witness to respond to the question.
SENATOR: Thank you, Mr Chairman.
LAWYER: Mr Chairman, my client is declining to answer that question.
SENATOR: Declining? On what grounds?
LAWYER: The Fifth Amendment.
SENATOR: On the grounds that it might tend to incriminate him? Counselor, are you admitting that your client is—
LAWYER: I admit nothing. My client admits nothing. He is only exercizing his rights under the Constitution of the United States of America. In spite of the efforts of this committee, there is still such a document.
SENATOR: Mr Chairman, I protest. The counselor is characterizing this committee.
CHAIRMAN: Characterization protest Sustained. (GAVEL) Counselor, you will discontinue such outbursts.
LAWYER: Sorry, your honor. I meant only to refer to the rights guaranteed to my client.
SENATOR: You needn’t give us lessons in law, Counselor. And let me remind you, this is not a court of law. It is a senate hearing. May I proceed, Mr Chairman?
CHAIRMAN: You may. And the witness is directed to answer.
SENATOR: I ask you again, are you aware of the fact that there is no “dock of the bay.” It’s not even a countrified expression; it’s a non sequitur.
LAWYER: That’s not even a proper question. It’s a statement.
SENATOR: Let the record show that the witness is refusing to answer. Mr Chairman?
CHAIRMAN: The witness is excused. (GAVEL) Bailiff, he is your prisoner.
BAILIFF: Mr Chairman, he’s dead. He’s been dead for quite some time.
CHAIRMAN: Coroner, then. (GAVEL) Call the next witness.
CHAIRS SCRAPING, NOISES. FADE—
FADE IN (MUSIC): “Desperado, out riding fences …”
SENATOR: That’s quite enough. (MUSIC CLICKS OFF) Out riding fences? (sarcastic)
WITNESS: (loudly) I wish to state that I am here under protest. My name is—
SENATOR: I know your name. We all know all your names. That’s the point. We’re here to demonstrate, indeed to establish, congressionally, that the rules of truth and accuracy, annoying as they might seem to celebrity artistes such as yourself, apply to the mighty as well as the humble. And so I ask you, sir: have you ever worked as a cowboy—or even worked?
WITNESS: This is ridiculous.
LAWYER 2: (a woman; sotto) Shut up and let me deal with this. (loudly) Senator, my client is exercising his constitutional …
SENATOR: Yeah, yeah, we know all about it. Sir, for your information, riding fences is work. Dull brainless, boring work. Not the sort of thing that desperadoes go for.
LAWYER 2: Mr Chairman, my client respectfully declines to answer.
WITNESS: Respectfully, hell!
SENATOR: A desperado is someone who is outside the law, someone who scorns our system of rights and responsibilities. Why would he have a job? A minimum wage job at that. And why would it involve fences, of all things?
LAWYER 2: Mr Chairman, my client respectfully declines to answer.
WITNESS: Decline, hell! I refuse to participate in this farce.
SENATOR: Enough, already! Let the record show that the witness is making a face.
LAWYER 2: Mr Chairman, my client wishes to state that he respectfully declines to participate in this farce.
CHAIRMAN: The witness is excused. (GAVEL) Bailiff, he is your prisoner. Call the next witness.
CHAIRS SCRAPING, NOISES. FADE—
FADE IN (MUSIC): “Bye bye, Miss American Pie …” (MUSIC CLICKS OFF)
SENATOR: What is this? Let the record show that the witness has a paper bag over his head.
LAWYER 3: Mr Chairman, my client wishes to preserve his anonymity. He is prepared to cooperate fully with this committee.
SENATOR: A friendly witness? Roll over, Beethoven!
CHAIRMAN: The cooperation is sustained. (GAVEL) Proceed with the procedure, senator.
SENATOR: Well, then. Is the witness aware that we have quite a list of derelictions here to dutify? Several in one song.
LAWYER 3: My client is ready, even eager, to admit his culpability in these matters.
SENATOR: We’ll see. Eager is as eager does. Will the clerk present Exhibit One?
MUSIC: “Took my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry …” (MUSIC CLICKS OFF)
SENATOR: The witness is aware, I suppose, that levees are supposed to be dry. A levee is a kind of dam.
LAWYER 3: My client wishes to apologize for that line.
SENATOR: Were you thinking of a bayou or some kind of swamp? And why would anyone take a Chevy, or indeed, any car, into a swamp? Or onto a levee unless it was dry? You see the kind of confusion we’re dealing with here.
LAWYER 3: My client wishes to state that he wasn’t thinking. He went for the rhyme. He apologizes.
SENATOR. Hmmmmm. Apologizes. To whom?
LAWYER 3: To this committee, to the music industry. And most of all, to the American people.
SENATOR: Hmmmmmm. very well, let’s move on. Clerk?
MUSIC: “The good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye …” (MUSIC CLICKS OFF)
SENATOR: Sir, I remind you that you are under oath, and I ask you: what is rye?
WITNESS: (muffled) It’s a kind of whiskey, Senator.
SENATOR: The “good old boys” were drinking whiskey and rye, and yet rye is whiskey. (sarcastic) Mysterious, is it not?
LAWYER 3: Your honor, I mean Senator, my client wishes to affirm that it was sloppiness and ignorance, not malicious intent.
SENATOR: Sloppiness is not crime, not yet anyway. Nor is ignorance. Pretending is. Sounds to me like you never seriously drink anything. It’s all a macho pose.
WITNESS: That is unfortunately correct, senator. And I am truly sorry.
SENATOR Let the record show repentance. Mr Chairman?
CHAIRMAN: Repentance is sustained. (GAVEL) You may proceed.
SENATOR: Repentance is one thing; cooperation is another. Am I correct in assuming that you know of other artists who have made the same or similar assertions.
LAWYER 3: My client does, your honor. I mean, Senator.
SENATOR: Excellent. And can you tell us their names?
LAWYER 3: You honor, I mean Senator, in the interests of confidentiality, my client would prefer not to speak the names aloud but give them to you in written form.
SENATOR: Whatever. Let’s have them.
SCRATCHING OF PEN. FOLDING OF PAPER.
PASSING OF PAPER, UNFOLDING –
SENATOR: Wilson Pickett, Neil Young … this is not very helpful. Ah. Let the record show that the witness has given this committee the name of Steve Earle.
MELODRAMATIC MUSIC, RISES AND FADES
SCRAPING OF CHAIRS. COUGHS, ETC.
SENATOR: Mr Earle, I believe you are a country singer, is that correct? Or are you a rock and roller?
SENATOR: Mr Chairman?
CHAIRMAN: Mr Earle, let me remind you, you are required to answer.
SENATOR: Allow me to rephrase the question. Mr Earle, are you a rock and roller or are you a country singer?
EARLE: I stand on the First Amendment.
SENATOR: Big deal. Free speech! So speak up!
EARLE: Freedom of speech means the right to remain silent.
SENATOR: (sarcastic) So now you’re a lawyer?
EARLE: You said yourself, this is not a court of law. I am a citizen, representing myself, as I have always done, for better or worse.
SENATOR: Very well. Then let us proceed to the matter at hand. Clerk?
MUSIC: “Copperhead Road” in BG (MUSIC FADES)
SENATOR: One of the five or six great moonshining songs of all time, which makes the offense that much more—-what’s the word, Mr Chairman? Egregious?
CHAIRMAN: Egregious sustained. (GAVEL) Continue.
SENATOR: Copperhead Road, Copper Kettle—-was that a conscious reference to a classic, Mr Earle?
EARLE: Never thought about it. Kinda works that way, though, doesn’t it? (a beat) But who am I talking to?!? I will entertain no further questions.
SENATOR: You will entertain this one. Clerk?
MUSIC: “A hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line.” (MUSIC CLICKS OFF)
SENATOR: Thank you. Copper again! But it’s not the copper that interests this committee, it’s the yeast. A hundred pounds of yeast? Do you stand by that line, Mr Earle?
EARLE: I stand by the First Amendment to the US constitution.
SENATOR: Didn’t you mean a hundred pounds of sugar? No moonshiner would buy that much yeast.
EARLE: I stand by the First Amendment to the US constitution. What the fuck do you know, anyway? Did you ever make moonshine?
SENATOR: Certainly not. Nor did you, obviously. But that’s not the point. I am certainly not disputing your constitutional right to write a moonshining song. If only moonshiners wrote moonshining songs, we would be left with a pretty sorry set of songs, would we not?
SENATOR: But with rights come responsibilities. A decent modicum of accuracy being among them. Even in hillbilly tunes. Would you agree, Mr Earle?
EARLE: I believe I have made my position clear. I stand on the First Amendment.
SENATOR: Don’t make us call the bailiff. All you have to do is admit wrongdoing, and give us a couple of names.
EARLE: The first I might agree to, but the second, never. I not only affirm my constitutional right to remain silent, I affirm my human right to tell you to fuck off and leave me alone.
SENATOR: What about the derelictions in your work?
EARLE: I’ll deal with then in my own way. Not by cooperating in any way with this committeee, which is illegitimate, obtrusive, unconstitutional, and egregiously stupid.
SENATOR: Good for you.
CHAIRMAN: This whole hearing has been designed to identify and punish those artists who don’t take their work or their responsibilities seriously. A test, you might say. (GAVEL) You pass.
EARLE: What about the others? Your bailiff hauled them off to jail.
SENATOR: Actually it was to Appleby’s, for lunch.
EARLE: That’s their punishment?
SENATOR: We make them eat the clam strips. And the portions are huge.
EARLE: But what about McLean, the levee guy? He cooperated.
SENATOR: Unfortunately, as Senators, we found the whiskey business unforgivable. He was executed at ten o’clock this morning.
CHAIRMAN: It was supposed to be nine, but his mother lives in a different time zone.
EARLE: You let him call his mother?
SENATOR: Of course. We’re the good guys, remember?
EARLE: (sarcastically) How could I forget?
MUSIC UP AND OUT
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