“There are people in other countries who literally would give their left arm to be able to vote. We have that right and we take it for granted,” Park said from his office.
Seems like a pretty good time for another Plea for Peace, doesn’t it?
Coming off a month of April that was the deadliest 30 days since the war in Iraq began last spring, and with the greater part of the country resolved to get all the White House locks changed right before throwing George Dubya’s clothes, bed slippers, pooches, and beer helmets out onto the front lawn behind the wraught-iron fence along Pennsylvania Avenue, there’s a greater urgency for the fighting to end with each passing day and each lost life.
Mike Park, founder of Asian Man Records, the Monte Sereno, California, independent record label that spawned the careers of the Alkaline Trio, Lawrence Arms, and St. Louis ska wizards MU330, among others, said that this tour of his design—now in its third year, after a year off in 2003—has taken on more importance as a circumstance of it being an election year. At each of the 40 shows, a table will be set up to register new voters, bringing some inexperience to the polling booths that nearly half of all eligible voters didn’t see during the last election.
“There are people in other countries who literally would give their left arm to be able to vote. We have that right and we take it for granted,” Park said from his office. “I remember the first time I voted. Everyone was telling me, ‘Now you’re going to get jury duty.’ It was nice to wear the “I voted’ sticker, to put it on my shirt.
“I was always Green Party, but now I’m a Democrat. I’m still, today, always trying to learn more. I used to be friends with a lot of anarchists.”
The tour, featuring Cursive, Denali, and Park doing a solo set every night, will maintain an unbiased political bent and is facilitated by the Plea for Peace Foundation, a nonprofit organization that also picks up the tab for benefit CDs that complement the tour. Each year, the tour yields hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cause.
“I didn’t do one last year because I helped with the Take Action tour [co-organized by Sub City/Hopeless Records]. It was something that didn’t feel right to me. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything. I felt like I should be at home, helping at the homeless shelter or something,” he said. “I wanted to run a tour where the musicians played the martyr role, taking a pay cut. For myself, that’s how I envision it. I’ve never taken a penny for any of these tours.”
Park can’t say enough good things about Saddle Creekers Cursive, the fuzz wavers from Omaha. They committed to the tour early (six months ago, in November) and they’re an example of a band doing the dates for the right reason. They’re also taking a 25-percent slice in their nightly take from the sum they’d normally pull.
“It always seemed like more headaches [getting bands to sign on’ than it was worth. It makes you want to give up on music—at least the business part of it,” Park said. When Cursive agreed to do the tour, “it was a lot easier because a lot of bands would love to have the opportunity to play with Cursive.”
If there’s anyone who’s more authorized to be a spokesman for the power of one, let that person come forth and challenge the 34-year-old Park to a best-of-three arm wrestle. He’s got the forearms, the quick-wrist pivoting, and the resume to retain his belt in the face of every attempted admonishment. The Plea for Peace venture alone gives him a leg up, but you’d have to factor in the dedication he gives to the 50 bands on his label, with only the help of two employees: his mother and busy office girl Miya. They all still work out of his parents’ garage, which has been the first home to all of the 500,000 Asian Man records that have been sold in the label’s eight years of existence. Oh, and he was a member of two of the most influential ska bands of all-time (Skankin’ Pickle and The Bruce Lee Band) before setting out as a solo artist with this year’s comforting For the Love of Music.
“ I do feel like the kids that get it really respect what we do. It’s neat to get that kind of recognition,” Park said. “We’re not on the cover of Rolling Stone saying what we’re about. It’s mostly been word-of-mouth. And I think that’s the best way to do it; it’s great. I can’t imagine being promoted through extreme measures of media.
“There have been times [with the label] when it’s been tough. I just have good communication. I let the bands know what my limitations are. I’m not in this for notoriety or capitalist gain. We’re an outlet to put out your record. I’m really happy with the way things are and how they’re going to continue to go. What else can you ask for? It’s looking for more and wanting more when you run into trouble. If someone were to throw a million dollars down my throat and say, ‘We want you to sign a solo contract with RCA’ or whatever the big label is, I’m sure I’d listen, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
He’s been known to be pretty friendly with St. Louis acts (the MU and Dan Potthast). Just a fluke, says the man. “It’s nothing different than with other bands I’ve signed. I became friends of the band. I’ve gone to their weddings. I’ve been to that airport many times, but it’s just coincidental. They could have been from Minneapolis.”
Park concedes that an effort to retain peace may be futile, but not trying to speed the process would only make him part of the problem. “We prey on violence. When we see a fight, crowds always gather,” he explained. “We have such issues with anger. There are no smiles in the neighborhoods. It’s all about holding your turf. It’s not cool to be cool. You’ve got to be tough.”
Park related an altercation he and his Skankin’ Pickle bandmates witnessed years ago outside a venue in Ames, Iowa, where he saw destructive human nature at its worst.
“We were loading out of a club and we saw 10 individuals jump two other people. It was right out of Cops,” Park said. “It just happened right in front of our van. We were scared. You can see how people get that anger to kill.”
I think we can all agree a plea for peace would be breath well spent.