Look at the photo above. What do you see? Go on, stare (if you need a larger version, click here). If you can gaze at it for at least five seconds and make any kind of judgement about it, then congratulations! According to drummer Evan Stone that means you've done your minimum requirement of daily critical thinking. It also means he and his funky, psychedelic jazz-inspired outfit, The Translucent Ham Sandwich Band, have accomplished something that few local bands even try to do anymore: getting you to think at all about issues that affect our world. It's something of a dying art these days, especially if we look at music in our own backyard and how infrequently we see bands who would do something both crazy AND thoughtful–like pose for a photo depicting a good percentage of the world's problems with the satirical bite of a political cartoon.
In a lot of ways the photo simply depicts old problems kept alive through current events. Showcasing elements of the debate over child vaccines and freedom of choice, gun control, police brutality against blacks and protesters, tensions between Israel and Palestine (which appears to be more of a sexual tension in this photo), gambling with our national security…it's all stuff we've heard and seen before. But in terms of artists who put those types of discussions in their music, it's becoming more of a rarity, which was Stone's point when he decided to arrange the photo titled "The Ham Dinner" (a tongue-in-cheek play on the Last Supper).
Starting last month, this photo (currently used as a flier for all their shows) became Stone's message to the world and to anyone who goes to see his band perform. It appears to be simple: look deeper into what you're seeing when an artist gets on stage and look at what they stand for. Typically, that might be a hard thing to do with a band like THSB, ironically because there is so much to look at. Every show crams at least a half dozen members on stage, not counting whatever acrobats, belly dancers or side show freaks are joining them that night. For years they've been known as one of the most visually interesting and musically adept acts in OC. But, Stone says, the band are trying to show that the inspiration for their music is more than just surface level. And that is something artists are often afraid to do.
"I think the majority of artists shy away from [getting political] with their art because it's still seen as taboo…and I think that's bullshit," Stone says. "I think people should talk about that stuff more.. We can sing about love, we can sing about peace and sex and partying and that's cool, but I think maybe some of them would like to express themselves in other ways but they're not allowed to because they think they're gonna get criticized."
Perhaps Stone's biggest hope for this photo (outside of getting you to just look at the damn thing) is to be offended by at least some element of it. That, he says, is a true exercise in free speech–the power to offend and the right to be offended and speak out about it. And when you look at something that's trying as hard as this photo is to offend someone without going all X-rated on us, we see how underused those First Amendment rights are in the entertainment world.
Interestingly enough, one of Stone's true heroes of free speech, Tony Clifton, actually makes a cameo in this photo with his signature pink tux (for those of you born after 1980, he's a character Andy Kaufman/Bob Zmuda created on SNL in the late '70s).
"He represents free speech to me, he's gonna say and do whatever he wants and he's probably gonna offend some people, but that's what free speech is about, say something offensive."
Cheers to that. And even if this photo doesn't offend you at all (after all, if you read this infernal rag you probably have a pretty high tolerance for sacrilege), it's the fact of what it represents that should be appreciated. That and the fact that a band made you think about something other than money, sex, getting high or breaking up with your significant other…at least for five seconds. For Stone, his band's new photo all about trying to chip away at your apathy.
"Can you look at a picture like that and be completely indifferent and say oh nice picture?" Stone asks, "or are you gonna look at a picture like that and say 'that's a little fucked up?'"
Evan Stone and the Translucent Ham Sandwich Band perform at The Mint on August 31 in L.A. Show starts at 9:30. $6, 21+. For more info, click here.
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