Ember Swift: Swift Boat to Paradise

The more I learn about food, the less I want to eat
The more I learn about water, the less I want to drink
The more I learn about people, the fewer I want to meet
The more I learn, the less I want to think.

Having just seen the Enron movie, I find a special resonance in the last line of this stanza from Ember Swift’s song “Witness” off The Dirty Pulse, the Canadian singer/ songstress’s ninth and latest release on her own Few’ll Ignite Sound label.

“There are mighty few people who think what they think they think,” painter Robert Henri once said.

Ember Swift is definitely one of them. Her beliefs unfurl like flags, draped in a deft musicality that encompasses soil, water, fire, air, and space in every measure. A long-time activist, as much glamour goofball punk as justice poet, she has no compunction calling a spade a spade, or a corporation a corporation, but does so less these days with a burning spear than an effulgent olive branch.

In person, she has that type of open channel laser beam aura I remember emanating from Sinead O’Connor the couple times I was fortunate enough to catch her in concert. A clean presence that power-washes an audience like a blue waterfall in a green forest.

The last time Swift performed in Fairfield, she and longtime co-creator Lyndell Montgomery captivated the packed house at Morningstar Studio. Their musical sync was intimacy itself, the kind of rapport based on deep ease, golden ears, gift-wrapped talent, and years of transcendent interplay. Incite-ful compositions streamed out and enticed even through the nooks and crannies of compounding P.A. travails.

Understand this: when you’re in performance mode, aural squeaks and kronks feel like some kind of aggravated assault, literally like a slap in the face, like something’s accosting the sacred space that descends and ascends once the muse has been invoked.

I once saw Cyndi Lauper in a New Jersey club years ago when she was still in a regional rockabilly band called Blue Angel. When her vocal monitors faltered, she went completely ape-shiatsu. (Pardon my saucy talk.) Thing is, if you can’t hear yourself properly on stage, it’s impossible to get subtle and can even hurt your vocal chords.

First she made faces, signaled to the soundman to make it better, made worse faces, pointed fingers at the speakers, all the while singing hiccups and yelps a la Buddy Holly in one of those cute as kittens-in-mittens’ poodle skirts with crinoline frills and a little leash on the front. Nothing helped. Her eyes became dark red clouds flashing yellow lightning till finally in complete frustration she kicked the damn things over. It was pure Mother Divine in all her glorious expressions.

I catch Ember’s sound-check in Fairfield. Listening intently, she pinpoints exact frequencies, tweaking everything just so to maximize the resonance in the room. Her and multi-instrumentalist Montgomery’s professionalism is immaculate. This is a woman who knows her ____. (Insert presidential expletive here. You may use Nixon inserts if you prefer. For a Quaker, he had one salty-dog sailor tongue in private.)

During the show, when funny things start to happen to the P.A., she handles the annoyance with décor, humor, and aplomb—even showing restraint when directly challenged in front of the audience by a soundman who simply refuses to do what she asks. She tries a few times, gets nowhere, glances at Montgomery in semi-exasperation, then lets go, makes do, and does fine. How people react to walls reveals a lot about character.

In a world that has come to need human shields in olive fields
In a world that has come to need advocacy for honesty
In a world that has to come to see reality on the TV
In a world that has long forgotten that good food is the greatest medication
What can be done to be free us of this affluence disease?

—“Affluence Disease”

I like Swift’s new release a lot. Her political patois is tempered with such joyful overtones, the record seems more like flowers singing in a wild garden than pomp brimstoning choirboys. You know the old dictum: a spoonful of sugar (not aspartame, but pure unprocessed cane, thank you) helps the medicine go down.

Dirty Pulse is sweet, conscious fun, Self-conscious in the largest sense, a celebration for open-minded, politically alert, and sustainable living souls with happy feet. Like her approach to life itself, it combines calls to action with acceptance of differences and the loving embrace of humanity and community.

Ember will be performing at Abundance EcoVillage in Fairfield on Saturday, August 19, 2006, at 8 p.m. (641) 472-0444.


Two parting shots: Goodbye, Syd Barret and your madcap laughter at the gates of dawn. “Interstellar Overdrive” is one of my favorite pieces of music of all time, right up there with Beethoven’s Pathetique. You put the “P” in Pink Floyd even if you checked out long before the band hit “Money” on the “Dark Side of Moon.” I guess you were already there for all intents and purposes. Anyway, bon voyage and don’t forget to write.

As for you, Ken Lay, may your soul arrest in pieces. Even if your lawyers get your name cleared because your mortal coil gave out before you were sentenced to making license plates the rest of your life, your company’s crooked “E” logo will always symbolize hubris, greed, and corporate machismo of the vilest sort.

Here’s a message to all those executives tucked neatly inside gated villages with heavenly golf courses living high off the hog from mining loopholes, back-drafting stock options, and greasing government connections to plunder the commonwealth: democracy is one person, one vote—not one dollar, one vote. Free markets do not equal democracy any more than “executive” privilege equals America.

Good riddance, Frito Bandito. I wonder if they have loopholes in the afterlife?