Arrington de Dionyso’s This Saxophone Kills Fascists tour
Perhaps the most iconic images of folksinger Woody Guthrie are from the early 1940s, showing the celebrated Dust Bowl balladeer with a hand-painted message on his guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”
Avant-garde musician, visual artist, and all-around visionary Arrington de Dionyso doesn’t sound anything like Guthrie. But he’s channeling the spirit of the Okie bard for the current tour he’s dubbed “This Saxophone Kills Fascists.” And he’s bringing his show to New Mexico, including a Monday, March 13, performance at Fresh Santa Fe.
What kind of music does this Olympia, Washington, musician play? In a recent phone interview, de Dionyso told me he’ll be doing “protest music.” But it’s not going to sound like the music of Joan Baez or Pete Seeger or even Rage Against the Machine. Singing words that tell stories of injustice and strife in a linear, logical manner, de Dionyso said, is inadequate in a new era in which “the whole idea of objective truth can be manipulated.” Instead, he said the best way to counter this is “when you get into raw emotion connected to a spiritual place.”
He said his music on this tour is inspired by the “free jazz” movement — think Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman — of the late 1960s. It was a wild style of expressive discordant jazz that rose with the Black Liberation movement, a music that de Dionyso said became more focused on “politics and deep spiritual experiences. I’m finding that this is the most appropriate form of protest music,” he said. It’s his way to “confront the current fascist regime.”
On a personal level, part of what sparked “This Saxophone Kills Fascists” was de Dionyso’s own brush with followers of what is euphemistically known these days as the “alt-right,” which sounds so much more hip than an unpleasant label like “white nationalists.” Late last year he was “implicated” in the so-called Pizzagate scandal because one of his murals had been on display at Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. — which, according to the conspiracy clowns, is the epicenter of a child sex ring involving some of the most powerful people in the nation’s capital. Even though that mural has long been painted over, the frothing conspiracy faithful claimed that de Dionyso’s colorful primitive art — inspired by dreams and mythology, and bursting with sexual energy — is full of symbols of pedophilia and Satanism. Some accused him of making “degenerate art” — a term the artist noted was used by the Nazi Party in Germany in its fight against modern art in the 1930s.
“Pizzagate was a huge trigger for me,” he said. Some of the Pizzagate crusaders not only smeared him as a devil-worshipping pervert, but they also posted information about his family and pictures of his friends and in general did their best to make his life miserable.
At the height of that craziness late last year, de Dionyso posted on Facebook: “I know none of this is about me personally in even the slightest. Right now there are lines being drawn. There is a war being waged against EVERY form of free expression and I think you all know exactly what side of that line I will be standing on. Will you stand with me?”
Born in 1975 to parents who were both Methodist military chaplains, de Dionyso said his was a “100 percent non-musical” family. But it wasn’t an art-free family. His mother, he said, loved to paint and had a “folk-art style” that inspired him. Starting at the age of three or four, he began drawing pictures of dinosaurs, dragons, and wild animals his mom painted.
For de Dionyso, music came later. Beginning in junior high, when his parents moved to Spokane, he became interested in non-Western music from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. “I wanted to hear everything,” he said, which included traditional Japanese sounds, Indonesian gamelan music, and the Master Musicians of Joujouka from Morocco (who were “discovered” decades earlier by Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones). Of course, most kids his age didn’t share this musical passion. But he found a musical community in the hardcore punk rock scene. Mosh pits seemed like an ecstatic tribal ritual to him.
After moving to Olympia in the early ’90s to attend Evergreen State College, he started a band called Old Time Relijun, which began releasing its music — frequently compared with Captain Beefheart, but less bluesy — on homemade cassette tapes. This group later released nine albums on the Olympiabased-label K Records, which was a leading light back when “alternative” rock truly was alternative. Old Time Relijun lasted well into the 21st century. But de Dionyso took a different turn in 2009, releasing an album called Malaikat dan Singa (later the name of his backing band), on which he sang, in the Indonesian language, songs inspired by William Blake and the Zohar.
On his current tour he’ll be playing sax, bass clarinet, and an instrument of his own creation, the bromiophone, a contrabass clarinet made from PVC pipes. At most of his gigs he’ll be collaborating with local musicians. “I’ll have a drummer and maybe another saxophone player in Santa Fe,” he said.
“We have to change ourselves as artists and musicians. We have no choice. It’s a fascist takeover. But there are more of us than there are of them. We need to stop all the infighting as much as possible. All our energy needs to be put to stopping this regime,” he said.
See Arrington de Dionyso 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, in Albuquerque at CFA Downtown Studio (113 4th St., NW; $5 suggested donation); 4 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at Ennui Gallery in Taos (134 Bent St.; $5-$10 suggested donation), and 7 p.m. Monday, March 13, at Fresh Santa Fe (2855-A Cooks Road; $10).
You can find tons of de Dionyso’s music at www .arrington.bandcamp.com. Also, check his visual art at www.arringtondedionyso.bigcartel.com.