Ralph Stanley for President

the politics of music revealed.

Franklin Bruno posted an image by Mecca Normal‘s David Lester back in March that, for me, maps out the deep politics of culture. Or maybe the better way of saying it is that it maps out the deep culture of politics.


Here, politics are “not obvious.” Instead, they are something at once more humble and more profound: they are all about self-expression, the heavens, and the individual in relation to the rest of the world. They are about one person “getting” another person and conveying that communication on paper. They are about a clawhammer style half-mastered, a shadow of blue or gray sketched just right, a hopeful clang of strings, a person sitting in front of another person, the brushing of a banjo, a painting acknowledging the passage of sound.

Politics become about instruments passed across the generations through mass production and consumption, yet reclaimed; instruments turned anti-instrumental. They are about things and sounds and images translated back and forth from bodies to feelings to representations — a circle broken and fixed again, a circle unbroken. They are all very quiet and hushed — “not obvious” — and then you look and the brushed hand begins to roll into a pulsation.

David Lester’s note to Franklin Bruno on the painting:

“The politics are not obvious” is a painting I did that a banjo player bought after seeing it displayed when Mecca Normal played a barber shop in Olympia and a bookshop in Seattle during a west coast tour in 2004. The man later sent me a cassette of his banjo playing. He recorded just this one copy to send to me. This was art. This was political.

Image: David Lester

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