BY MELLISH // His 12-year-old son being held as an accomplice
Look out — Anti-Folk hero Ed Hamell, AKA Hamell on Trial, the one-man punk band left detritus in his trail in Portland at the Wonderland Ballroom July 29th, in his foray across the country everywhere from our nation’s dysfunctional capital to small venues and house parties spreading the agnostic life-lived gospel.
Hamell cross-examines himself in the trial of his life every time he gets on stage. The stakes are high. He is at once judge, jury, defendant, and executioner.
And court reporter.
Hamell packs more lyrics in one song than most do in an album. Blink and you’ll miss it. Squint if you have to, in order to keep up with the rapid fire delivery.
Then the low end acoustic fever pitch screeches to a halt in the court room, Hamell holds forth:
“Of all my paintings [he’s also a traveling art gallery], Johnny Cash sells the most. Housewives, indie heads, metal, country, — ALL music fans like Cash. Of all his records, I’ve listened to Folsom Prison Blues the most. Now Nashville was very conservative in Cash’s day, and to do an album in a prison of hardened criminals stood out, and only the Man Black could get away with that.
I didn’t fully appreciate the songs he selected as a younger man. He gave the prisoners their humanity back for 90 minutes.
And when he sang “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die…” He didn’t shoot the guy out of self-defense. He wasn’t protecting a woman. He just didn’t like the way he looked. There are five guys in the back when Cash sings that lyric who yell out…”
Hamell tours with his 12-year-old son. Father and son will tell jokes from the stage, the former frequently. The latter delivers the best joke of the night in his solo turn at the mic:
A traveling salesman knocks on a door. A 12-year-old boy answers the door. He has a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and he’s wearing nothing but women’s underwear. The traveling salesman stops in his tracks. Then he gathers himself together and asks “Are your parents home?” The 12-year-old boy looks at him, and says “What do you think?”
Hamell breaks into another one – “Lie to your kids LIE! LIE! LIE! Are you going to tell your kids what you did when you were young?” “Daddy, did you ever do drugs?” [pause] “Why, no son, I never did drugs when I was your age.” “Lie to your kids LIE! LIE! LIE!”
Song ends. To the audience – “So, you know the notes to tune a guitar, EADGBE, well I learned them by remembering that it stood for Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually.
He breaks into another one where we’re all encouraged join him in a cathartic release of frustration and yell encounter group style “FUCK IT!” in the chorus. Right during this one a man and a woman I work with who are not known to be a couple walk in, unsure of what they have just gotten themselves into.
We see each other, they sit with me, looking around, trying to take it in.
The crowd yells out “FUCK IT!”
He’s strumming a mile a minute — it’d be hardcore if on an electric guitar.
My erstwhile colleagues made for the door.
Hamell sang “I looked out at the crowd and saw lust in their hearts and scars on their souls…”
In between songs bits of Hamell’s patter will stick with me days after…
“Never rule out the possibility of a miracle…“
“I’m like Nine Inch Nails, but don’t need machinery.”
“This one’s like going from a moped to a Harley.”
The transcript of Hamell on Trial revealed testimony under oath, evidence, and a preordained verdict that all in attendance would have voted … “Guilty” as charged.