GAS CD TOUR with the Rheostatics, members of the Barenaked Ladies, Ron SexSmith, Ron Hawkins and others at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Thursday (April 25), films at 8 pm, music at 9. $15. (416) 323-1251. Rating: NNNNN
The sound of anti-war protestors at the Washington Monument in DC this past weekend ebbs and swells behind Chris Brown's voice as he explains the story of the GAS CD and concert series. This time last year he was in the streets of Quebec City protesting the gathering of world leaders to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.
It was the clash of police and protestors and the resulting arrests that inspired him to gather artists together for the project to raise both awareness about social justice issues and money for the activists who will stand trial next month.
"I realized almost immediately that I wanted to do something," he says.
The concept for the GAS CD, which stands for Governments Accountable to Society and Citizens = Democracy, didn't take long to ferment. Brown and his life/musical partner, Kate Fenner, knew almost immediately they wanted to do something.
But a lot's changed since last April. There's a war in Afghanistan that's threatening to expand, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is as bad as it's ever been, and U.S. president George W. Bush has made it clear that there's no middle ground between supporting him and supporting terrorists.
This new climate threatens to steal momentum from the anti-globalization movement, but Brown isn't worried that the GAS CD will drown in a sea of jingoism.
"I'm looking at 8,000 people on one side of the Washington Monument and maybe 15,000 on the other," says Brown over a crackling cell phone while protestors in the background chant slogans against the International Monetary Fund.
"In New York at the World Economic Summit, there were 20,000 people gathered.
"When a huge tragedy occurs, it obviously quiets you, but when you see how capitalism takes advantage of tragedy you realize that you have no time. As Jaggi (Singh, a prominent activist) says, "You have to be a hawk for peace.'"
The album bills artists like the Tragically Hip and the Barenaked Ladies alongside Gill Scott-Heron and Propagandhi, and the mix of the corporate and independent, the mainstream and political, is no coincidence.
"One of the goals is to be really inclusive. These issues have to be mainstream. People will come up to me after a show and say, "I didn't know the Barenakeds got political.' They don't realize that the Barenaked Ladies were among the first people to call and want to be a part of it."
Brown says there are enough interested artists to put out another project, but that one might have to wait.
"To get anything done in this world is something, let alone dealing with 40-odd artists, the music industry and people's miseducation. I work at it day to day. When I can write a cheque to Quebec legal or hear that activists have been able to sell 600 albums themselves, I hope it's another drop in the bucket of galvanizing people."
Brown says the show at the Phoenix will be as much about music as politics.
"I don't distinguish between a political song and a romantic song. The will to create is a larger impulse, which is love. Art continues to do that so well, in such simple and subtle ways."