WM3 - Benefit CD 2000
Article ID: 3035
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,519
Times Read: 11,825
Author: Peg Aloi [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: October 19th. 2000
Times Viewed: 11,825
October 19, 2000
This week marks the release of a benefit CD for the West Memphis Three from Aces & Eights Recordings and Koch Records. Those familiar with the plight of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. may recall that their tastes in music were one of the things that made people in their community view them with suspicion. In the Bible belt town of West Memphis, Arkansas, heavy metal music was considered the tool of the devil. The dark, intense music and often nihilistic lyrics of bands like Metallica and Megadeth were well-liked by the three teenagers in 1993. The black t-shirts sporting the band's names and logos made the three stand out among their peers, and were referred to by "occult expert" Dale Griffis (whose PhD is from a discredited mail-order university) as signifiers of satanic worship.
As the case has drawn more and more attention internationally, thanks to the award-winning documentary film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost and its sequel, Revelations), and to the activism of many who believe they are innocent, many musical artists have become outraged and have lent their voice to the cause. The website at www.wm3.org was featured in Revelations: Paradise Lost 2, which premiered on HBO this spring and is playing in major U.S,. cities this fall, and as a result many people have sought more information on this travesty of justice which has landed two innocent young men in prison for life, with one on Death Row and scheduled to die by lethal injection as early as May 5, 2001.
The Benefit CD features artists who have often spoken out about the cause, including Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (who sings with the Supersuckers), Tom Waits, Steve Earle, Rocket From the Crypt, The Clash's Joe Strummer singing with the Long Beach Dub Allstars, l7, Mark Lanegan and The Killing Joke (who reunited for this cause). The CD will be avilable in record stores beginning October 10, and you can also purchase it online at www.aces-eights.com.
I had the pleasure of talking with Supersuckers' lead singer Eddie Spaghetti, who is also one of the producers of the CD about his interest and involvement with the case.
Can you tell me how you got involved in producing the West Memphis Three benefit CD?
Basically it was through many other people and through the first movie that Bruce and Joe made (Paradise Lost). I rented that just out of my own less-than-noble interests in serial killers and the occult and that sort of thing. It looked like this big satanic murder story, but then I saw it and it was a real case with real people who have been railroaded, and I thought: "My God, this is horrible."
When you see this film, you think well, obviously, something has been done about it by now. So I didn't think about for a while. Then about a year later we were recording with Eddie Vedder, who is very active in the case, and we were talking about it, and I realized there was a need for more activity. Then I talked to Danny (Bland, the Supersuckers' manager) about it and together we came up with the idea of a CD.
Metallica donated their songs to the first and second documentaries. What are your feelings about why they are not involved in this CD?
I think it was just legal issues, they felt like they should not do it. I am kind of speaking on their behalf, so keep that in mind, but from what I understand, they had already done quite bit for the case. They did not want this hanging around them as their personal cause after this many years. But of course they are still very supportive of the West Memphis Three, and and they did wish us the best with the CD project.
How do you see this issue as something musicians and music fans should get behind?
I think it speaks to musicians and artists in general, people who are accustomed to belong on the outside of what is perceived as normal. They can identify with the way these kids are fans of different music, different books, they like to look a different way from everyone else. That's what got them in trouble. That was a big part of their indictment, the music they listened to. Of course that may be simplifying it, there were many more reasons this happened. But it was because they were different.
That is why musicians do what they do, you aren't the most popular kid in high school, say, and you find solace in your electric guitar in your bedroom, or your pen and paper, however you find that, you feel like you're got be vindicated. Like you matter.
I understand your mother practices Wicca?
She does, and this has been a part of my upbringing for as long as I can remember, her ongoing interest in the occult. I think it was not so much to be a witch specifically, but because she has always been searching for something other than your standard religion, searching for other things.
She has always inspired me to think outside the lines. I think that is what Damien was doing, and his search eventually led him to Buddhism. That did not happen with my mom. She's been trying to find people to form a coven in Arkansas where she lives and it is tough. She has two and needs a third. She got my dad to stand in as this surrogate little Igor type guy (laughs).
A lot of people get into this stuff because it's cool or weird or different, and I would be remiss is saying that was not part of it.
I heard from someone who interviewed you recently (one of my editors at the Boston Phoenix) that you have a great story about what happened at your house when the Jehovah's Witnesses came calling?
I think that was when I realized my mom was one of the coolest people on the planet. We were living in Tucson and the Jehovah's Witnesses kept coming around all the time. I did not know much about them, we were not raised in any sort of religion.
We went to the mall one day and my mom had us get these red tee shirts with felt letters ironed on, with 666 on the sleeves. I was like, "Whatever, Mom."
A few days later the Jehovah's Witnesses came to the door, and she said, "Hurry, go put on your shirt!" And she put hers on.
The look on their face was completely priceless, you could never imagine it, I wish I'd had a camera. They fumbled through their words and they left and we never saw them again.
How old were you?
I was in about 4th grade, about ten or so, probably around 1976. I just looked at my mom like oh wow, mom, that was cool.
I ended up wearing the shirt to school the next day and I got sent home and my mom was pissed.
So did your mother basically find witchcraft because of the whole occult revival stuff on the 1970s?
She had me in the late '60s and she was home a lot,so she read a lot. I think the hippie thing started her out and it turned into wicca and occult beliefs. She has a love of horror movies, too and actually that led her to really research why this sort of lore exists and where it comes from. She actually taught a community college class on the history of Dracula and vampires, for a year or two in Tucson.
Is she aware of the West Memphis Three case?
She does support it and is interested in their case. She lives in Arkansas and lives up north of there, and she is frustrated by the general mentality of the place.
It is beautiful place to live, I don't want to denigrate Arkansas. I think it is backwards because it is so full of these little rural communities; if it had happened somewhere else it would never have been this bad.
The crime that occurred is horrible; it's a horrible, horrible thing. Obviously a crime has been committed and that can't be forgotten. But the evidence just doesnt show that these guys are guilty.
My wife and I and Danny (Bland) went down there to visit these guys and my mom was so supportive of that, she was impressed that we went to visit and that opened her eyes to the importance of it.
What do you think about the fact that something like this could happen in this day and age in America?
It is surprising to me. I think in this case, of course, everybody wants a case to be closed, they want the murder solved, they want to incarcerate the culprit, and leave their doors unlocked at night, that is understandable.
But in these small communities where they have their eye on someone who is different and they get the opportunity to use this person as a scapegoat, they take it.
A mob mentality will seize up on them, and I feel it is just nature, unfortunately. A person is smart but people are stupid, there was a satanic panic of a sort, because these three did not reflect the Christian value system. They out and out rejected it, in fact, and I think people are scared of that because they don't know anything about it.
You mean Wicca specifically?
Wicca, the occult, or even heavy metal music, because the albums have scary pictures and the bands write these scary songs.
People don't realize it is just escapist art, they think we're out there slaughtering goats and bathing in the blood of the lamb.
Why do you think there is this perpetuation of stereotypes of this sort?
That is a huge hurdle that society in general has yet to leap over. And every time a civil rights action happens, or someone is vindicated, it seems like four more people pop up who are unjustly accused or-- (at this moment a smoke alarm goes off in Eddie's house) God, it's the smoke alarm.
Gee, I wonder what sort of sign that is...
Yeah, how appropriate! (He calls to his wife) Want me to get that, honey?
(You can hear her say faintly "I can't reach it!")
Can you hold on a second?
(I assent and he goes to deal with the smoke alarm. I am reminded of the fire that occurred in my apartment back when it was Fritz and Wren's apartment; if Wren hadn't changed the smoke alarm batteries only days earlier....Eddie comes back.) Crisis averted!
( I remind to change the batteries often and briefly explain I "lived through" a fire that could have been worse if the batteries hadn't been attended to. He agrees and says this is a good time to do it.)
So tell me about your personal contact with the West Memphis Three.
I have met Damien and Jason but not Jessie. I was pretty scared and apprehensive about going to Death Row. It was a daunting task, we were gonna go in and spend four hours with Damien Echols who had been accused of murder, etc. Then I found myself in there and the time flew by. I felt very at ease and very comfortable.
It was the same with Jason. They both transcend their environment, they have found ways to live and grow in healthy ways through spiritual pursuits and studying. Jason is on the dean's list at the college is is taking classes from, but unfortunately his name cannot appear on it because he is incarcerated. We had fun, we laughed, we joked around. It is weird to say "I went to death row and we had fun," but that is how it happened.
Do you have anything else you want to say about the case itself?
I had no real opinion on the death penalty when I first got involved with it. But now that I know Damien I am very much against it. They are going to use state money, my money, to kill Damien, and I can't accept that.
The footnote to that would be, don't vote for any candidate that supports the death penalty.
What did you think of Revelations?
The follow up film is incredible. The first one seems to paint a very honest picture, but there was no slant, just an honest portrayal of what happened. Then in the second one, they did not necessarily try to have a slant, but John Mark Byers comes forward and screams out "Hey, look at me!" Our mission is not to point fingers at who may have done it, it is just to get these kids out of prison, but if anyone sees this second movie who still thinks they are guilty, I would want to hear them explain that...
Hard as it is to believe, there actually are a fair number of people who have seen these films who still think they did it. Why do you think that is?
They think the American judicial system is flawless. They think because O.J. Simpson ran 200 yards in one game he is incapable of any wrongdoing. I mean, he's still out, and they're still in.
Location: Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
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