Eat the rich: Tracy's Sept. 22 gig will be a live recording.
By Gabe Meline
Peter Tracy, a 58-year-old activist and songwriter with a rough voice and an easygoing manner of speaking, is talking about Vietnam. As a young man firmly against the Vietnam War, Tracy says that when he was drafted, he simply "didn't have enough conviction to just say no." He soon found himself miserably dragging his feet on the other side of the world. With little hope to live on, the despair almost destroyed him. He attempted to take his own life. By a fortunate fluke, he was found just in the nick of time and rescued.
"I was very lucky that I came out the other side," he says now, reflecting on his decision. "At the time, of course, it was a horrible thing to do. But actually, as I look at it now, having faced that at an early age, I guess there's not really much worse that can happen." Discharged back to the United States, Tracy entered a mental hospital where he was treated in the fashion of the day for suicide attempts: he was shot up with Thorazine.
Tracy has played music since he was 10, but it wasn't until he traveled to Boston with Veterans for Peace three years ago that he started writing his own songs, the newest of which will be performed Sept. 22 at the New College of California. His song titles alone--"I Want a President," "Right-Wing God"--offer a basic idea of Tracy's perspective as a fervent antiwar veteran, and his lyrics, far from the dopey, vague poetry that often passes for protest, bite back at specific societal corruptions. One of his recent compositions about misguided prioritization of values and red-baiting is entitled "Gay Marriage and Flagburners."
This weekend's performance is a stone aimed at two birds: the first is the recording of Eat the Rich, a live CD that will be released shortly thereafter if, Tracy says, "I don't screw up the songs." The second is to help pay medical bills for Mitchell Crane, a co-worker's son who was hit head-on in a motorcycle accident and is still recovering.
With a confident finger-picking style and a casual, almost spoken-word singing style, Tracy gives his song a comfortable spin--on the surface. Step inside the open blues tunings and contagious choruses, and it's not so cozy. This weekend, he'll be performing a song he wrote last month for a heated rally in Fulton defending undocumented workers, and another song dedicated to a local woman's struggle to help people get out of the Army through the legal means of separation.
"But hopefully there's a lot of humor in most of these songs," Tracy offers. "I don't want to beat people over the head with stuff they already know, and I try to look at serious political stuff with some humor, so it's not just ranting."
Tracy's first album, Speak Out, tilted toward this humor with the song "Gropin' Fuhrer Governator," which included the lines "See you later, Terminator / Time to terminate yourself." "Ignoranus" is one of his newer songs, profiling that special breed, "someone who's stupid and an asshole, too. Somebody with a huge truck or a Hummer with a flag on the back," Tracy notes. And who can resist "Cheney's Drinkin' Whiskey for Breakfast," a bluegrass song which Tracy admits, with a laugh, "is basically about Cheney getting drunk and shooting his buddy in the face"?
It's heartening to know that Tracy can still laugh even as he documents the world's problems in song, and more so that he has survived to enjoy a relatively normal life. For the last 25 years, he has worked at a county mental hospital, a job he brings a dose of compassion to from past experience as a patient. He is married with children and lives in Santa Rosa, and for 10 years he even attended a church. Recently, however, he's found himself at odds with its religious trajectory.
"They're kind of moving toward God," he says, "and I'm moving away."
Peter Tracy performs this Friday, Sept. 22, with David Woeller, Michael Drayton, Tim Salz, Robert Lunceford and Leslie Rolleri at the New College Of California. 99 Sixth St., Santa Rosa. 8pm. $15. 707.568.0112.