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Singing Truth to BP and the government commissars

Monday, July 12, 2010. At a town hall open mic hosted by the Presidential Oil Spill Commission, Drew Landry, an unemployed Cajun crawfisherman, whipped out his guitar and sang to the omnipotent administrators. They shifted uneasily in their seats, knowing they're supposed to appear receptive and appreciative. They are placed in the unlikely situation of having to listen to an extended bit of straight-from-the-heart eloquence, of plainspoken home truths, rather than hogging the limelight with their usual protocols and platitudes.

Landry sings about living close to the land and water, a simple, hardscrabble existence that was already in jeopardy, even before Hurricane Katrina, but has seemingly been administered a death blow by the current spill. He and his neighbors in southwest Louisiana work the crawfish holes or the oil fields, pick floating cypress logs out of the bayou, do the odd construction job, hunt and trap. The recent calamity, coming after years of wetlands deforestation, has been devastating to their way of life. He expresses their hardship in this song.

The lyrics:

Grew up on the southern shore
Louisiana now there ain't no more
Kicking mud off up a crawfish hole
Barefooted with a fishing pole

Make a living with my own two hands
Hell it's part of being who I am
Went to working in the oil fields
That's the only way to pay our bills

And if I'm lucky I can have a son
Take him hunting like his daddy done
Get him working on a shrimping boat
Up and down the Gulf of Mexico

Eleven dead out on a deep sea rig
Doing what it is they had to live
Oil bleeding from a gaping hole
Up and down the Gulf of Mexico

Morgan City down to Mobile Bay
Pascagoula down to FLA
Still I'm stuck out here for 7 more
Watching everything turn black offshore

And brother even if they cap the well
Hell it's just another oil spill
Our way of life won't be around no more
And all I wanted was to go back home

Little brother he ain't feeling well
What you spraying on that oil spill
How many of us gonna lose our lives
Before the people get to work on time

Kicking mud up off a crawfish hole
Barefooted with a fishing pole
Going back into the oil fields
That's the only way to pay our bills.

The song is well worth a listen. But Landry's keen spoken observations - on how the spill has impacted on the "little people" (as per BP), how resources are being squandered on an army of outside contractors, how there is no protection from the upcoming hurricane season with all the oil and chemicals floating offshore - are just about essential.

"I still don't have a job. I just wanted to clean up the spill. And there's millions of volunteers that want to do something, that are willing to work for almost nothing. Instead we're hiring all these contractors and wasting our $20 billion.

"We definitely need other solutions. Going green, whatever it takes. All of our people are out of work right now, and we don't have any fisheries. We got nothin'. We don't want to be a welfare state. There's no point in that. There are hard working people.

"We're not ready for hurricane season. There's a Gulf full of oil. And we're sitting here worrying about this right now when we need to be giving people Hazmat training so they can defend their homeland, so they're not going to be kicked out forever. This could be the next expulsion of the Cajun people, people who love this place.

"It feels that BP is in control of this deal and the Coast Guard does what they want. The press can't be around. But more importantly, the people don't have a voice. They're upset.

"It just sucks. Let's just do the right damn thing. It shouldn't be this hard. It shouldn't take a committee to listen to people."

Several times he interjects, "I know y'all all care. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care." But looking at the practiced poker faces of these career plutocrats, the institutional and class connections between BP and DC seem all too cozy.

Landry is the subject of a documentary film, Last Man Standing: The Drew Landry Story. This synopsis is taken from the film's website:

Eight years ago, Drew Landry had scarcely picked up a guitar, but the truth and authenticity of his songs are generations old. Born into the heart of Southwest Louisiana’s Cajun Country, Landry was raised amid the pressures of poverty, divorce, child abuse, illness, and a culture vanishing before his eyes. Through it all he has stubbornly persisted, using his hard-hitting past and deep-rooted culture as fuel for his poignant lyricism.

Through an intimate, cinema verite style, Last Man Standing chronicles three years of Landry’s life as he struggles to follow his “calling” in the wake of family pressures, failed business ventures and the unexpected tragedy of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Though he claims “he’s just telling his stories,” it’s clear that his songs offer a therapeutic voice to one of the most historically disenfranchised parts of the American landscape.

The entire film can be viewed, in ten parts, on the site. Here's Part I:

Drew Landry interview

In the aftermath of singing his "BP Blues" to the Presidential Commission on the Gulf Oil Spill - just three days ago - Drew Landry has been thrust into the public eye.

Here are some excerpted remarks from an interview conducted by phone and published in

On public reaction to his testimony:

It's definitely not about me or this song, it's about the fact that I spent two months with these people and that's how I was inspired to write this song. I've charted in Europe, I've played Jazzfest, I know music will always be part of my life. Whether or not it takes off because of this doesn't matter. The point is there's bigger issues. The people of Louisiana really do not have a voice because the oil companies wrote the laws that basically govern oil spills, so they're in control of the government.

On the divide between those reading about the catastrophe and those suffering through it:

The thing is, it doesn't have to be that way between environmentalists and oil field workers. They don't realize people in the oil fields hunt and fish as much as anybody. And a lot of them grew up hunting and fishing and they want there to be an environment. Four years ago they said we have ten years left to put a billion bucks in and save the wetlands. You've got six years left and if we lose our wetlands it's over regardless of oil. So if we can figure out a way to divert some of that money to saving our wetlands then we might have something for our kids, but if not we're just going to give it to all these people from different places and it will be gone...

When somebody talks to you about the oil leak you just go crazy because there's so many different parts of our ecosystem ... that are going to potentially fall apart. I want to tell the story from day one, of sitting in the gym and listening to what happened to the fishermen, what's happened and what can we do to make this different. I really think that without being just honest about what's happened so far and what's going on that we're not going to deal with this properly.

On lies in the mainstream media:

You know every time they do a press conference like the first one was there's no plumes — come on, dude. It's just some Bush era crap, you know?

On people second guessing his motives:

People that don't know the whole story could think the guy just went down there to get his song out. But I don't even have the thing copywrited. It's not for sale. You can't listen to everyone trying to bring you down if at the end of the day the truth can be known.