By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Brother Mark Treehouse And The Dylanger Four
"Masters Of War" Single
Heart Of A Champion/Treehouse Records
The picture windows of Treehouse Records in south Minneapolis have long served as beacons for musicheads in search of new sounds. Artwork for indie rock, punk, classic songwriters, and all stripes of local music cry out to any and all traversing the intersection of 26th Street and Lyndale Avenue South. And these days, tucked between placards trumpeting the likes of TVBC, Tom Waits, and R.E.M., passersby get a load of signs that urge, "Say No to War with Iraq," "Fight for Your Future--Vote Nov. 2," and a promotional display for Steve Earle's The Revolution Starts... Now.
But these days being what these days be, hanging posters in a storefront isn't enough for Treehouse owner Mark Trehus. In what he now describes as a "true High Fidelity moment" between him and Treehouse manager Dan Cote, Trehus decided to record a new version of Bob Dylan's 1963 antiwar brooder, "Masters of War." Cote suggested Trehus sing it while being backed by Minneapolis punks Dillinger Four, with an additional version from Minneapolis hip-hop heroes Atmosphere. No sooner had the Trehus-Cote "pipe dream" been dreamed than all parties were contacted and a CD single was born.
"I'm just an asshole standing behind a counter at a record store, but I got sick and tired of bitching and moaning and not doing anything," says Trehus. "When we first talked about it, the ships were heading to Iraq, and I just couldn't believe it. Something like 80 percent of the country was in favor of it, but I knew it was wrong, and I just had to do one small thing to stand up and say what I felt.
"I've loved that song since I heard it when I was 14, and Dylan is my favorite songwriter, and it just all fell into place. And, sad to say, the lyrics are just as relevant today as they were 30 years ago."
On a purely aesthetic front, the "Masters of War" single is an inspired collaboration: Minnesota's most famous folk-rock bard being reinvented by a lifelong music nut whose previous singing experience was relegated to the shower ("I promise--it's the first and last time I'll sing on a record," cracks Trehus), accompanied by the most important Minneapolis-bred punk and hip-hop groups of their day (plus backing vocals from the likes of Curtiss A), all brought together by a war and government they oppose.
"When I see a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker, I take it personally. I feel like they're flipping me off," says Trehus, whose vocals on the single rage with the sort of classic punk desperation that the moment demands. "It's a constant battle, because I need to maintain my sanity and my serenity in this world, and not get consumed by hatred for the forces of evil and still live my own life. But that balancing line is really hard for somebody that's as impassioned as I am about this cause."
The single is being jointly released by Heart of a Champion and Treehouse Records, the independent labels run respectively by Cote and Trehus. Proceeds from all sales of the CD will go to an Iraqi humanitarian relief fund. The duo has pressed up 3,000 copies, half of which have already been sold. They plan on getting copies to Radio K and KFAI, but have no illusions about widespread radio play. Even still, mission accomplished: Their goal was to release the single by Election Day, and it's fortunate that it hits stores today (Wednesday), since Trehus plans on being extremely busy next Tuesday.
"I'm getting up on Election Day and working for ACT (Americans Coming Together)," says Trehus, who appears as "Brother Mark Treehouse" on the single. (Likewise, Dillinger Four are credited as "the Dylanger Four".) "I'll be working in some areas of the city that are historically low voter turnout, driving people to the polling places and getting them back home. I've been sick, I've got a virus, but I'm getting up at 7:30 and I'll be gnawing on the ginseng all day and working until the polls close.
"This project has been very cathartic for me. It's let me vent, it's let me use the money for a good cause, and I can at least say, 'Okay, you didn't just sit back on your ass and fume and bitch.' That's why I'm urging everybody I know to get out there on Election Day and work for ACT, and if the son of a bitch wins again, at least you can say, 'Well, at least I did a little bit. I didn't just preach to the converted. I tried to get out there and do some good work.'"
Or, as the liner notes to the "Masters of War" CD single conclude, "DON'T JUST SIT THERE, DO SOMETHING. THE REVOLUTION STARTS NOW, MOTHERFUCKERS."