The Real Black Flag

SINCE THE RELEASE of their triple-platinum album Tubthumping, Chumbawamba have taken enough shots in the media to make the first lines of their hit single--"I got knocked down/Then I get up again"--seem prophetic.

Dunstan Bruce (vocals and percussion) was arrested in Italy for wearing a dress. Alice Nutter (vocals and percussion) was chided on Politically Incorrect for making the apparently astounding observation that shoplifting CDs isn't nearly as criminal as the economic disparity that might encourage people to steal. And just last month, Danbert Nobacon (vocals and keyboard) poured a bucket of ice water on Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. So go the exploits of a multiplatinum anarchist collective, publicly dedicated to ending business as usual.

City Pages caught up with Dunstan Bruce in a telephone interview from his home in Leeds, England.

CITY PAGES: I just read the Rolling Stone article on Chumbawamba and I noticed that your politics get almost no mention at all. Did you find that frustrating?

DUNSTAN BRUCE: Not at all. I think the beauty about what we do is that people find out stuff about us that has to do with our politics and other people find out stuff about us that has to do with our music. And that's great, as far as I'm concerned, because we don't exist merely to be a platform for our political views.

CP: You've taken a good amount of flak from the punk community for signing with a major label.

BRUCE: Oh, God, yeah.

CP: Do you think that's fair?

BRUCE: There are people saying, "You shouldn't be doing that, you shouldn't be doing gigs for $15, you shouldn't be selling T-shirts for $20"--whatever it is. I would like to believe that in any sort of movement, there are different ways of trying to affect things and say what you're trying to say. And it gets sort of a bit bogged down in all of this internal squabbling that we're not particularly interested in, because I think there's a lot more important things in the world than arguing with some punks about how we should be trying to change. Because we think that there are people out there in the world who don't want anything to do with punk, and who are just as important as people who might think they have the answers.

CP: "Tubthumping" has been used for trailers for Senseless and Home Alone 3, and also on Beverly Hills 90210 and Veronica's Closet, and on segments on the Winter X-Games and Fox Sports. You didn't see any harm in letting the song be used that way?

BRUCE: It's a weird thing. You know, it's been used in an advert for rental cars in Italy--just in Italy. And the reason we decided to do that is, we had quite a few offers for different adverts and at first we just thought, "No way, we don't want to advertise rental cars, it's stupid." But then we said, "Well, why don't we do it, and we'll give the money away?" So what we ended up doing is we gave them permission to use it and then publicized the fact that the money was going to go to three anarchist radio stations in Italy.

CP: On the possibility of becoming a one-hit wonder, Alice has said, "I don't give a shit really, we've had 15 years of being unfashionable wankers, so what's the difference with switching to 'one-hit wonders'?" When you are one-hit wonders, when you're has-beens in the world of mainstream pop, how do you want to be remembered?

BRUCE: Whether people love us or hate us, I would want them to think, "They were a bit different, and they tried to do something that was a bit different, and they tried to cause a bit of a fuss, and they got into trouble. And they were anarchists." Which is quite important--the fact that the word "anarchist" is appearing in so many different places. That's great.

We did the Rosie O'Donnell Show the other week, and that was great, because they kept on having big discussions about what is anarchism. And it wasn't any sort of in-depth, philosophical thing or anything, but it was just the fact that that word was there on the Rosie O'Donnell Show and they were discussing it. I just think that's great, if they're popularizing that word. That's brilliant.

Chumbawamba plays Wednesday at First Avenue. See A List, p. 41.

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