The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword
The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword
A Brief Tour of Ed Hamell (aka Hamell on Trial)
By Geoff Gehman
Ed Hamell swears that Ann Coulter’s vagina has supernatural powers. He says so in his spoken song “Coulter’s Snatch,” a delightfully devilish ditty about the conservative assassin’s pubic region as a cross between the Bermuda Triangle and a Venus fly trap. In one couplet he spears her colloquially and royally: “There are some douches that will never fail ya/Lest they come up against Ann’s genitalia.”
Welcome to the disarmingly incisive, divisive, inclusive universe of a slam poet, punk folkie, rock & roll rapper & ranter and merciless mercenary for truth, justice and good old-fashioned kindness. Professionally known as Hamell on Trial, the solo wrecking crew arms himself with a thrashing acoustic guitar, a stampeding voice and fusillades of inventive rhymes. On his latest album, “Tackle Box” (New West Records), he boxes and tackles bizarrely bad policemen in the spoken song “Not Aretha’s Respect (Cops),” a collection of four real-life episodes where he tried to teach his teen son how not to get shot. He reveals a softer side in four snippets about the sweet family life of Froggy, who has been a-courtin’ in folk songs for six centuries. Behind the pessimistic lyrics lurks an eternal optimist, “a sucker for life” who wishes he could play for another century.
Hamell on Trial will take over the Mauch Chunk Opera House during a Dec. 9 Christmas special hosted by 40 Story Radio Tower, the venue’s resident storytelling troupe. Below is a quick, quirky guide to the spiritual grandson of Woody Guthrie and Lenny Bruce, who should be a regular talk-show guest of liberal assassin Bill Maher, who frequently casts Ann Coulter as a douche bag.
He grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., where in 1971 he was accidentally shoved into his favorite ex-Beatle, an encounter recounted in his song “John Lennon.”
Bald, squat and slightly menacing looking, he could be mistaken for a bouncer, which he was for two years in a Syracuse bar that supplied characters for his songs.
His musical heroes include Patti Smith and Elvis Presley.
His anti-authoritarian role models include Malcolm X and Kurt Vonnegut, who appear as “respectable” authority figures in the video for “Not Aretha’s Respect (Cops).”
The video for “Safe,” a vow of shelter in an increasingly stormy world, features his charmingly primitive cartoon characters, including a swastika that pummels Hitler.
The Village Voice called him “a one-man Tarantino flick.”
Righteous Babe Records, his former label, was launched by Ani DiFranco, his former tour mate and fellow fearless activist.
His albums include “The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword” and “Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs”
“Tackle Box,” his newest record, was produced by Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo, a nine-time Grammy winner who has collaborated with Billy Joel, Bob Dylan and Lauryn Hill.
His song “7 Seas” is an ode to, and from, his guitar, a 1937 Gibson L-OO that invites him to buy it, predicting they’ll be as harmonious as the Everlys, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen and “Jake LaMotta and his brother, Joe Pesci.”
His song “Bill Hicks” honors the late stand-up comic/sociologist whose fans range from David Letterman to Tom Waits. Hamell imagines God letting the Devil attend Hicks’ sold-out show in the Gabriel Arena and rejecting Satan’s request for backstage passes.
Another heavenly song is “Open Up the Gates,” a tough, tender memorial to his mother, an Alzheimer’s victim killed by Hamell’s father, who then killed himself. Sample lyric: “But if I hear she’s been ignored, deprived of her reward, heaven hath seen no fury like a son that’s scorned…be forewarned.”
A 2000 car accident led to a one-year recuperation, which was followed by the live album “Ed’s Not Dead, Hamell Comes Alive.”
He recuperated from a 2008 divorce by writing and posting a song a day for a year on his YouTube channel.
His solo show “The Terrorism of Everyday Life” won the Herald Angel Award during the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In “Hamell Takes DC,” a 2017 streaming broadcast, he played political monuments in the nation’s capital.
This year he scored “F*** Cancer” for Shadowbox Live, an underground troupe in Columbus, Ohio.
He and his son Detroit crisscross the U.S. every summer.
He performed at the Life Is Shit festival in Las Vegas and sells “Hamell Is the Shit” stickers.
He and Albert Castiglia, the rocking blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter who will perform Dec. 13 at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, play original songs titled “95 South.” Told about “Coulter’s Snatch,” Castiglia replied: “She has a vagina? I always thought she had a penis.”
Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. He’s no fan of Ann Coulter, either. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.