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May 2003
Opening Eyes to Animal Rights—One Song at a Time

The Satya Interview with John Feldman

 

John Feldman is the lead singer and guitarist for Goldfinger, a band that has been in the punk rock spotlight for years, and whose popularity is still on the rise. But instead of losing sight of his values as the band gains fame, Feldman is putting animal rights front and center in his life and work. Their new album, Open Your Eyes, features songs that deal with more serious issues than a lot of their previous material, and includes an enhanced portion of the CD that features “Free Me,” a song about our treatment of animals raised for food that is accompanied by a video of slaughterhouse footage, a video you will most likely never see on MTV.

Feldman took a break from a studio recording session to talk with Rachel Cernansky about his passion for animals, the role of politics in art, and his favorite vegan ice cream.

What are some of the more serious messages that you like to write about?
Lately a lot of the stuff that I sing about is animal rights-related. I was sort of an activist when we first started—I had done some benefit shows for some animal rights issues, but I wasn’t even a vegetarian. Obviously things have changed a lot. I’ve been in the band for about nine years and a vegan now for almost six. When we first started out it was really relationship-oriented songs, but now that I’m married it’s not like I’m getting my heart broken. I think it happens with a lot of musicians. I consider myself pretty successful, and it’s not like I have the struggles of trying to find my next meal anymore, and I feel like if people are going to listen to what I have to say, I might as well sing about something that has a purpose. Maybe I can change the world a little bit because of my quasi-celebrity or whatever, you know?

Do you think people are receptive to what you’re saying?
For sure. Most of our fans are young—teenagers, say 13 to 18—and I think that they really respect people in bands they like and listen to what they have to say.

But it’s a fine line between being a preacher and just trying to give suggestions or carry a message. That’s been the hardest thing for me—you can’t say, “Dude, this is just wrong. Stop doing this, stop eating meat, eating McDonald’s, because it’s just wrong.” As soon as you tell someone what to do, they’re going to say “I’ll do whatever I want”—they want to rebel against that kind of stuff. So it’s a matter of saying, “Look, this is what I’ve discovered. And I used to eat meat, so in my life, I know what it’s like to eat McDonald’s everyday and what it’s like to be a vegan. And I know how I felt when I was eating meat, and how I feel as a vegan. Physically, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been because of my diet. So if it’s not about the animals, it’s about you, about taking care of yourself.” But for me it’s ultimately about the animals anyway.

Even if you don’t like the band, if you see the video for “Free Me,” how do you deny the suffering? I think that’s so powerful; it’s really hard to deny.

Does the “Free Me” video go on tour with you? What kinds of responses have you had?
The video is on the enhanced portion of our CD, so anyone that has a computer can watch it. We have animal rights organizations tabling and a TV showing slaughterhouse footage at all of our shows. So kids see it every night and I always talk to them about it afterwards. You get mixed responses—some think “Oh this doesn’t happen in every slaughterhouse,” and I tell people it does; it’s not just some isolated case, it happens everywhere and it’s happening right now. That’s the truth. And there’s at least 20 kids after every show saying they went vegetarian or vegan because of the video, or the songs, or our band, and that’s more powerful to me than anything else I’ve done in my career.

Are you the band member who’s most vociferous about these issues?
Well I write, say, 95 percent of all the music and the guitar player Brian Arthur is definitely into it. He’s almost vegan—he doesn’t eat animals but once in awhile he has a little cheese slip or something. But I’m the most outspoken about this issue.

The other two guys in the band—the bass player and the drummer—once in awhile they get a little bummed out because they’re in the band to play music and don’t really share my views, and the music sometimes takes second place to the animal rights issue. But they tolerate it because they know that I’ve got to be able to talk about this.

Do you feel that artists have a responsibility to speak out on political or social issues?
Absolutely. I feel if you get lucky enough to be in this position, to actually have people listen to what you say, you’ve gotta say something good—whatever is in your heart, you’ve got to try. My conscience will not let me not say something. Sometimes I get a little frustrated when I talk to friends and other people in famous bands that don’t want anything to do with anything, they just want to take that middle road: “Well, we’ve got a vegetarian in the band, but the other guys don’t want to alienate our fans who eat McDonald’s.” Are you kidding me? Those people can ignore it if they have no interest, but maybe we can save some animals’ lives.

It’s not necessarily all about animal rights. If you have that position to speak out and maybe help someone, somewhere in the world, or help some cause that doesn’t have a voice, I feel like you should. But again, it is hard—say some kid’s family watches CNN or the war all the time, he doesn’t want to go blow off steam at some punk rock show and then have the singer just talk about the war the whole time. You need to have some kind of a reprieve from the stresses of life.

I’ll talk all day to anybody on a one-to-one level about animal rights because that’s the most important thing in my life. But I don’t want some kid to pay $12 to come see our show and have my opinions be the only thing he hears. In the end I am just an entertainer and I have to remember that I’m not a politician. It’s a matter of saying, “This is what I believe, maybe check it out.” I feel like a minute or two in an hour-long set is fair, and more than that maybe I’m getting on my soapbox a little too much.

Did you have an eye-opening moment that made you go vegan?
It’s been a long process, it wasn’t one of those things that just happened. A lot of kids will see something and are vegan—from Big Macs to Boca Burgers—the next day. I didn’t get that.

The Earth Island Institute from San Francisco first turned me onto the abuses of dolphins—the tuna nets and stuff like that. That was the first thing. I said, “This is just wrong, what can I do?” So I stopped eating tuna from companies that used nets unsafe for dolphins. From then, I started paying more attention to circuses, where leather came from, stuff like that. The movie Babe really made the connection with food for me; I stopped eating pigs as soon as I saw that. Then all the other stuff, like crunchy veins in the chicken I’d bite into, I’d be like, “Why am I eating this? What am I doing?” It’s just so gross. I had no idea about the atrocities in slaughterhouses at that time, I just said I’m not going to eat a pig because I discovered that pigs were as smart as dogs, so they were the first thing, and cows were soon after because, what’s the difference? I have a dog, and my dog is just as human as I am—if not more so.

Then I started doing the research and found some slaughterhouse footage, and it was just horrible. The more research I did, the more I found out. To me, dairy is more horrible—I’d rather someone go vegan, but I’d almost rather see someone eating a steak than drinking a glass of milk because at least that cow is out of her misery. With milk, that’s not the case.

The entire industry is so horrible that for me it’s all or nothing. It’s impossible to have a 100 percent vegan lifestyle because if you have to drive, there’s glue in the tires; there’s always something. But I don’t wear leather, I don’t eat honey, I don’t do any of that stuff. And there may be some farm, somewhere using humane practices, but there’s no way that I’m going to take that chance. Animals aren’t here to serve me.

Why did you get involved with PETA in particular?
After seeing Babe, just hearing [actor] James Cromwell talk about it, he’s such a big PETA member, that’s the first place I went to. They’re the easiest to find. And because I’d already had some success in Goldfinger, they jumped on it the quickest. They were able to help me out, getting videos and getting publicity out for what I stand for, and they’re just great people. I think with any animal rights organization you’re going to have disagreements on some of the tactics, but in the end I haven’t met an organization whose goal is my goal. And that’s PETA—animal liberation, that’s their goal.

Undoubtedly; it’s just that their means are often more controversial than those of other groups.

Yeah it’s tough. A lot of people are talking about their new concentration camp campaign. And maybe they’re pissed and want to go write hate mail at first, but maybe they’ll at least see some horrible stuff that does happen. And maybe a year or a month from now when the anger’s gone, the rational side of them will realize—this is wrong, what we do to animals.

Who have been some of your strongest influences, as a musician?
There’s so many. The Beatles, The Replacements, The Who, The Cure, and Appetite for Destruction—Guns ‘n Roses’ first record. There’s so many, but those are probably my top five.

Who do you admire today, musically or otherwise?
Ani DiFranco for sure, she’s so stern in her beliefs: doing it herself, being such a talented musician, never going the major label route and just being who she is and not worrying about what people think.

I just went to a direct action conference here in LA. This one speaker spent five years of his life working at a fur farm, a slaughterhouse and a vivisection laboratory, getting undercover footage. Those people are my heroes. You always say, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.” But anyone can, and that’s the thing. You just go and you do it. He feels the same way that I do about animals. He’s out there for the greater good, killing animals to expose the atrocities that go on behind those walls.

Also, any ALF member is a hero of mine for sure.

Are there bands out now that you think are doing a good job in activism?
I don’t know, I work with Good Charlotte a lot. They’re probably one of the biggest rock bands right now. The guitar player just went vegan and his twin brother is going that route, he’s on his way, and I think they’re going to be good. I have this Black Beauty van—it’s Eddie Lama-style, with big videos on the sides showing Meet Your Meat, etc.—and he allows them to park in front of the big arenas every night of the Good Charlotte/New Found Glory tour and show this stuff to kids, so that’s a huge step.

Have you guys taken a public stance on the war?
We haven’t taken a public stance. It’s hard, we’ve all got such different opinions. Our drummer lives in Canada. In the end, killing is wrong, war is bad, war is wrong. For sure. But I don’t want to be president, ever, and as much as I completely disagree with most of President Bush’s stances, it’s really hard because I definitely couldn’t do a better job. So how can I judge anybody? I don’t believe the news. But is Saddam Hussein a good guy, does he need to be ruling a country?

So what do you do?
We’re going to take him out—yes, bad guy, let’s get rid of him—but let’s get rid of all the other dictators that are horrible people as well. Let’s do it. If it’s not about oil, which is what they’re telling us, then let’s go for these other people.

What’s your favorite vegan ice cream?
I like Soy Decadence Peanut Butter ZigZag, that’s my favorite. Soy Decadence has three awesome flavors, there’s this chocolate brownie and this chocolate obsession flavor. Tofutti I just kind of got sick of because right when I went vegan I ate like a pint of it a night, but it’s good.

Any food you miss most?
I was just talking to my wife about this yesterday, she’s vegan too. Her thing was brownies; we’ve had a hard time making really good, moist brownies. But there’s nothing I miss. I missed pizza for awhile but there’s a place in Philly that makes a vegan pizza that’s awesome; there’s also this place in Boston that makes an awesome vegan pizza once a week. And I can get Tofutti cheese and make my own. So no, there’s nothing at all that I can’t fake.

To learn more about Goldfinger or to watch the “Free Me” video, visit www.goldfingermusic.com.

 

“Free Me”
By Goldfinger

I didn’t ask you to take me from here
I didn’t ask to be broken
I didn’t ask you to stroke my hair
Or treat me like a worthless token
But my skin is thick
And my mind is strong
I am built like my father was
I have done nothing wrong
So free me
I just want to feel how life should be
I just want enough space
To turn around
And face the truth
So free me
When are you gonna realize
You’re just wrong?
You can’t even think for yourself
Can’t even make up your minds
So my mind’s a jail
And I hate the whole goddamn human race
What the hell do you want from me?
Kill me if you just don’t know
Or free me
I just want to feel what life should be
I just want enough space to turn around
‘Cause you’re all fu**ed
And maybe someday you’ll treat me like you.

 

 
 
 
 
 


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