Gripping The Book of Love: Q&A with Jacob Grippen on Music Politics Love

grippen_bookloveby Adam Wiltgen

July 2, 2013

Acoustic singer-songwriter (and southeastern Minnesota native) Jacob Grippen will be returning to the area Saturday, July 6th for a performance at Some Sum Studio in downtown Winona with Savannah Smith and Austin Weatherhead. Grippen recently released an original studio recording of The Book of Love from The Magnetic Fields’ epic 1999 three-volume concept album 69 Love Songs.

Grippen’s rendition is truer to the source material than the more-famous Peter Gabriel version, featured in the 2004 film Shall We Dance? Grippen maintains the wistful intimacy of the original, but deftly utilizes his own wonderfully quavery vocal crooning (think Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, but without the quasi-British inflection) instead of attempting to re-create Magnetic Fields singer Stephin Merritt’s deep baritone. In fact, the lush, layered harmonies Grippen adds to the song’s majestic chorus are a highlight of his recording.

While covering a respected love song featured on one of indie-rock’s classic love albums is hardly out of context for a lovelorn songster like Jacob Grippen, it is particularly poignant for both him and this moment in our state’s history. Last year, Grippen worked to defeat the Minnesota Marriage Amendment as the Community Organizer in the Winona area for Minnesotans United for All Families. This past May, legislators passed full marriage equality for LGBTQ Minnesotans.

As others have reported, MN United focused their message in both of the campaigns on love and families, not civil rights or preventing other Minnesotans from marrying their loved ones. Emblematic of that focus on love (and demonstrating the relevance of Grippen’s recent recording), seminal Minneapolis rock band The Suburbs’ 1984 new wave hit “Love is the Law” was offered to MN United and used as part of its campaign, becoming an “unofficial theme song.”

I caught up with Jacob in advance of Saturday’s show at Some Sum Studio to chat about love, the Magnetic Fields, marriage equality, and the crossroads of music and politics.

Q: What do you like most about the The Magnetic Fields? Have you listened to any of the Absolutely Cuckoo: Minnesota Musicians Cover the 69 Love Songs album that was released this past December? It seems to me that The Magnetic Fields is a band much like Neutral Milk Hotel — inexplicably a bit more popular in Minnesota than compared to other parts of the country.

I’ve known of The Magnetic Fields for a while, and of both the original and Peter Gabriel’s version of The Book of Love. I am aware of the Absolutely Cuckoo album, and have listened to parts of it, it’s great –what I’ve listened to. I love Neutral Milk Hotel as well. The Book of Love is such a great song, and it’s such a testament to love, he’s singing it to someone he loves, it’s not “gay” love, it’s love.


Q
: Talk about love, in the context of both your own music and MN United’s campaign for marriage equality in Minnesota.

Love is love. Love is a gravity that draws you to certain people. Love creates family, whether biological, chosen, or both. Love is in a lot of my songs, and it is sometimes manic, sometimes melancholy, sometimes an unrequited thing. Love throughout the Minnesotans United campaigns drove thousands of people to have conversations with their families, friends, co-workers, and legislators about the freedom to marry. Love, in part, drove people to do something about it, even if it was just to vote. One of my favorite quotes is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that.


Q
: What was it like organizing in the Winona area against the Marriage Amendment?

Winona has always been a great place to find many different perspectives. It was wonderful working with so many great leaders and volunteers, some who were getting involved politically for the first time. There were over 40 Winona and southeastern MN businesses and organizations that were part of the Minnesotans United Coalition. The Winona State GLBTA did a great job working on campus, making sure that group of potential voters turned out to help defeat the amendment. So many people showed up to make history last fall, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that EVERY SINGLE PRECINCT IN WINONA VOTED NO on the amendment, how cool is that?!


Q:
What did you learn about your yourself or others through all those conversations?

I learned that people are willing to have conversations, but you have to meet them where they’re at, and hope to slowly come to an understanding.


Q
: Do you feel vindicated now that marriage equality is a reality in Minnesota?

I’m not sure vindicated is the right word. I feel that the moral arc of the universe is still bending toward justice. I’ll admit it felt great to be among thousands of people to watch Governor Mark Dayton sign the bill into law. But, there is much work to still be done, across the country, across the state, throughout the world. You can never rest on what you’ve accomplished, you have to keep going. The anti-bullying Safe Schools for All Bill passed the MN House this last session, but was held up in the MN Senate, that’s an issue that still needs work next year.

We need to defend the seats of the people who voted for marriage equality. Representative Joe Radinovich from north central Minnesota is coming under a lot of fire for his yes vote on the bill. Here in southern Minnesota, Representatives Shannon Savick and Jeanne Poppe are going to need our continued support because of their yes votes. Beyond that, if you were happy marriage equality passed, send thank you notes. Representative Gene Pelowski here in Winona voted yes, Senator Matt Schmit who represents Goodview and Wabasha and Red Wing, he voted for marriage equality as well. Find out who represents you: http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/districtfinder.aspx And then find out if they voted for the marriage bill: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/votes/votes.asp?ls_year=88&billnum=HF1054&session_number=0&year=2013&id=533

Nationally, the same week the Supreme Court knocked down the Defense of Marriage Act, it gutted the Voting Rights Act, a very important piece of legislation that was passed during Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s time. Transgender issues are another piece of the puzzle that still need a lot of work. And, of course, there are 37 states that don’t have marriage equality, and some national republicans are trying to legislate against the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision.
Internationally, Russia just adopted a very extreme anti-gay bill. There’s always more to be done.


Q
: You’ve been both a performing musician and an active community organizer/politico (currently the DFL Party Secretary) for sometime now. What are your thoughts on the intersection of music & politics?

Music and politics have long intersected, every social movement has its share of music. Music and all forms of art are used as commentary on current events. This week is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Julia Ward Howe wrote her lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic in late 1861 to the earlier song of John Brown’s Body. More modern musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, even Bob Dylan, though he doesn’t like to admit it, wrote many of their songs about injustices and work that needed to be done.

Music is a commentary on what is happening and what should be done. Music can inspire people to action. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis wrote “Same Love” specially for their home state to help pass marriage equality in Washington last November.  Music can be commentary, and music can help get you through.

Jacob Grippen will perform Saturday, July 6th at Some Sum Studio with Savannah Smith and Austin Weatherhead. 7pm, All-Ages, $5 at the door. RSVP / more info HERE.

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