By A.H. Goldstein
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Wheeler says her stance on gun control is as steadfast as ever, and "If It Were Up to Me" remains a staple of her live shows. But these days she's zeroing in on some less-controversial subjects with a more lighthearted stance. Sylvia Hotel includes "The Bank," an unlisted cut that closes the disc with side-splitting humor. Inspired by her efforts to re-mortgage her home, the song slices the friendly-neighborhood-bank image to pieces. (The song includes such lines as, "We're the bank with walls of stone and heads of steel.") It also caused a bit of a stir at a recent festival she played in New Bedford, Massachusetts, that was sponsored by a New England bank, Compass. Following her performance of the song, the bank's boardmembers chose to withdraw funds for next year's festival.
"It's hilarious," Wheeler says about the uproar. "The bank is seeing itself as a supporter of the arts, but the minute somebody sings a song that says bankers are a bunch of assholes, they go 'Wait, you can't say that about us.'" Wheeler admits that some of the hassles with her lender involved putting "folk singer" in the employment blank on the application. ("I'm sure that's as low as it gets," she says.) For now, she's found another target at which to aim her criticism: the airlines. "I hate everything about them," she says. "The friendly skies? Nobody over ten is happy to be in that airplane, unless it's some family fleeing some hideous regime. Everybody that's there is horrified, worried that the person sitting in front of them is going to recline the seat in front of them. If their ads were a true reflection of what it's like to fly, nobody would fly." And what might a more accurate airline ad slogan be? "Maybe 'We Hate It, Too,'" she says.
If Wheeler's sense of humor comes across in print as a shade strident, it does not in concert. (This fact is evident in Wheeler's impressive live concert video, What Do I Care, I Don't Have Any Kids, Construction Company, Inc.) Musically, her jabs are far more apt to induce laughter than rage, in songs such as the Carly-Simon-meets-Joyce-Brothers anthem "Is It Peace or Is It Prozac." But for her next project, she'll be leaving the laugh tracks out. Her upcoming Philo disc, due this June, is a collection of previously released Wheeler ballads, along with a few new, softer songs. But, she warns, one shouldn't consider this project proof that her witty ditties are falling out of favor. "If it makes a statement," she says, "it's a statement that this is what my manager and the record company wanted to do next with my next record -- and that I assume they know what they're doing."
"Here's what I've noticed," she adds. "Every time I've put out a record, some people come up and say there should be more funny stuff on it. Other people come up and say 'Why did you put so much funny stuff on there?' So no matter what you do, you can't win. My feeling is that the funny stuff is much more effective in a live setting, and funny stuff is only funny so many times." Wheeler says the disc contains a unified batch of her more aching, pensive songs that will give her fans a chance to settle into musical reflection without any of her wisecracks.
Meanwhile, Wheeler will be giving thought to the political landscape. She says she's angry about a presidency earned with what she considers to be fraudulent practices, though she's taking solace in her belief that the commander-in-chief can only do so much in America's democratic system. She's also pleased to see that the country is going to survive the morass of the past election. But if George "I'm a uniter, not a divider" Bush is counting on allegiance from Wheeler, he's in trouble.
"The thing that makes me most angry," she says, "is hearing all of this stuff about how we all have to support 'our' new president. Well, I want to ask something: Would an example of that kind of support be the way the Republicans have supported Clinton the past eight years? Because there's been absolutely no support of Clinton by the Republicans; they've done nothing but zero in on the blow job. Blow job, blow job, blow job. For Christ's sake, look at some of the shit Reagan did. So I want to know, is that the kind of support they want? Because if it is, I'm sure I won't have any trouble coming up with that kind of help. If my job is to hate the Republican president and make his life miserable, I'm in."