Thao Nguyen is a tireless performer. She’s been touring with her band, the Get Down Stay Down, since she graduated from college, and is used to the rigors of the road, including backhanded compliments like, “You play pretty good for a girl.” Anyone who has ever seen her live, or listened to one of her records, knows how far off the mark that comment is. Nguyen is one of the most innovative guitarists around, with a style that blends grinding power chords, the jittery fills of a funkateer, a dash of country twang, clanging rock guitar pyrotechnics and staccato single-note runs that add a skewed melodic feel to her songs that’s halfway between bluegrass and hip hop. After hearing her 2005 debut, Like The Linen, Laura Veirs took her on tour and helped get her signed to Kill Rock Stars for 2008’s We Brave Bee Stings And All and 2009’s Know Better Learn Faster. Between tours, she moved to San Francisco and took a year off to write the songs that became We The Common (Ribbon). Nguyen and bandmates Jason Slota, Adam Thompson and Johanna Kunin will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on them.
Nguyen: I started working with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners last February, and it has become a very important part of my life. I go on advocacy visits every two months to California state prisons for women and visit with folks and see how I can help support them from the outside—be it lobbying for healthcare services or contacting legal representation or family, whatever. Truthfully I think the most helpful part is going in and hanging out and talking and listening. The California prison system is an incredibly inhumane place, and any bit of true human recognition and respect we can pay is important to everyone involved. The women I have met are incredible, and I have learned so much and it causes me great sadness to bear this kind of witness.
Please take for example: This morning I read something mean someone said about a song on my new record. I wasn’t going around hunting for opinions. I was just checking my own god-given plot of internet. He had posted it there, this little acid rain cloud, on my band’s Facebook page. Imagine—that’s like a stranger concertedly marching into your front yard and taking a shit and not caring if you step in it as you do your morning calisthenics. Or something.
At times, I cannot help it—I am sensitive. So I started to let it seep into my blood stream, this unsolicited drivel, and it was really starting to raise my heart rate and cause me pain and self doubt and ill will. I was getting quite worked up, wringing my hoody, repeatedly opening and closing my laptop while cursing angrily.
And then I remembered Gloria, who is 81, in prison—so eloquent and soft spoken,with striking silver hair, bound to a walker with glaucoma from three botched eye surgeries over the last four years because prison healthcare is slow and atrocious. As her advocate I needed to write a letter on her behalf requesting another eye surgery.
And all of a sudden I remembered that everything is fine with me and that I had to get back to work because there is a lot wrong for other people. Perspective as vivid as this is new and thanks to the members of CCWP.
Video After the Jump.