These are busy times for a political satirist. Even folk singer Roy Zimmerman, who’s been strumming comedic political folk tunes since the ’80s, is shocked by the state of things in the Trump era.
“We were very active all through the Bush years. We thought that that was the apocalypse, but clearly that has been out-apocalypsed,” Zimmerman says.
He clearly enjoys cracking jokes at Trump’s expense, but he also takes what he does seriously. As far as Zimmerman’s concerned, it’s about resistance. Even his new DVD is called ReZist. It’s a live taping of what he considers to be one of his most powerful recent shows.
“I love this country. That’s why. We all love this country. What the current administration represents is antithetical to the beautiful experiment that is America,” Zimmerman says.
If you watch the DVD, he says, what you see is the resistance coming together in his audience. Since he’s a folk singer, he’s engaging the audience on a fundamental basis. He uses the power of the sing-along to make it communal.
“A more folky approach, to ask people to sing along, to ask people to get involved that way and lend their own voices to a song, even if it’s a funny song. It’s a way to invoke democracy,” Zimmerman says.
He even leads the audience in variation of “We Shall Overcome” at one point, which is particularly moving. But his most powerful weapon is the power of laughter. He sees what he does as more than simply providing a little bit of relief to frustrated Americans left powerless in an extremely divisive and destructive era in U.S. government.
“I get accused of preaching to the converted. But I don’t look at it that way, I look at it like I’m entertaining the troops. People that come to the show are not there to get a chuckle and go ‘oh.’ They’re there for their marching orders as well,” Zimmerman says.
Last year, Zimmerman’s unique brand of topical political satirical folk music was in less demand, which is unusual, as election years tend to be his busiest time.
“People were so bummed by the negative qualities of the discourse and the lowest-common-denominator of the discourse,” Zimmerman says. “But after he was elected, the resistance kicked in. Then we noticed there was a huge uptick in people wanting that message.”
To people who support the president, Zimmerman might seem like he writes songs to make Democrats happy. But although he leans left, he’s always poked fun at both parties. In the ’80s, he sang in a duo, the Reagan Brothers, and also put on musicals in San Jose, poking fun at yuppie culture. In 1990, he formed the Foremen, who were signed to Warner Brothers for two albums.
“We took the big ride,” he says.
In 1996, his group played at events at both of the conventions. But these are different times, and this isn’t your average run-of-the-mill Republican in the office, which gives Zimmerman’s music a sharper bite.
“The man that occupies the White House is not qualified as a president. I wouldn’t have him delivering my mail. He’s got no discernable regard for public service whatsoever. He’s such a wild card, there’s no ideology, just idiot-ology.”
Like many people, Zimmerman assumed that the bummer of an election campaign would ultimately end with Hillary winning the electoral college vote. He even considered retiring the political songs for a while, since he’d already satirized the Clinton years in the ’90s, particularly after going solo in 1996.
Then Trump won. “I watched in horror like the rest of us,” he says.
Zimmerman was hoping that he and his wife Melanie Harby, also his songwriting partner, would get to write love songs and kids songs. For now, that’s on hold, as his services are needed with the resistance.
“It’s a very special and harrowing time in America,” Zimmerman says. “It doesn’t seem, for instance, that we’ve never been here before. People during Nero’s time were doing political satire. As a human race, we’ve had trouble like this before. Somehow we keep progressing.”
Roy Zimmerman performs at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 at Michael’s On Main, 2591 S. Main St., Soquel. $20. 479-9777.