Few bands survive the reboot Alice In Chains launched in 2008, six years after the death of its troubled powerhouse singer, Layne Staley. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell admits the idea of reemerging from stasis with a new vocalist, William DuVall, felt like a gamble. The result was Black Gives Way To Blue, a work worthy of standing alongside the band’s masterpiece, 1992’s Dirt. Though few would have predicted such a return to form, the album was certified gold, topped scads of best-of lists and launched two full tours. The new The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here stays true to the Alice In Chains sound, a dense shroud of gloom occasionally lifted by soaring harmonies and delicate riffs. For every dirge stomp like “Pretty Done” and the menacing creep of “Lab Monkey,” there are echoes of Jar Of Flies’ haunted acoustic beauty (“Voices,” “Choke”) or the filthy groove of “Stone,” the album’s second single. DuVall will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new Alice In Chains feature.
DuVall: This year marks the 45th anniversary of the passing of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The entire world rightfully bows in remembrance. However, very few know about MLK’s tactical polar opposite in America’s struggle for civil rights and human dignity. In 1959, while King and his followers were refining their Gandhi-inspired strategy of non-violent civil disobedience against the murderous oppression of black citizens in the racially segregated Deep South, Robert F. Williams (1925-1996) advocated armed self-defense. In his hometown of Monroe, N.C., the ex-Marine Williams formed the Black Guard, a group of disciplined black men with firearms committed to the protection of Monroe’s black population, presaging the Black Panthers by nearly a decade. As a result of his stand, Williams was suspended as president of the Monroe chapter of the NAACP National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). The organization’s national leadership deemed him too radical, despite the fact that the Monroe branch only existed because of Williams’s refusal to back down to the repeated attacks by the Ku Klux Klan to extinguish it.
In 1961, the Freedom Riders came to Monroe on their courageous campaign to non-violently integrate interstate bus travel. They were quickly over-run by a mob of Klan members and their supporters. Williams’s Black Guard was called in to help the Riders, who would have been massacred otherwise. Amid the escalating tension, a white couple driving through the black section of Monroe with a sign on their car saying “Open Season On Coons” were stopped and pulled from their car by an angry crowd of Monroe’s black residents. Williams intervened, keeping the couple from being harmed by the crowd. But he soon found himself accused of kidnapping by the couple and by local law enforcement, all of whom were Klan-affiliated. Monroe’s police chief made known his determination that Williams be lynched in the courthouse square. Williams was forced to leave the state of North Carolina, which resulted in his being placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Williams and his family soon fled the United States altogether, settling in Cuba, where he was given political asylum by Fidel Castro, who was an admirer. From his exile in Havana, Williams functioned as an elder statesman for the Black Power movement that was emerging in America by the mid-’60s, largely as a result of his example. He and his wife Mabel published a newspaper, The Crusader, and broadcast a radio show called Radio Free Dixie, in which they continued to call on America’s black citizens to rise up against the government that refused to protect them under the laws of its own Constitution. In 1962, Williams published his manifesto, Negroes With Guns, which proved very inspirational to a young Huey P. Newton, who would form the Panthers several years later. In 1966, Williams moved his family to China, where he was feted as a celebrity by Chairman Mao and, for the first time in his life, lived in relative comfort and security. However, by 1969, feeling too far removed from the struggle of his people in his home country, Williams returned to the United States to stand trial for the bogus kidnapping charges, which were eventually dropped in 1976.
Robert F. Williams is an American hero whose story illustrates the central contradiction at the heart of the American Civil Rights Movement and, indeed, the entire human condition: Non-violence can be a powerful weapon, but it’s usually most effective when there’s a can of whup-ass behind the curtain waiting to be opened. Kudos to my old acquaintance Jello Biafra for releasing the recordings of Williams’s Radio Free Dixie broadcasts on his Alternative Tentacles label. If you want to find out more, check out this great 1968 interview with the exiled Williams conducted in Dar Es Salaam, East Africa.
Video after the jump.