Performance artist Reverend Billy Talen, the fearless and flamboyant figurehead of the Church of Stop Shopping, has taken the carefully written declaration of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and translated it into song.
The gospel-tinged composition, simply entitled “The Declaration Of The Occupation Of NYC,” is an infectious, inspirational musical mantra that humanizes the text in a way you can't feel just by reading it. "Mic-check," a woman sings, launching into a lively, choir-backed call-and-response: "We are the 99 percent, we are the 99 percent."
A pioneer of New York street-theater activism, Reverend Billy, a staunch anti-consumerist, is infamous for staging protests against corporate giants such as Walmart and Disney with the help of his 35-member gospel choir. His exploits were the subject of a 2007 documentary called “What Would Jesus Buy?”, which followed The Reverend and his Choir on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the evils of commercialism.
Last fall, after first viewing the OWS Declaration and sharing it with the choir, Talen decided that it would work musically as well and inspired, he assigned soprano Laura Newman and pianist Nehemiah Luckett to compose a song. Newman, a longtime Stop Shopping choir member, was elated to be part of such a prestigious project and saw the opportunity to borrow the traditional “call and response” technique often used in Gospel songs to make the “Declaration” song easy to learn and to sing.
Newman immediately recognized the similarity between “the People’s Mic,” the vocal call-and-response method of communication used during General Assemblies (because amplification was not allowed by police) and the call-and-response technique of Gospel and began collaborating with Luckett. The result is a grand rhapsody of justice and solidarity with a killer piano bass line and an intricate web of vocal harmonies.
Talen said he's been re-energized by the scope and intensity of the Occupy Movement. In 2007 he was arrested in Union Square for singing a musical version of the First Amendment too loudly, and since then he's been itching to do a project like “The Declaration Song."
The entire musical piece is 17 minutes long and now available online as an 8-song EP that is free to download. The music video above comprises the first few minutes of the song, “We Are The 99%” ; a music video of the song’s conclusion, “To the People of the World,” is now in production.
Planning is underway for a touring multimedia touring show called “The Occupy Circus & Film Festival" which will feature short films from Occupy Cinema, a feature film by Newman and a live performance of “The Declaration Of The Occupation Of NYC." The 12-city tour begins in the Midwest in May and will also tour the Southwest and California.
To find out more, check out Reverend Billy’s site.