Jason Morgan Edwards
John Trudell speaking in August 2014. Photo by Jason Morgan Edwards.

Trudell: 'We Need to Start Thinking Like Human Beings'

Jason Morgan Edwards

You can learn a lot about a man in an hour-long conversation, particularly if you don't allow yourself to get bogged down by all the wouldas, couldasshouldas or any of your other preconceived notions. Such is the case with John Trudell. To many, he is a poet and philosopher, and overall, just a deep thinker. But he tries, hard, not to label himself. "I don't know how to describe myself," he says. "To me, I'm just me. Know what I mean? I'm me. I do what I do. Do I think? Yeah, I think. I think a lot. Do I write? Yeah, I write a lot. I go out and speak a lot. But those are things that I do. But, I don't identify myself as poet or a thinker ... not as my identity. I'm just me, John Trudell. I write, I have a band, I make albums. These are all things that I do. But, I don't call them my identity. Now, let's say because we need labels and we need a way to identify ourselves, I'll basically list myself as a writer, as an occupation. But my identity is John Trudell. I'm a human being. There was a time in my life when I was a political activist. There was a time when I was a militant, or whatever. There was a time when I was an actor. These are things that I did. But my identity is I'm just me. I'm a human being."

Trudell, the musician, has been busy on the music front. His band Bad Dog is due to release their latest CD, Wazi's Dream, later this summer. "It's being manufactured now," he explains. "It'll be ready in about a month. That's the main thing, artistically, work-wise. I don't know how to describe what I do. I say it's rock-blues. And, it's mixing of poetry and singing and music. I write all the lyrics. And then I speak them, I don't sing them -- but everybody in my band is a singer, so we have singing. It's difficult for me to describe, but it's based around poetry." He has been busy collaborating with others, as well. "I wrote a song with A Tribe Called Red. And this band, The Pines, outta Minnesota. I finished writing a song with them. And I'm looking at writing a song with Scatter Their Own and Cody Blackbird, at some point. Bad Dog is who I really work with, but I've gotten some opportunities to work with different artists, so I'm doing it because I enjoy it. Anytime I can get this stuff out there, put to music, I enjoy it."

John Trudell mural by Gregg Deal

Trudell says there is no process to his writing -- it all just sort of happens: "I go through periods of time where I write quite a bit, and I go through periods where I don't write very much. But when I do write, when that does happen, a couple of lines will come into head; what I'll call the hook lines, I guess. So I'll write them down and I'll just find another line to go with those two, and I'll look for another line to go with those three. And that's what I do -- I just add to it, line by line, with no real idea where I'm going. It all starts on the hook. In a way, that is a process. I think it's kinda like beadwork and painting, you know -- you meditate and think. It's a lot of time, so you're creating. I think writing is habit-forming, energetically speaking. It's calming, it's a balancing of my energies. During the periods where I'm writing a lot, I do that every day. And, when I'm in a slow time, I'm rolling with that. I don't have a problem with that. I look at that like it's replenishing the well. That seems to be how it's worked for the last 30 - 35 years." 

RELATED: Mr. Trudell Goes to Washington: Gregg Deal's Latest Mural Pays Tribute

Time passes, people change -- for Trudell, this is an important artistic phenomenon. "I see an evolution of thought, and an evolution of communication," he says. "I wouldn't want to be writing the same thing, now, as I did thirty years ago. I wouldn't want to be the same as I was thirty years ago. For me, it doesn't fit because I am not the same as I was thirty years ago. I've had a whole lifetime of experiences. I want that to show in my art -- I knew when I started I wanted there to be an evolution. Because I know how limited I was when I started out as a writer. It's like our ideas and our attitudes. We have these perceptions, let's say when we're in our 20s that by the time we get to our 40s or 50s, our whole attitude has changed. We've lived and we've learned things."


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