Artist & Activist Carol Denney on XXWhy with host Blake More

Jun 20, 2018

XXWhy Guest Carol Denney and CD Jacket

Tune into KZYX&Z’s XXWhy program at 7pm on Thursday, June 21 when host Blake More will be talking with Berkeley artist Carol Denney about her fascinating life of performance art, music, writing, activism, and cartooning. They will be discussing art and activism as a means for life.

Here's Carol Denney's most recent "Perspectives" piece called "A Song and a Me Too Moment", which aired on KQED this spring.

Extended Carol Denney Bio:

Carol Denney is one of the Bay Area's most respected songwriters, earning accolades and admiration from a community as likely to know her from her music as her community work. Her guitar style is unique, her use of the English concertina adds powerful emotional depth to  beautifully tailored songs, and her writing stretches the spectrum from ballads to political comedy in a spread Canadian folk artist Ian Robb simply calls "brilliant" and local editor Pat Delaney called "Berkeley's I. F. Stone."

In 1991 the regents of her alma mater, the University of California, announced without evidence that she was "a key leader of a violent conspiracy" according to their SLAPP-suit against her and four other activists, including Ashkenaz founder David Nadel.

"None of us were sure how that happened," she says, reflecting on the matter, which left her legally declared a public figure. She had spoken, along with thousands of others, on behalf of the community-wide and eventually successful effort to save landmarked People's Park from the indignity of being turned into a sports facility. She had also written a salute to civil disobedience called "See You in Santa Rita" which, she says, "may have turned the crank."

The university finally had to drop its SLAPP-suit against her, but the song is still considered part of the People's Park canon, and joins many other respected songs by the poet/musician as having particular resonance to those who pay attention to local politics, such as "Set Your Radio Free", which tells the story of Free Radio Berkeley, the micro-power station of which she is proud to have been among the original pioneer crew.

"We started newspapers and radio stations," she says of her work with Free Radio Berkeley founder Stephen Dunifer. "We worked with all media as best we could, but it made sense to start our own and tell our own story. Our story was a  good one, and we needed to make sure it was told."

Carol Denney's poetry is included in Revolutionary Poets Brigade anthologies and she's performed as a featured poet and musician throughout the Bay Area at venues such as the Beat Museum, the Emerald Tablet, the Freight and Salvage and festivals nationwide. She's the Human Rights Editor and a regular columnist for Street Spirit newspaper, a columnist and reporter for the Berkeley Daily Planet, Editor and founder of the 27-year-old Pepper Spray Times, a cartoonist for the Berkeley Times, and is a featured artist at the Passages Gallery and the Expressions Gallery in Berkeley, California.

Denney is best known for her political comedy, which is featured on KPFA's TwitWit Radio, but her performance art garnered front page San Francisco Examiner coverage when she threw a bake sale for PG&E at its Market Street headquarters after it declared bankruptcy in 2001, raising $1.27 for the beleaguered utility. "They deserved every penny," she says.

Denney is an Northern California Songwriters Association award-winning lyricist, an innovative guitarist, an old-time fiddler, a concertina player, Fiddlers for Peace" founder, curator of the Deep Poetry Project", was a 2004 honoree by the City of Berkeley for homeless advocacy, a 2003 honoree for civil liberties activism  through music, humor, and art by the Berkeley Commission on the Status of Women, the winner of the East Bay Express' readers' poll "Best Solo Performer" for 2002, and selected as one of the San Francisco Bay Guardian's 2001 "Best of the Bay" honorees for writing "The PG&E Song; Write the Check and Shut Up." 

But her favorite thing to do is support the arts, whether as a volunteer fiddler for the Augusta Music Heritage Festival in West Virginia, or as part of Old Mill Days for the Bothe-Napa State Park, where she missed getting caught in the recent fire by one day. Her Failure to Disperse Acoustic Revolt and Road Show ensemble is a favorite at local street performances and as music for San Francisco's Maritime Labor History tour every year as well as for decades of other Laborfest events. She's proud of having been the spiritual advisor and doing graphic production for the Best of Blasphemy project in Canyon, California with Ann Callicrate and Neil J. Young, and is routinely heard on KQED's Perspectives doing comedic pieces on civil rights and other dangerous subjects. She's been quoted by Alexander Cockburn as well as the Wall Street Journal, and is a proud part of the Folk This! extended family. She was awarded the 2009 Oldtime Spirit award from the Augusta Music Heritage Festival, voted best female artist at PirateCat Radio in SF in 2010, and was nominated to the Revolutionary Poets' Brigade by former poet laureate of San Francisco Jack Hirschman in 2010, where she finally met others as enchanted with the intersection of words and politics as she. And she is perhaps proudest of being the inventor of the chairapillar, a protest parade of moving chairs.

Now that's some mighty fine songwriting." U. Utah Phillips.

"Brilliant." Ian Robb, of Finest Kind.

"Berkeley's I. F. Stone." Pat Delaney, former editor CNA newsletter.

"She talks the talk and she walks the walk." Kevin Vance, KPFA.

Denney takes special pride in her indelicate Christmas haiku:

ceramic santas

sitting in a discount bin

where is my hammer

Santa’s on his way

bringing lots of toys and games

light the fireplace now

one Christmas special

too many it said in the

coroner’s report