- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

The national mood surrounding the war on terrorism has been particularly hard on pacificists. But self-styled peace-maker David LaMotte, a North Carolina-based singer-songwriter, is up for the challenge.

Lately, performances have put him in touch with "a lot of patriotic fervor," he says. "My take on it is not the most popular these days.

"I am deeply troubled in that we draw a line between 'us' and 'them,'" says Mr. LaMotte, 33, a member of the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. "I've just stopped believing in 'them.' It's just a big 'us.' It's not a popular view these days, but I believe it is true."

Mr. LaMotte's travels brought him to a house concert in Rockville, Md., on March 2 and have him winging west toward dates in Hawaii, New Zealand and a headline spot in the Australian National Folk Festival on Easter weekend.

Mr. LaMotte lept into an independently produced singer-songwriter career almost immediately upon his graduation 11 years ago from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., with a bachelor's degree in psychology.

"I went to school to learn things, not to get a job," he says. "One of the things I learned at college was that I loved playing music." He settled in rural North Carolina, about 17 miles from Asheville, not far from his grandfather's cottage where he had spent summer vacations.

Since then, he has produced seven albums. His latest, a live double CD titled "Good Tar," draws inspiration from diverse sources from Robert Frost to Drew Barrymore. He also recorded some of the stories he sprinkles among his songs.

Like his previous recordings, this one features guitar spanking, open-tuning grooves as well as gentle folk-tinged pop. His lyrics range from insightful, image-driven stories to equally insightful humor.

Nine of the 20 tracks on the disc are songs Mr. LaMotte has not recorded before. Three are covers Steve Fisher's "That's My Toy," David Wilcox's "Levi Blues" and the traditional song "The Water Is Wide." Six are new originals.

One of those new songs, "Middletown Mall," is a commentary on Christmas commercialism made more interesting in that Mr. LaMotte plays it solely with his left hand on the neck of the guitar, using a hammer-and-pull technique on the strings.

Another, "Spin," starts out like a news broadcast but draws its inspiration from the sinking of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in August 2000. Officials now say an onboard torpedo explosion caused the disaster, which claimed the lives of 118 Russian sailors in the Barents Sea off the coast of Norway.

"It is commenting on how, as a culture, we pick our enemies, and how, when the Kursk went down, everybody, from the far right to the far left, was expressing deep compassion for these [men] and what happened to them," Mr. LaMotte says. The song contrasts this reaction to what would have been expected during the Cold War.

Such distinctions are harder to come by in post-September 11 performances. Patriotic tributes to terrorist victims seem to come in every venue from Super Bowl pageantry and opening ceremonies at the Olympics, to house concerts and small music halls. It's hard to know whether the performers are the driving force behind these displays, or whether audiences have come to expect and demand them.

"I find myself talking about it once a night, usually," Mr. LaMotte says.

"Part of what is powerful about folk music is its relevance. It's not designed to take people away from their lives, but it is designed to take people to their lives. I think we're all hurting. I think that's part of what's going on. I am trying to address the grief with compassion, and the loss that we're all suffering."

Still, he says, "'United We Stand' as a slogan seems to me to leave no room for diversity of opinion, which I thought was the idea behind the whole country. I don't think that's unpatriotic that's what democracy looks like. We need to be challenging each other. We need to be kicking these ideas around."

Not one to shy from challenge, Mr. LaMotte also played at Eagle Base in Bosnia for United Nations troops stationed there during his latest European tour. "They all had guns," he says. "I played 'Spin.' We connected. It was a cool night."

The experience "defeated my own stereotypes," he says. "Like every human being, I still have 'thems,' and I am trying to have less of them."


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