Just when it seemed as if the American scene couldn't get any messier, along comes Dan Bern to add his particular brand of spice to the fire with the brilliant new The Swastika EP. As always, the incomparable Iowan proves to be a lightning rod to the most sensitive and disturbing issues, the ones that we all are now faced with confronting in the post-9/11 version of America.
As on his previous full-length recording, the highly acclaimed New American Language, Dan uses the five songs here to say the things many of us think, few of us have the courage to admit, yet all of us need to hear about the current state of the nation. Not many songwriters are capable of eliciting the belly laughs that Dan does as he sings about the creeping totalitarianism of yellow terror alerts, government-sanctioned snooping, and stealth disinformation, not to mention the plight of the poor, unfortunately named "Al Kida" in Cleveland, Ohio.
But Dan also has bigger dictators to fry, and he does just that with "My Little Swastika," on which he reclaims the swastika as the ancient, sacred symbol of peace and prosperity, life and luck, that it represented for millennia before its appropriation and perversion at the hands of the Nazis. In the process he takes out Hitler and his whole propaganda machine with a potent, rockabilly of a right hook. "Lithuania," the EP's anchor and a longtime concert favorite of fans, too deals in both direct and oblique ways with the Holocaust‹of which Dan's parents were survivors‹and the extraordinary Jewish contribution to America's intellectual and cultural tradition, from Albert Einstein to Groucho Marx to Leonard Bernstein to Sandy Koufax. It closes the album on an appropriately haunting note.
Dan Bern and the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy may not be intent on unilateral world domination. But they certainly have rock & roll nailed down.