Ramallah, Not just a city in the West Bank

While sitting in a car and fielding questions about life and music, a friend of “White Trash Rob” Lind and customer at his work Wicked Tattoos in Garden City, came up to have his hat autographed. It was a strange sight considering that Lind isn’t anywhere close to being a rock star, and outside the hardcore music scene, is as unknown as anyone else. But the man who wanted the signature is a big admirer and believer in his band’s message.

Lind signed the hat with “666” and explained its significance as something other than Satanic.

“It means perpetual imperfection,” he said, adding that “777” means perfection or God.

To most people – mainly those outside of the hardcore scene – Rob Lind looks like he’s straight out of the gutter. The reality is he’s a tattooed, articulate and well-read 31-year old from a hard background who uses music and writing as a way of dealing with his past as well as to rail against an unjust society. It’s a reality that can be summed up in three of his many tattoos: “Pain” on his left hand’s knuckles, “Veritas” or truth on his right index finger and “Hate” on his right forearm.

Further setting him apart is his politically conscious hardcore act, “Ramallah,” named for the embattled West Bank city where Yasser Arafat spent his last years, his compound surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Lind isn’t of Arab descent, nor is he Muslim. Neither are the rest of the band members, all of whom are veterans of the Detroit and Toledo hardcore scenes. (Hardcore is a musical form originating from punk rock that contains metal influences.)

The act’s name doesn’t appear to be a gimmick, either: hardcore is limited to a self-imposed underground existence and while a name like Ramallah is certainly controversial, it’s the kind that will keep the band out of the mainstream.

So what is Ramallah’s raison d’etre? At first glance the name suggests a project with an overtly political intent and to a certain extent, that’s what it is. But there are differences between this project and more overtly political punk projects like the Dead Kennedys, according to Lind.

“I know by default and especially in the vacuum of the political and social statement in hardcore today,” he said, “Ramallah is by default going to be considered a political band. I know that’s inevitable.”

The band isn’t a political project, he said, adding that Ramallah is more about “perspective and empathy” with other peoples’ struggles.

“We’re not political in the sense of, ‘Vote No on Prop. 2’ type thing or stuff like that; it’s a little bit broader than that, its a little more grassroots,” he said.

Lyrically, Ramallah is a mixed bag. Songs like “Al-Shifa” refer to the 1998 U.S. bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum. Sudan appeared on the band’s first release “But A Whimper,” (reworked as “Shock and Awe” on their latest CD, “Kill A Celebrity.”)

Other songs deal with more painful, personal subjects like drug abuse – “Oscar Cotton” – and child abuse – “The Horror And The Gag” – all of which are drawn from his personal experiences.

There were constant interruptions throughout the interview, as Lind had to deal with another friend’s hospitalization from consuming a large quantity of pills. Throughout the night, he walked away to either receive an update, or give the news to one of a constellation of close friends. (To protect his privacy, Lind requested that his friend’s name not be revealed.)

“I’m so glad we’re doing this interview,” he said after returning from one of his phone calls. “It helps me keep my mind off this s–t.”

Rob Lind relocated to Detroit a year ago to escape what he said were memories that confronted him everywhere he went in Boston, where he was born and raised. His first band, Blood For Blood, gained a large and loyal following here in Detroit and over the years his many friendships here made this a city a logical choice for him to relocate to.

To understand Ramallah, it’s imperative to understand Rob Lind himself. He hails from Charlestown, characterized by its strict Irish-Catholic demographic, its high murder rate and a code of non-cooperation with the police – violation of which can get you killed.

At around the age of six or seven – he couldn’t remember exactly – his parents divorced after his mother entered a mental institution. After her release, they moved, first to Florida and then around the city of Boston itself. He described his father as domineering and abusive, and his memories of him include getting hit with a piece of broken hockey stick.

His mother’s subsequent boyfriends also abused him, with his mother’s tacit consent, and they moved into his grandparent’s home in Charlestown, which was firebombed to the ground on St. Patrick’s Day. For the next five years, he and his family moved around the projects until he graduated from Boston Latin High School, the oldest and one of the most prestigious high schools in the country.

It was Boston Latin where he met Buddha, whom Lind has known since he was 12 and who eventually became the vocalist in Blood For Blood, a band that dominated the Boston hardcore scene.

Through extensive touring – and five full lengths and two EPs – BFB became one of the most well known hardcore acts anywhere, but it was through their first large following in Detroit that BFB became friends with local heroes Cold As Life. It was that friendship with them and others here that prompted Lind to relocate here and Cold As Life founder Jeff Gunnells now plays guitar in Ramallah.

Ramallah is a departure from BFB’s signature street punk sound and largely apolitical lyrics. Ramallah is less of a sing-a-long band, and more of a metallic sledgehammer, where the music is marked by crushing breakdowns leaving the listener dazed and confused.

While Ramallah is a lyrical departure from BFB, Lind says it’s a common misperception that the events of 9/11 influenced his work in any way.

“September 11th wasn’t shocking to me in any way, I anticipated something of that caliber happening to the U.S. for years, ever since I’ve been conscious of U.S. policy all around the world,” he said.

It was the specific train of events that followed 9/11 that motivated him to do something different. It was a train leading the country to a dark place he didn’t want to go to and that’s why Ramallah came into existence. Its first release, “But A Whimper,” on Bridge 9 Records, hit the streets Nov. 26, 2002, an EP with the song titles in English on the back jacket, and their names in Arabic on the inside.

Lind chose the name Ramallah because of its Islamic connotation and as a metaphor for conflict in the Middle East. It’s not clear whether he chose the name for controversial purposes, but controversy is exactly what the band has.

An umbrella group of the Anti-Defamation League contacted Lind and demanded an explanation for the band’s political stance.

As he put it in another interview, the man who contacted him was apparently acting on his own. “They suggested that if the band were taking a pro-Palestinian stance, we (the band and the label) might end up on a national watch list that includes such musical luminaries as Bound For Glory and Skrewdriver.” Lind wasn’t able to find the letter for this interview, nor could he remember the man’s name.

(The latter two acts were openly neo-Nazi bands that have preached genocide against a variety of racial and ethnic groups. Ramallah isn’t associated with that particular scene.)

Another incident was a letter the band received from a Turkish hardcore gang whose members were offended by the use of the moon and star, an old symbol of the Ottoman Empire and part of the current Turkish flag. The band was told that if they ever came to Turkey, the gang would slit their throats.

But perhaps what hurts the band most is the reaction from the scene itself. When asked about the scene’s response, Lind was ecstatic.

“I remember the first night we were playing Poughkeepsie at this big place called The Chance, it’s a big theatre-type place and the audience was going nuts dancing,” he said, adding that the next night at the legendary CBGB was the same. However, Lind said over the phone that the reaction to the politics wasn’t so good.

“We really got hit hard with the politics shtick. This next EP is going to be more personal.”

He didn’t specify what exactly people may have had a problem with, but it comes as no surprise from a scene that has long eschewed bands with a progressive political message. The reason for the initial reaction may have been due to the music itself, as well as the legacy and popularity of Blood For Blood.

On “Kill A Celebrity,” the band’s latest release on Thorp records, the band takes aim at the cult of celebrities in America, as well as numerous other topics. But there are songs with an overtly political message.

Take, for example, “Days Of Revenge”:
“Holy Mother of Columbine, say a prayer for me, and the USA!
Blessed Mother of Palestine, come and strike us down, How dare we pray!”

There are other songs as well, most notably one called “Brother Malcolm,” a celebration of the life and work of the slain black nationalist.

Lind’s politics may seem radical on the surface, and to an extent they are. While BFB was essentially a Continued from previous page

non-political band, the song “White Trash Anthem” was an attack on the notion that all white people are the same, the reality of which ignores socio-economic class distinctions; hence his nickname, “White Trash Rob.”

BFB wasn’t about representing any political thought, according to Lind, because it wasn’t the right forum.

“Blood For Blood was about ID-ing and representing a sort of social strata that I was seeing all over the country time and time again,” he said. With Ramallah, Lind felt he could communicate with them because they’re devoid of all judgment.

“I knew that I reached a demographic that didn’t really edit what I had to say against their personal opinions and thoughts, they would just accept it,” he said.

Rob Lind’s own politics are socialist by default, according to him, and he’s against all non-democratic ideologies, including Bolshevism. He is, however, in favor of some distribution of wealth, like welfare, partly because of his own experiences with it.

But his views aren’t what would be called revolutionary. For example, he criticizes the way “welfare abuse” captures the imagination of some by comparing the amount spent on defense, yet he sees the need to spend money on defense.

“Some people say I’m a libertarian, I’m a liberal, I’m a conservative, I fluctuate across the board on all different issues,” he said, adding “There‚Äös no one political perspective I subscribe to.”

What he does believe in is the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and so on, and that, he believes, qualifies him as a reformist. But it’s only because he doesn’t know what would fill the vacuum after a revolution, or the fact that he insists that if he doesn’t have an opinion on a subject, he really doesn’t have an opinion.

But for someone without an ideology, Rob Lind is embarking on three writing projects. The first is tentatively called, “White Trash Manifesto: a survival guide of dos and don’ts in the strange, surreal, sad and terrible little corner of the American nightmare that I call my world.”

“It’s going to basically include everything nonfiction that I feel like throwing at the reader all in one book,” he said. The book will deal with issues such as drug addiction growing up in Charlestown and family issues, to name a few.

The second is going to be a Ray Bradbury-inspired anthology of short stories tentatively called “Cell Phone Calls From The Dead,” which are stories about what the title suggests. The third will be an historical treatise called, “In Defense Of The Inquisition,” an unusual title considering the Inquisition’s brutality towards Muslims.

Lind insists that it’s more about understanding what caused and contributed to the Inquisition’s rise. He refused to name the publisher due to the latter’s request while contract negotiations are underway.

Ramallah will be releasing an EP, one that Lind says will be more personal than political, and next year will see a full-length follow-up to “Kill A Celebrity.” However, Lind says he isn’t planning on leaving Detroit any time soon, and in addition to working at Wicked Tattoos, he also works at National Tree Service.

“I mean who knows? My past is showing me that you can’t really anticipate what’s going to happen tomorrow, never mind three months from now, but I don’t have any plans of going anywhere else right now,” he said.

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