French Fried:
Yet Another Coffee Shop Riot

Wars have historically brought forth memorable and moving music. “Ballad of the Green Beret” by Sgt. Barry Sadler, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando, and “It's a Long, Long way to Tipperary ” by England are but three examples of the art that springs from bullet holes.

To these we must now add last Saturday's performance by Le Republican En Garde at the Two Lumps Café.

The room was lit only by candles. The curtains were lacy but the place wasn't pretentious; the wait staff wore t-shirts. Due to the prime downtown location and easygoing hipness, the crowd at the Two Lumps Café consisted of rich and not rich people of several different ethnic backgrounds who clotted together at their respective tables. American flag place mats garnished each setting.

At nine o'clock , two skinny guitar players and woman dressed like a French chef stepped onto the small raised stage in the corner of the lounge area. Speaking quietly into a microphone, the taller of the guitarists said, “Bonsoir, mesdames et messeiurs, nous sommes Le Republican En Garde. Nous allons chanter pour vous .

The guitarists strummed a repetitive phrase while the French chef set up a wooden table and began slowly chopping vegetables with a butcher knife. After a few moments the crowd became curious and idle chatter ceased.

Without warning, the guitarists began shouting loudly and out of key, “All we are saying is, ‘Give peace a chance.'” The crowd reacted variously: some put their hands over their ears, others tried to sing along, some acted like they didn't hear, and one man in the back of the room stood up and yelled, “We gave peace a chance, assholes! It didn't work!”

At this, the band stopped strumming, singing and chopping. A nervous disquiet fell over the crowd and the tall singer counted, “ Un, deux, trois, quatre ,” and they began the song again, this time singing, “All we are saying is, ‘Give war a chance.'”

Now half the crowd heckled them. “Down with Bush!” “Lennon would be ashamed!” “Go back to France !” “Learn to sing!” Once again, they stopped. Deliberately, the chef tossed vegetables into a bowl. “Un, deux, trois, quatre,” and this time they sang in perfect folk harmonies. “All we are saying is, ‘Give penis chants.'” The chef pulled a giant hot dog out of her smock and began eating it with a fork and knife. The crowd erupted in laughter, an easy breeze blew through the room and Armageddon was forgotten.

The number ended to loud applause as all three members of the band bowed low.

In English, with slight French accent, the tall one said, “This next song is a very favorite of ours. It is called ‘Proud to Be an American', which is what we would be if we were Americans.” Some laughter, some cheering. “Please to sing along. If you do not know the words, turn over your American flag place mat, where, on the back you will find a lyric sheet.”

In a deep, resonant baritone, the short singer began the song. He sang just like Lee Greenwood, except lower and with more conviction and with a French accent. His voice bore away any gloom that lingered in the room. The second time through the chorus, the tall singer joined in with a confectionary harmony that ushered in a thousand points of light. The light didn't last.

It was extinguished by the American flag place mats and the lyrics printed on the reverse side, which read:

I'm proud to be an American

(Unless I'm a Dixie Chick, in which case I'm embarrassed. No, wait. I'm proud.)

Where at least I know I'm free.

(Destitute, maybe, but free.)

And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.

(Nor will I forget those who died for affordable gasoline.)

And I'd gladly stand up

(Assuming I'm didn't lose my legs defending our country from the Vietnamese.)

Next to you

(You ARE standing, aren't you?)

And defend her still today.

(As long as by “defending” you mean “attaching a flag to my car”.)

‘Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land.

(Pardoner, I reckon I'm startin' to doubt that YOU love this land.)

God bless the U.S.A.

(The separation of church and state is for unpatriotic heathens who think God would waste time blessing other countries.)

Some people didn't read their lyric sheets. They waved their American flag place mats in the air with one hand, holding lighters aloft with the other. They sang loudly and marched in place. Others read the lyric sheet and found it amusing. They waved their American flag place mats in the air with one hand, holding lighters aloft with the other. They sang loudly and marched in place. Still others read the lyric sheet and became angry at the parenthetical remarks. One of these people sang loudly, marched in place and set his lyric sheet on fire.

A young woman shouted, “He's burning the flag!”

The man shouted back, “I ain't burnin' a flag. I'm burning those fucking words on the back side!”

He dropped the American flag lyric sheet on the floor where it was joined by another and another. Half a dozen were thrown into the fire.

“Burn the flag!”

“Burn the words!”

“Commie!”

“Capitalist!”

Fists flew, coffee mugs were thrown against walls. Pro-America pacifists fought with anti-American apologists who fought with left-wing Christians who battled neo-conservative Boy Scouts. The fire grew, flames licking the ceiling. I was heading for the door when—suddenly and providentially—the room was filled with a steamy hiss. As the smoke cleared, people released one another from choke-holds and looked at the pile of charred paper where the fire had been. Upside down lay a large bowl and scattered in the soggy black ash were vegetables. Le Republican En Garde was gone.

The police arrived and members of the audience exited the building, hiding their faces.

I sneaked into the kitchen where I found the band crouched beneath a stainless steel table, sharing a bottle of red wine.

I asked, “Do all your shows end like this?”

“Oui,” said the tall one. “We try to make people think about their world but instead they choose fight.”

“Does it bother you that you're causing all this violence?”

Clenching her fists, the chef spoke, “Violence? They make their own violence when they can't understand that words are just words and flags are just flags but paper burns and fire is deadly. They think a thing is a concept and they think fists are debates. Fools. All of them.”

“So why the crazy show? You provoked this whole thing.  You obviously abhor fighting.”

The tall one spoke, “But even more than that, we love being popular.”

“How is tricking people into acting like animals going to make you popular?”

“It works for your president.”

Touché.

--Strapping Danforth, May, 2003

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