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McKissick Museum

  • Dramatic Greyscale photo of Mark Rubin looking into the camera while holding a guitar.

Punk & Old-Time: Conversations on Community, Conflict, and Cohesion Hits the Airwaves this Week

 A new radio show, beginning Thursday, March 11th, investigates the connections between the punk rock and traditional music communities. 

Join host and McKissick Museum Folklife Program Coordinator Ian Hallagan as he explores the rich multitude of connections and conflicts both between, and within the punk/metal and old-time/traditional music communities. Over the past three decades, people who self-identify with punk and/or old-time musical communities have both found common ground and trod contested terrain. In this radio show, Ian Hallagan talks with individuals situated in both musical communities about their experiences of making music that sits comfortably and sometimes not so comfortably at the intersection of what most people would regard as two very different musical genres.

On March 11th Ian will sit down with multi-instrumentalist Mark Rubin. Known for his larger-than-life persona and muscular musicianship, Rubin is an unabashed Southern Jew. Oklahoma-born, Texas-reared, and now living in New Orleans, he has accompanied or produced a virtual who’s-who of American traditional music, while straddling numerous musical genres, including Country, Western Swing, Bluegrass, Cajun, Tex-Mex, Polka, Klezmer, Roma, and more in his 30+ year career. He is perhaps best known for co-founding the notorious proto-Americana band Bad Livers, though his more recent work as a first call tuba and bass player in the klezmer music scene has earned him equivalent notoriety. Today, he lives and works as a professional musician in New Orleans and makes a study of the musical traditions and cultures of South Louisiana. 

Born and raised to educator parents in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Rubin experienced the kind of small-town institutional anti-Semitism that ranged being relatively benign—e.g., being barred from social and country clubs-- to the more active bricks through windows and a cross burning in the front yard. Entranced however by the Bluegrass and Gospel heard on the AM car radio on the trips to Oklahoma City for Sunday school, Rubin grabbed hold of his neighbors’ music and eventually made it his own, taking up the bluegrass bass in the early 80's. 

Concurrently, he was involved in the local Oklahoma punk rock scene working closely with the Flaming Lips as a roadie/tech along with other regional touring acts, eventually moving to Dallas and becoming a road manager in the "Deep Ellum" scene of the mid-80's. After a stint with punk-bluegrass pioneers Killbilly, Rubin relocated to Austin to join with banjoist Danny Barnes to form Bad Livers. 

His very first political action was hosting a "Rock Against Reagan" concert in his hometown of Norman OK. From that concert to his protest folk group The Atomic Duo in the late 2000's right up to today, Rubin has been "a man at the forefront of America's culture wars," performing on picket lines and at union halls. He hasn't let up. 

A veteran of the music business for 35+ years, Rubin’s first project, “Southern Discomfort,” was only released in 2014. And in 2017 he released his "solo" project--"Songs for the Hangman's Daughter"-- performing 11 original tunes played utterly live, just voice and one instrument. "Criminally overlooked and underrated," said Andy Langer KGSR Austin, TX. 

Rubin's songs are couched deeply in the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam, a concept defined by acts of kindness to heal the broken world we find ourselves in. The songs pose many questions: What is the Jewish response to the challenges that confront our society today? How do you react in an environment like the American South where no one around you holds the same values that your tradition teaches? What makes a Jew anyway? Bagels and poor Eastern European stereotypes? These questions are made even more relevant by recent acts of open anti-Semitism and a rise in hate crimes across the US and around the world. 

Punk & Old-Time: Conversations on Community, Conflict, and Cohesion airs weekly on WUSC Radio (90.5 FM), Thursdays at 2:00pm EST and online. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.