Patriot Lame

Pank Shovel submits to an ideological litmus test and scores poorly, according to ex-guitarist Tom Mestnick

When that old standby "creative differences" gets tired, try substituting "irreconcilable politics." A band like Delray Beach-based Pank Shovel ("Can You Dig It?," September 6, 2001) doesn't have room for vast philosophical chasms, since the majority of the seven-piece outfit falls on the liberal side of the spectrum, with four women, two of whom are a tight-knit couple. No way is a band like that going to accept a conservative, narrow-minded fool into its ranks, but neither did it seem as if Pank Shovel could ever be accused of not being down for the cause. It wasn't until the addition of Tom Mestnick, a 39-year-old guitarist who relocated from Denver in 1999, that the band realized if it wanted to talk the talk, it would have to walk the walk too. And when Mestnick decided he'd spent a year and a half living and working with a bunch of warmongering hawks, that's where he drew his line in the South Florida sand. The dam broke when he was faced with the prospect of Pank Shovel playing a public pep rally for the World Trade Center survivors at Orbit in Boynton Beach on September 20, an event he could not support in good conscience.

"I'm not interested in getting up there with a bunch of flags waving. After September 11, I didn't want any part of the jingoism and the "Let's go to war' stuff everyone else was really excited about," Mestnick said in a call from Colorado last week. "I was stuck there in Florida, I didn't know anybody, just the band, and they took a really militaristic attitude. I can't be on-stage playing music with people who were feeling so strongly the other way, when they're saying, "America, love it or leave it' at the same time. Especially when I knew there were millions of lives literally on the line."

Compounding matters for the band, just an hour after Mestnick called to announce he was moving back to Denver, Pank Shovel's other guitarist, Brian Hay, phoned to say he was leaving the group as well, due to health problems and general unhappiness. Former bassist Marissa Mikeo is now playing guitar, and keyboardist Shannon Lindner has moved over to bass. Immediately prior to Pank Shovel's 2:30 a.m. performance at the City LinkMusic Festival on December 7, vocalists Kristen Kelley and Genny Slagexpressed sadness and surprise over Mestnick's meltdown.

"It just sucks," said Slag. "We argued about a lot of stuff, but we were friends, and we talked more than anybody else in the band. I always thought it was good! Tom's a good guy -- he's weird, but it's good to be passionate about what you believe in."

Before September 11, remembered Mestnick, "We'd always be into armchair radicalism and Philosophy 101, but it never really mattered. I had really toned down my politics when playing with them. I was doing Amnesty International and ACLU work down there, but I never really felt the need to preach about it. Which I can do -- very easily."

But on September 11, all the rules changed. Actually, they didn't change until September 14, when Mestnick finally discovered what had happened, since he'd been on the floor of Pank Shovel's radio- and television-less rehearsal room since injuring his back at work on September 10. Three days later, his bandmates showed up at their rented practice space in a warehouse off Congress Avenue and relayed the news to him. Crazily enough, you'd have to be living under a rock or in a cave to be unaware of something so momentous -- or be Tom Mestnick, to whom it's not so momentous -- and whose home was the warehouse.

"In the 100 worst atrocities of the 20th Century, it wouldn't even measure," he insisted of the WTC collapse. "That's horrible to say, but..."

Colliding with Mestnick (who usually eschews news, except for NPR, and didn't see any footage of the event until early October, when he stopped at a motel with cable TV on his trip back home) may have allowed an emotional and reactionary side of Pank Shovel to surface.

"Marissa said, "I wanna join the Army and start killing Arabs,'" described Mestnick, who's now involved in rallies and vigils for the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace when he's not doing what he calls "coffee stuff" back in Denver. "Both [drummer] James [Washington] and Brian said they wanted to enlist. I didn't want any part of it. I knew it was going to get ugly. I was disappointed -- I thought I knew everybody better. Maybe I should have been educating them all along. I knew they weren't anarchists, but I didn't think they were going to decide George Bush was the man and join the Republican Party."

Surely Pank Shovel's patriotism didn't lead to such drastic measures?

"Marissa is a little country-club Republican for the most part," said Mestnick. "She goes and plays golf every weekend."

"Well, she plays golf," admitted Slag, but flatly denounced the political realignment charge as "ridiculous. None of us are Republicans. It was his inability to coexist with our beliefs. I was just like, "Dude, living in this country affords all these opportunities....' It's difficult to hear him say we're too conservative."

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