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Meet Jim Greer, one of the most sincere, idealistic, and committed people you're likely to come across in the music business. Much like the hero in the Frank Capra movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Greer just recently came to understand that his chosen field of expertise thrives on greed, corruption, and mediocrity. Also like Mr. Smith, Greer's conviction to fight against those evils -- whether through releasing his own records or working as an activist for artists' rights -- is naive and heartfelt enough to move even the most cynical soul.
Sample of Jim Greer's "What You Might Have Done"
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On his new album, The Big Thieves Jail the Little Thieves, Greer asks the kind of big, existential questions that artists and philosophers have been pondering for eons. When talking about the record, however, Greer speaks with the fervor of someone who's just discovered the meaning of life.
"Part of why I am saying the big thieves jail the little thieves is because I think it's a crucial responsibility of ours to be hyper-aware of why things are the way they are, to question authority. And I think that many people don't question things at all, they just take it all at face value," says Greer, 29.
Greer owns and operates his own label, Fortune, which releases his own work (he has two previous albums, Lucky Day and Rover Songs) as well as compilations and albums by local groups Gun & Doll Show and 20 Minute Loop and Portland artist Herman Jolly (of Sunset Valley). To help cover costs, he puts in an honest night's work pouring drinks at the Paradise Lounge. And though he was recently evicted from his living space (a week after getting the similar boot from Downtown Rehearsal), Citizen Jim turned what could've been a debilitating experience into one with a silver lining.
"Overall, the [Downtown Rehearsal settlement] is a huge victory for us because we got the $750,000 and we got it through the approval of Tom Ammiano and Gavin Newsom," he says cheerily. "Personally, I would never rent a commercial building month to month and expect it to be there forever. [The eviction] seemed inevitable. Plus, the people who were living there were pretty much breaking the law, so it was hard to sympathize with that."
After serving as an integral part of the tenant settlement team, Greer joined the Nov. 5 Million Band March. Driving the Gun & Doll Show truck, he led the estimated 1,000 protesters from the Mission to Civic Center for the Take Back San Francisco concert.
"It was a blast," he says. "I am so honored to have come here from Ohio, gotten involved in the music scene, and, within a couple years, be driving the truck leading the protest march." Clearly, when the world throws Jim Greer lemons, he's the guy making the lemonade.
Since his evictions, Greer has decamped to Oakland, where he found office space ("I couldn't just shut down ... I had three new records coming out!") and a new living situation. Though he has yet to find a practice space for himself and his new band, Visitor Jim (a cross between Led Zeppelin, ELO, and Weezer, he says), he's predictably sunny about that outcome too.
Greer takes his job as an artist -- which he sees as asking tough questions but not necessarily offering answers -- more earnestly than most. The fact that he's mining philosophical territory familiar to other artists doesn't seem to bother him.
"Sometimes I think, "What would [creatures in outer space] think if they were watching us?'" Greer says. "One thing I've realized since Lucky Day and Rover Songs is that everybody who causes everybody else trouble in the world is not innocent. Everybody is guilty. That realization and the idea that we all have original sin and are all at fault and all we can do is watch the sunset and be happy today is not a new idea. But it is for me."
Greer characterizes his latest album as a reflection on the dark tea time of the soul, though frankly, it's hard to imagine this moon-faced man having had a bad day in his life. But he says that he was forever changed when he read Tolstoy's War and Peace this year. "I heard it was a great book and I thought maybe I should read it. And it totally changed my life -- I can never go back to where I was before I read that book."
Greer says the space-age bachelor pad number on Big Thieves, "In the Nightfall," came straight from War and Peace,while the breezy tune "Perfect Trees" alludes to Adam and Eve in the garden. The loopy hip hop of "This Is What I Mean" is about his marriage. At times his melodies evoke the quirky pop of They Might Be Giants, the classic rock of the Beatles, and the beat-driven genre blends of Beck. By wrapping his so-called deep thoughts in an easily accessible pop song package, the fusion works.
Greer's unabashedly good attitude was born out of a fairly normal childhood in Hudson, Ohio -- an upbringing that stands in contrast to the many artists who take solace in music because their lives are messed up.
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