SCREW THE VAN: Maggi, Pierce & E.J.'s Whole Steps Toward Peace Walking Tour

It's 218 miles of concrete, asphalt and gravel between Philadelphia and Washington D.C.  A politician wouldn't walk it for a winning vote, so you can imagine the rolling eyeballs when Maggi, Pierce & E.J., the folk rockin' pride of Philly, announced the trek.  Walk?!  Crazy!!  But get this:  that is exactly what the trio wanted them to think.  No one just walks to Washington D.C., at least not from Philly.  Then again, sanity has never been the band's strong point.  Think about it.  They're musicians!  And they don't have day jobs!!

While friends and family did not try to dissuade them, they did have their doubts.  (One close relative, who shall remain nameless, told them "I think if you're still friends by the time you finish this, it's going to be amazing.")  Excitement and worry gripped the core group of supporters.  Where would they walk?  (On the roads.)  What about traffic?  (They'll drive around us.)  Where would they sleep?  (Wherever we have to.)  All good questions  answered by supposed adults whose brains had evidently not developed past their teen years.   

So one day, a few years ago, thinking that the 218 miles were not going to walk themselves, they packed toothbrushes, extra socks and underwear and shoved a very reluctant Pokey (the band's canine roadie) out the door. Pokey had already said his goodbyes in the form of sniffs and grunts and the obligatory markings of a territory he might not see again, but he was the roadie and anyone who knows roadies knows that roadies are game.   Armed with little more than bedrolls and backpacks, walking sticks and a sign, they left home behind.  The sign said "Walking from Philly to D.C. One Step at a Time" on one side, "Whole Steps Toward Peace" on the other. 

It was a tour like few others.  MPE, as they refer to themselves, had scheduled 14 shows in 16 days during the 218 mile walk.  Concerts.  There could be no dropping out or days off.  They had to play.  They had contracts.   

...and they were filming.

That's right. Throughout the trek, the cameras were whirring (well, they would have been if this had happened a couple of decades ago). They caught portions of the hike: three people and a dog walking alongside or in the middle of roads, cars swerving to avoid them. And the concerts: the trio playing full-on and cranking rock in a concert hall to the three sitting on plastic chairs with two guitars and a drum pad and no mikes. They caught a bumper sticker on the side of a Daewoo ("My country invaded Iraq and all I got was this expensive gas") and the locals--- at least, the ones willing to be filmed. They caught Dan Piraro (of the comic strip 'Bizzaro') and Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. And they caught the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, whose comments about fossil fuels screamed politics (though one would hope he believed them). They caught Maggi in a sink, bathing (nothing prurious, I assure you), and someone lancing one of the most gawdawful blisters I have ever seen. They caught a good cross section of life, you might say, in restaurants and at gas stations and on street corners.

And they talked about peace.  

Trailer for "Screw the Van", the DVD

Yes, it is about peace. It is about peace and a slew of other topics that Maggi, Pierce and E.J. hold dear. Love. Music. Freedom. People. As regards the music, the few scenes of the band playing live are pure gold and the background music, from their various CDs (they have nine), is perfectly in sync with the film, as if it was written specifically for it, though it is not.

The film itself is a monument to the values and ideals of Maggi, Pierce and E.J., though not yet finished. Lack of funds and the rigors of family life have intervened to delay completion, but a shortened 17-minute version is available, funds being funneled into the 'complete the DVD' project.

Maggi would love to see the documentary finished. Like she says in the film, "Peace isn't easy. It's such a simple concept... but walking like this makes me realize that it's a very long road." It was. It still is, and the three members of MPE walk it every day, as does Pokey.

In the meantime, the band has just released a new CD, "Kahchee Moochee", and are touring to support that, as well as Maggi and Pierce's duo album, "Year of the Golden Pig", recorded under their moniker Hymn For Her. Support Peace. Check them out.

 

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