Book Review: Weapon: Mouth – adventures in the free speech zone by Stoney Burke

Book Review

Weapon: Mouth Adventures In The Free Speech Zone by Stoney Burke ($20

Review by Jesse D. Palmer

Back in the mid-1980s, before I worked on Slingshot, a lot of us UC Berkeley campus radical types would come out most days during lunch time and sit in a big circle to listen to Stoney Burke’s hilarious political rants/performances. Stoney was a master at saying important things about injustice and the absurd contradictions of capitalism in a funny, engaging, accessible way. He wasn’t just about entertainment—he was a part of the radical scene and he influenced my thinking and helped me articulate my critique. In the very early days of Slingshot, he MCed some benefits for us because he was the people’s celebrity.

So I was excited to look at his new book. The book is organized around short chapters that are in part auto-biographical and many of which recall material from his rants. He also includes fliers, newspaper clippings and photographs. One of the early chapters about a formative incident from his childhood when racists shot into his parents’ house and wrote “nigger lovers” on the sidewalk to punish them for holding integrated political meetings actually brought a tear to my eye. There’s a lot about his many, many, many arrests for speaking in public places. Other chapters are odes to other street personalities he has known or other famous loudmouths. He goes through his experiences at decades of protests and historical events from the UC Berkeley anti-apartheid movement to the various Republi-crat conventions to Occupy.

The title of the book is from a police report where the officer filled in “mouth” for the blank titled “weapon.” Overall, what’s impressive about Stoney is how his 35 years as a street performer exemplifies what a do-it-yourself life is really about. Stoney life is all about creating his own venues and opportunities to perform while the mainstream entertainment biz ignores him. He lives life on his own terms with few compromises, which is so hard to achieve. I hope this book will turn more people onto Stoney’s amazing work. Laughing at the absurd capitalist/eco-destroying system might be one of our best tools to bring it down in flames.