Rage Against the Machine: Tim Haldeman's "Open Water As a Child" is a powerful protest for Flint


Tim Haldeman, Open Water As a Child album cover

From songs such as Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus" to full albums such as Max Roach's We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, jazz has been a voice for social issues and protest. Ann Arbor saxophonist Tim Haldeman makes a strong statement on his new album, Open Water As a Child, a brilliant suite that rages against the Flint water disaster.

He originally presented the suite at the 2017 A2 Jazz Fest with no intention of ever playing it again; Haldeman simply wanted to blast out a singular, focused, powerful intention into the universe. But the reception to Open Water As a Child was so positive that Haldeman reconsidered and decided to document his protest piece. 

Haldeman (tenor sax) gathered poet John Goode (words/vocals), Dan Bennett (alto sax), Justin Walter (trumpet), Jordan Schug (cello), Jonathan Taylor (drums), and Ben Willis (bass) at Big Sky Studios in Ann Arbor and they cut a powerful record that inspires even as the topic it tackles infuriates.

The album features five songs with loose structures that allow the players to improvise freely in a way that builds upon his framework and gives them room to add their own voices of discontent to the suite. The album is bookended by Goode's poems, which trace Flint's interactions with water and tragedies, tying the trials of Native Americans with the present-day residents poisoned because of goverment negligence. 

Open Water As a Child is an important record. Its release will be celebrated at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on Thursday, October 11 at 8 pm. I talked to Haldeman about the creation of the album.

“A Song for Strangers” by Tim Haldeman from Open Water As a Child

Q: Was there any specific news story about the Flint water disaster that prompted you to write the suite, or was it an accumulation of tales about the crisis?
A: I remember first hearing about it four or five years ago and feeling sick, like a punch in the gut. 100,000 people poisoned, mostly kids, as a result of careless, gutless, lying politicians failing miserably at their jobs. The stories that have unfolded since then are equally disturbing. Rick Snyder using our taxes to pay for his lawyers, Flint residents being made to pay for poison? There's a lot more and it's surreal. I believe some people who refused to pay, lost their homes. Sickening. 

Q: Why did you originally intend to present the suite only once in an unrecorded live performance and what changed your mind to document it?
A: Dave Sharp asked me to play a set in the 2017 Ann Arbor Jazz Festival and at the time I was thinking a lot about Flint. I didn't really know what to play. I wasn't in a very happy state of mind and it just made sense to play something "from the heart," which at the time was sadness and anger. I asked some friends to do that with me, and all of them brought a lot of passion to it. The reason I did not intend to do anything more with the project after that one performance, was that I liked the idea of using a one-time concert with the intention of sending out love to our neighbors in Flint. I guess I believe in the power of intention and magic that we don't understand. I also didn't feel comfortable using Flint as a platform to promote myself in any way. I still feel awkward about that, but when I heard these incredible musicians play it and the amazing words that John wrote, I decided to record it. Half of the record sales will go directly to helping the people in Flint.

Q: Tell us about the dream you had that inspired the cover and how the dream & image relate to the suite.
A: About a month before that performance I woke up in the middle of the night from a  dream, which was an obvious metaphor. A boy was swept off a boat, into the ocean. He couldn't swim and was panicking, looking up at where the captain was staring back at him with a blank look on his face and just kept sailing away. The next thing I remember is after days of somehow staying alive in the open water, I saw the kid floating there, alive, but now freezing and expecting death. Out of nowhere, two magic birds that were on fire swooped down and flew along with him, right above his body, keeping him warm. That's when I woke up, my heart was racing, and I wrote it down. I didn't get to see if he made it, but of course, I like to think he did. I described this dream to Devin Ulery and she painted the beautiful cover of the record.

Q: How did you decide to have poet John Goode involved with the project?
A: John Goode, a friend and talented writer from Chicago, was the first person I asked to be a part of the project. I've been inspired by his writing for years and I asked him to write something about Flint. He had been following the story a little, but he ended up doing a lot of reading and research about the history of Flint. A lot of the words he wrote came from uncovering a long history of shady things happening in that area. 

Q: Were there any musicians or compositions that influenced your writing of this suite?
A: I did think about John Coltrane's recording of "Alabama" a lot when I was working on this. I'm nothing compared to him, but that song's statement is just so powerful and honest and so obviously coming from a place of deep love for his fellow humans. I never thought my first record would be a political one, but in the spirit of honesty and love for the people around me, that's where I'm at right now and that's what came out.

Christopher Porter is a library technican and the editor of Pulp.

Tim Haldeman's "Open Water As a Child" record release show is at Ziggy's, 206 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, on Thursday, October 11 at 8 pm. The vinyl and CD will be available at the show and local record stores; they also may be ordered here, along with a digital download.


Great review. Christopher Porter is an insightful interviewer and Pulp is a wonderful addition to the library website. Ann Arbor needs more coverage of the arts and this space is helping to fill the void.