When Jordan Page was a boy of 11 with a yen for acting, his greatest thrill was playing the Crown Prince in '"The King and I" onstage.
Two decades later, in the middle of an odyssey that began on Maryland's Eastern Shore, he's starring in a real-life rock tour with lyrics a lot more volatile than "Shall We Dance" or "Getting to Know You."
As a singer and writer of protest songs that decry big government, big business and the military-industrial complex, Page has become the go-to entertainer for supporters of Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican who seems to be drawing in young Republican and independent voters.
Page, 32, has proved his ability to ignite Paul's crowds before the candidate comes on as the main attraction. The singer-songwriter has done it nine times so far, and he says he's available "whenever they need me to rock out and melt faces." He was headed for a rally in New Hampshire this weekend.
"Dr. Paul has said that a revolution needs two things: young people and music," Page says. The anti-federal, anti-war message of the 76-year-old 10-term Texas congressman, and his consistent opposition to the status quo, roused the fervor of young people in Iowa last week and may do the same in New Hampshire's primary on Tuesday.
The American musical landscape is full of rock-star activists — but they usually support liberal causes. Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp endorsed Barack Obama and opened for some of his campaign appearances during the 2008 campaign. But Page has woven Paul's platform into his own musical agenda with extraordinary commitment. He doesn't arrive at events just in time for his number, and he doesn't leave right afterward.
"At every event I've ever seen him play at, like, in New Hampshire at the Porcupine Freedom Festival, he gets there early," says Nathan Cox, a Virginia coordinator of the Campaign for Liberty who's now active in Veterans for Ron Paul. "He wants to talk to people and share his ideas and his music. And he hangs for several hours after he plays. People just love him."
What transformed Page from a budding thespian to a rocker who plays industrial-strength guitar, scribbles heavy-duty lyrics and calls for revolution?
It started with a family calamity. After his father suffered major injuries in a car crash, the family moved from Agawam, Mass., where Page had gone through grade school, to the Eastern Shore — first to Tilghman Island, then to St. Michaels — where his dad had a support network of relatives.
In Agawam, "I thought my life was realized," he says, but on Tilghman Island, Page didn't know who he was or what he wanted to do. He even stopped acting. Rock music often emerges from teen angst; Page spun his first works out of preteen angst.
"I was wondering, 'What am I doing here?'" he says.
His father, a Vietnam vet who had been director of shipping at a large company before his accident, and his mother, an early-education specialist who ran a preschool in Agawam and became the director of The Kinder Garden in Easton, raised him in a solid liberal environment.
He first got his hands on a guitar two days before he left Massachusetts. It became, he says, his salvation.
"I was able to express what I was feeling as a displaced young person through music," he says. "A lot of my friends had similar feelings, but I had the ability to express them through song."
Older friends and his elder sister (he also has a younger one) turned him on to some of their favorite bands. Long before he entered high school, the ecstatic doominess of the Doors got to him, along with the operatic albums of Pink Floyd.
Words and music became Page's anchor, but some funky things happened on his way to becoming a versifying troubadour. His ambition didn't waver as he entered Washington College (where he studied anthropology), but it did become transformed. In his junior year, he went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.
He says he'd already had experiences that made him feel guided by an "invisible hand." But epiphanies in South Africa set him on the straight and narrow, and gave him a higher and more specific purpose than merely going on the road with his guitar.
"In Grahamstown, there'd be hundreds of beggars on one side of the street, and on the other side coffee shops and milkshake shops with rich whites sipping their drinks. I'd never seen anything like that with my own eyes."
After graduation, he repaired guitars and drum sets at a music shop and also taught guitar —- which made him learn his instrument in a way he'd never done before. He started getting gigs at clubs, especially after he met his wife and they moved to Annapolis, halfway between St. Michaels and Washington, where she worked. (They have three kids, with a fourth on the way.)
In December 2006, a dream — make that nightmare — jolted him awake. He had fallen asleep after listening to George W. Bush talk about Iraq and Afghanistan. He roused himself from an apocalyptic reverie, stumbled to his computer and began rapping on the keys. Bob Dylan-esque lyrics cascaded from his fingers: "I saw a president blind to the needs of his people / I saw a camel that passed through the eye of a needle / I saw a group of old men whose money was evil / I saw a cross breaking free from the cage of a steeple."
He called a politically conscious friend in Seattle, but misdialed and talked instead to the friend's mother. It turned out to be a lucky break. Page's lyrics knocked her out. So did his despair. She told him that the country wasn't going to stay the way it was and that a nation's history swings like a pendulum. The oscillating image clicked with Page.
The song became one of his signature numbers, "Pendulum," with the pivotal lines, "& the pendulum swings from the left to the right / as momentum increases the need for the fight / ... & I am lost somewhere in the middle."
He didn't know how regulars would react when he performed it during a Christmas gig at Rams Head on Stage in Annapolis. They gave him a standing ovation. Only then, Page says, did he study his country's founding documents — and realize he had an affinity with Ron Paul.
Last year, Page wrote a pro-Paul anthem called "The Light of Revolution." On YouTube, you can see Paul peeking from the wings of an event as Page punches out that tune, creating a huge sound and getting the audience juiced.
Page now lives in rural Indiana (he won't give the exact location). But he loves to come back to venues like Rams Head on Stage (where he played Jan. 5) or the Irish pub Killarney House in Davidsonville (where he played Dec. 30).
"As a musician and an entertainer and someone who understands the business, Jordan is the whole package," says Melanie Ferranti of Killarney House. "I have worked here in different capacities for six years — I've been manager and [booked] music for three years — and he is definitely our favorite."
Page contends that he's not partisan or bipartisan, but "nonpartisan," even when he's delivering a Ron Paul marching song or a jeremiad on the Fed.
"There will always be injustices to fight against, but this is a rare time to have something positive to fight for," he says.
When Campaign for Liberty organized an after-party for the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010, with Page as entertainment, Cox was on a bus with 35 people en route to the event when a young woman started singing one of Page's songs. Soon the whole bus was singing "Liberty."
"He's got a sense of humor, and he's not scared to speak his mind," Cox says, "and that's what people appreciate. The music industry has become monotonous and full of garbage: Whether it's rap or rock or whatever it is, it's just about having a good hook to stick in people's heads. The stuff Jordan writes is about real modern-day issues."
Cox says the appeal of Page's music goes beyond politics — "He's phenomenal on guitar: He can play the hell out of some Pink Floyd."
Dylan is the predecessor who means the most to Page. His "Song for Bob Dylan" contains the plea, "well hey hey, Bob Dylan, we need you today / because the freedom we fight and we die for is sailing away." Page denies any contradiction between his advocacy for Paul and his reverence for the singer-songwriter who became a seminal voice for the counterculture. Dylan's attacks on militarism in songs like "Masters of War" jibe with libertarian ideology.
He laughs and explains: "When Obama ran for president on things like ending the Patriot Act and stopping the wars, I was excited about it. When he was elected, I was afraid that I was not going to be relevant. But even then, part of me knew better."