A Little Fight Music

It may not be a good thing when MTV and my brain are asking the same questions, but it could be telling of something, right? The folks over at the Moonman Network took time out from hyping the thrilling finale of 8th and Ocean to ponder why more protest music isn't taking center stage on the music scene. The article features snippets from a number of politically vocal musicians (e.g., Chuck D, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, and Anti-Flag's Justin Sane) proffering various theories about where all the protest music has gone:
  • The business of music has made it too risky for artists to get "Dixie Chicked," especially young bands that are still trying to establish themselves. More established acts, whether they be Neil Young or Green Day, can afford to do it, but newcomers cannot.
  • Most fans want entertainment, not political sermons.
  • Some artists may still feel the post-9/11 pressure to not feel unpatriotic in a lingering "you're either with us or against us" climate.
  • Or maybe the belief that music can change the world is an anachronism. "[D]o you have any idea how deep this thing really is? Trying to 'turn over the system' by talking about it and voicing your opinion was an idea that died at Woodstock — and it ain't doin' so well in the nonprofit-organization sector of things nowadays either."
Not bad theories. And considering how much contempt this administration has for the intelligence of Americans, you'd think that everyone should have a theory.

One theme that recurred in the article is that the artists do not believe that it is an issue of apathy. Maybe. For me personally, apathy has evolved into something like an arrogant incredulity. I don't seek out political debate like I did in '04. Basically, I believe that, at this point, if you still ardently support Bush on issues such as foreign policy and the environment, then you have proven yourself more or less incapable of rational critical thought. Why bother? Like I said, it's an arrogant position to take and not one likely to sway people to my side, but I'm not sure what there is left to talk about or protest when met with a Bush supporter face-to-face. Of course, the people who do need to be speaking are the ones who agree that Bush is a disaster. Since the world really isn't black and white, "with us or against us," we should get together and figure out the best way to clean up the mess. But that's another entry. Back to the music.

Maybe the real problem isn't that protest songs are absent from the music scene. Political songs are there. Look at the people they interviewed. There's plenty of politics in the music of Anti-Flag, NOFX, Talib Kweli, and acts with a wider audience and greater visibility like Green Day, System of a Down, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and those Dixie Chicks. So, the stuff is there, but doesn't feel as effective.

The lack of efficacy could be part quality, part market forces. The fact is that I don't recall hearing any songs recently that have real protest anthem potential. I love NOFX, but more for the fact that they wrote the best song ever about being a Jew and not because they've inspired me to tear down the system with songs like "The Separation of Church and Skate." Punk poets they are not. I suppose "American Idiot" by Green Day had potential and maybe I'm out of touch and it has, in fact, become anthemic, but I don't think so. Here's where the market forces come in.

The Sixties, in as much as they have been handed down to people my age (i.e., children of Children of the Sixties), seem to have a finite set of iconic songs, images and events that helped the counter-culture and protest movement coalesce. Is it possible that the explosive speciation of media outlet choices and potential youth identities (emo, hipster, hip-hop, indie, punk, etc.) has made it impossible for any one set of anti-mainstream markers (including a musical politcal voice) to unite against authority? Could be. And it also could be that the competition for the attention and money of America's youth is such that the flag-bearers of each of those identities (i.e., the musicians) have to tone down their political voices or risk being bumped out by someone more marketable and appealing to a lower common denominator.

Then again, maybe this whole problem is imagined. Maybe the songs are there and I'm just too busy complaining to hear them. Or worse, maybe the generation gap has snuck up on me to the point where I don't even know how to hear them. It's not as if protest singers were dominating the charts back in the day. Look at the Top 20 songs for the super-tumultuous year of 1968 for instance:

1. Hey Jude, The Beatles
2. Honey, Bobby Goldsboro
3. Love Is Blue, Paul Mauriat
4. (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay, Otis Redding
5. People Got To Be Free, Rascals
6. Sunshine Of Your Love, Cream
7. This Guy's In Love With You, Herb Alpert
8. Stoned Soul Picnic, Fifth Dimension
9. Mrs. Robinson, Simon and Garfunkel
10. Tighten Up, Archie Bell and The Drells
11. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Hugo Montenegro
12. Little Green Apples, O.C. Smith
13. Mony, Mony, Tommy James and The Shondells
14. Hello, I Love You, The Doors
15. Young Girl, Gary Puckett and The Union Gap
16. Cry Like A Baby, Box Tops
17. Harper Valley P.T.A., Jeannie C. Riley
18. Grazing In The Grass, Hugh Masekela
19. Midnight Confessions, The Grass Roots
20. Dance To The Music, Sly and The Family Stone

Kind thin on the anti-War anthems, in spite of international riots, numerous assassinations, and the Chicago Democratic Convention. Still, I wouldn't mind one "The Times They Are A-Changin'" or "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" to rally around. Ironic, actually, considering that Bob Dylan wanted nothing to do with being the Voice of a Generation and Phil Ochs drifted from his anti-authority troubadour roots and embodied a delusional proto-bling bling persona of being the next Elvis in gold lamé before hanging himself in 1976.

Phil Ochs (1940-1976) -
Voice of Dissent, Elvis Wannabe


At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Rev Transit said...

Uh-- I think 1968 is the tumultuous year you're looking for.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger evandebacle said...

you are correct

i actually changed the list from '67 the year when the counterculture hit full stride with Monterrey Pop. thanks. i will correct that.

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Rev Transit said...

In '67, the Cardinals won everything. In '68, they took a 3-1 lead in the WS and then lost three in a row. Simply tragic.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger evandebacle said...

And they were up 3-0 in Game 5.


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