Where have all the (Protest) Songs Gone ?
Of special interest to me was that during times like these, art, music and literature can create the symbols more readily than orators can. He references the Punk movement musicians who never forgot about the yoke of oppression we’re increasingly living under. (He does mention Tom Morello, whom I don’t care a whit for, but I didn’t listen to Rage Against the Machine.) I’m more of a Patti Smith/Muse-Uprising soul. ;~)
Absolutely. In fact music and art have been at the forefront of progressive change from the beginning. Music and art were the primary way news and information was passed from town to town and village to village. Songs telling stories of events and art showing them from the times of cave paintings. Monarchs and dictators and tyrannical regimes all knew this which is why artists and musicians who used their talents where the first and most repressed and even killed.
The songs of the 1920s and 1930s by such people as Woody Guthrie and Florence Patton Reece and Alfred Hayes. Of the 1950s and 1960s by Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan (before he had his motor cycle accident became a brain damaged capitalistic clown) and PP&M and Country Joe McDonald (everyone and I mean everyone knew the words to Feel Like I’m Fixin To Dye Rag), Arlo Guthrie Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Eric Anderson and Buffy Sainte Marie. People who wrote and sang songs that anyone who could play a guitar could play and anyone could sing.
Protest and social commentary songs with easy chord changes and lyrics you could understand and relate to. Music that could stir you inside without making you deaf as a post in the process.
What is missing is not organization but the multitudinous confluences that create a culture – yes, organization, but also music, spirit, values, gatherings, habits. . .
To be sure we have grisly imitations all around us: coffee shop culture replaced by Starbucks, “hip” apparel determined by multinational corporations; a presidential candidate promising “hope” and “change” but providing neither, teens learning to scream at music rather than listen to it in preparation for lifetime service as loyal consumers. Whether it’s Facebook, Abercrombie & Fitch or Barack Obama our task is to buy it and shut up.
When, if ever, we think of counterculture, pot, love beads, and Joan Baez may come to mind. Or bongo drums and berets. Or freedom schools and singing We Shall Overcome.
While they are just examples from particular times, they are instructive because they reveal something our intellect easily forgets: change is an act of art and music and theater as much as of organization; of symbols as much as substance, of informal dress on a bar stool as much as formal addresses on a podium.
We need a new group of troubadours. People who can make and write music that anyone can sing and play and does not require thousands of dollars in electronics to produce. Troubadours that would go out among the people to sing with them, rather than up on a stage at 100 bucks a head. Whose songs have meaning rather than marketability.