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Protest Song of the Week: ‘The Smaller Deaths’

Carnage unfolds on a daily basis in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, and other countries of the world. Atrocities that happen a distance away from the United States make it possible to go about life without having too care or worry about what is happening. Through song, an artistic collaborative called the Newmanov Transmission questions how we as humans respond to war.

“The Smaller Deaths” is the second artist submission to be featured as part of Shadowproof’s weekly feature on protest music.

Its lyrics describe generals, who are eager to keep launching wars. Politicians give speeches to justify death, using words people have heard numerous times before. The killing is “distant and televised.” The deaths appear small to generals, politicians, and even average citizens.

The song was composed by Jason Paul, who is an artist, songwriter and graphic designer, and Harry Newman, a poet and playwright whose work has appeared in Rattle, Chautauqua, Ecotone, Asheville Poetry Review, and The New Guard, as well as the online publications Counterpunch and Warscapes.

Newman, who wrote the lyrics, told Shadowproof the song came from a poem inspired by a “persistent image, seen so many times, of suburbs or cities.” These cities are “shown through the cameras of drones or cruise missiles.” The neighborhoods look “so much like our own,” as missiles approach their targets.

The song was completed a few months before Israel launched an assault on Gaza in 2014. As Israeli forces killed more and more civilians and flattened entire areas, the duo was moved to create a video that gave their song even more gravity.

With a low budget, they decided to create an image of a man at a window. The window effectively became a screen the man stares into as he sees images of unfolding atrocities.

“In one sense, this is a song about collapsing distance, the moral distance of war and how it always comes closer, eventually engulfing us,” Newman explained. A flash at the end of the video represents an explosion taking place. “That’s where we wanted to leave the viewer/listener.”

Asked about the decision to create a song with such an explicit message about humankind’s response to atrocities, Newman said he does not believe in art “with a message.” There are poems, plays, novels, which are products of political engagement.

“My first wife was a former political prisoner and activist (from another country), and I spent my twenties and thirties surrounded by torture survivors and people involved with insurgencies,” Newman shared. “This was inevitably reflected in my writing, though I was already politicized before we got together.”

Newman split up with his wife, but he continued his political work with torture survivors and participation in antiwar or environmental protest.

“A political outlook has been part of my fabric, you could say,” Newman stated. “I didn’t set out to ‘be political’ in writing the way one decides what kind of food to have for dinner. It’s how I’ve responded to what’s in the world.”

Listen to—and watch—”The Smaller Deaths” by Newmanov Transmission:

The Smaller Deaths – a Newmanov Transmission from Newmanov Transmission on Vimeo.

Want to suggest a protest song that should be featured? Email protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."