Protest Song of the Week: ‘s/as boy/as a boy’ by Ted Hearne
In the past week Representative Peter King and “60 Minutes” have compared U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning to Aaron Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter who killed twelve people, and presented Manning as a disloyal American. This makes Ted Hearne’s composition inspired by Chelsea Manning exceptionally relevant to the moment.
Hearne is a composer, singer, and a band leader. He describes himself as someone who creates “intense, personal, and multi-dimensional works.” He is acclaimed for the modern-day oratorio with a primary source libretto “Katrina Ballads,” which Time Out Chicago and The Washington Post designated one of the best classical albums of 2010.
Building on a tradition of dealing with contemporary issues, Hearne’s album, “The Source,” is a collection of compositions inspired by Chelsea Manning, who released around a half million documents to WikiLeaks. It is also a modern-day oratorio and was released in October. It comes from a show of the same title, which premiered at the BAM Next Wave Festival in October 2014.
The track selected for Shadowproof’s “Protest Song of the Week” is called “s/as boy/as a boy,” and the words used for the composition are derived from the text of chat logs between Manning and hacker and government informant Adrian Lamo.
Manning expressed her anxiety about not wishing to be connected to the release of information because she dreads the “possibility of having pictures” of her “plastered all over the world press…as boy.” She would rather go to prison for the rest of her life than see herself in media as a boy.
The suffering she experienced while suffering from gender identity issues is recreated through the controlled chaos of the cello in the track. The words are sung by Samia Mounts in a forlorn manner, like someone resigned to something that will bring misery.
“The CPU is not made for this motherboard,” Mounts sings. Later, Mount says, “I’m drifting now.”
Hearne has listeners imagine what was going through the mind of Manning, as she anticipated the world discovering she was responsible for the disclosures. It is both enthralling as well as nerve-wracking.
One is made to feel anxious and distraught because not only was Manning grappling with the decision to disclose information at great risk to herself (she was convicted and sentenced to prison for 35 years) but also she was living as a male all-source Army intelligence analyst, even though deep down she really identified as a woman. The thought of coming out as a woman while deployed in Baghdad was something she recognized would result in stiff repercussions against her.
The character of Lamo remains entirely unmentioned. Nonetheless, the insensitivity to Manning’s situation reinforces the depressing nature of the song.
This particular composition is a part of a whole concept, which brings to life primary source documents and quotes in the media. It is very innovative and never fails to push boundaries in ways that make the album more and more intriguing to experience.
Listen to Ted Hearne’s song, “s/as boy/as a boy” on Bandcamp here. And please consider supporting Hearne’s work by buying the song or his entire album if you appreciate and enjoy his compelling music.
Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? We have a few submissions we’ll be featuring in the coming weeks, and if you’d like to submit a song, send submissions to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com