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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘The Trouble With Normal’

Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn wrote in his memoir that his songs are “multi-faceted.” Not only are they about “war, injustice, and exploitation,” not only do they deal with faith and grace, but they are also about “mystery, beauty, love, pain, [and] joy.” They are about the power of a “wild place” or the “power of people to rise above oppression, above pettiness.”

In 1983, Cockburn wrote a multi-faceted song called “The Trouble With Normal,” which was released on an album with the same title. Even though its synthesizer-heavy production make it easy to guess when the song was released, its lyrics still resonate more than two decades later.

“The trouble with normal is it always gets worse,” Cockburn sings.

Written in the time of dirty wars in Central America under President Ronald Reagan, Cockburn refers to strikes for higher minimum wages met with violence. People who stand up are repressed. There’s a “moratorium on rights.” It could be Guatemala. It could be El Salvador. Regardless, suppression of political protests are justified in the name of security, and the “planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage.”

Corporations exploit the land and the poor in countries. Capitalists make appeals to national pride within the country. Except, they are keeping poor and working class people in the throes of a terrible status quo that allows them to get rich. Plus, out of the status quo, “fashionable fascism dominates the scene.”

Its enduring message is how any country’s status quo, absent any movement, will invariably be dragged rightward in ways detrimental to millions struggling to survive daily. It is not enough for the establishment to triage problems. Lowering expectations for change opens a space for more corporate exploitation from businessmen and the political elites, whose careers depend on private interests to gain power.

There are high stakes in presidential elections, especially for countries which are imperial laboratories for the United States government. The outcome may or may not lead to more dirty wars, which ravage populations.

In 2005, Bruce Cockburn declared in an interview with David Barsamian, “We’ll never not be up against this kind of crap. You just got to keep banging away at it.”

“If we don’t, it’s only going to get worse. So at the very least we know that by resisting the powers that be, we are keeping things from getting worse than they otherwise might be. And that effort is very much worthwhile.”

The condescending reaction to people setting a high bar for resistance is that these are people at “passionate war with reality.” They disregard the severe impact of the status quo on the bottom 90 percent in not just the U.S. but other countries, which creates the fierce urgency of now.


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? Submit a song to 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."