Monday, April 14, 2008

The New Protest Music

Via C&L. Marc McDonald over at Beggars Can Be Choosers laments the lack of "protest music" in today's popular music landscape. I'm sure people who are far more into the music scene could bring up more specific examples than I could, but I'd have to say that McDonald presents an argument that's wrong for a couple of reasons. There argument McDonald makes is once centered on stereotypes about class and race. He compares Paris Hilton and the Dixie Chicks with Bob Dylan, these are both imperfect comparisons.

Firstly he cites Bob Dylan as a leader in the late 1960s protest music. Dylan is an interesting example, because while his lyrics can be widely interpreted as against the Vietnam War, Dylan himself (as I saw in the PBS mini-series No Direction Home) came off as rather apolitical. He wasn't into protesting and more or less blew off his co-performer and activist Joan Baez when she encouraged him to take part in war protests.

Secondly, there are two reasons why today's music isn't reflective of the war in the same way the late '60s and early '70s was. First of all, most popular singers and songwriters are largely unaffected by the war. The draft was active back in the days that McDonald talks about. Musical performers were just as much at risk as everyone else to getting drafted to fight in the war. Remember that even Elvis served a tour in Korea. Today, there are two different kinds of people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, military contractors that are rewarded handsomely for their work, and the enlisted men and women that by and large come from lower-class, small-town America. That isn't to say these people aren't musically inclined, but when you're talking about corporate popular music, you tend to be talking about the wealthy.

But I'd argue that there is music that could be called protest music -- it just doesn't fit into the neat anti-war mold that McDonald outlines. Anyone who's seen Gunner Palace has heard some of the rhymes and heavy metal lyrics soldiers are composing that indicate exactly how fucked up the war in Iraq is. Obviously McDonald's never heard of the Hip Hop Caucus, and other black artists like M-1 who actively speak up against the war. Furthermore, some of the hip hop out there has been talking about the street wars for years. Sure, maybe when you look at the largely white, upper crust of the Billboard charts you may not see a lot of "protest music," but when you look closer, music about the war does exist.

Cross posted.


Marc McDonald said...

There is indeed protest music around these days. But the point is that it's not on the airwaves or in the pop charts.

In the 1960s, protest music WAS on the radio and in the charts. What's more, even the top artists of that era released protest songs (or at least songs that reflected the social turmoil of that era).

By contrast, the top-selling artists of our era (in other words, the ones with the biggest audience and the ones capable of reaching the most young people) are silent on the unfolding horrors that the Bush Crime Family has brought upon our once great nation. And in case you're thinking that this is the job of the media, you haven't been paying attention: the corporate MSM these days is too busy peddling sleaze and sensationalism to do serious journalism, or to bother to inform people about what's going on.

Outside of the occasional song by U2 or Radiohead, I can't recall the last pop chart song I heard that had anything other than banal, forgettable lyrics (with all the depth and intelligence of a Hallmark greeting card).

Unknown said...

We call what I do 'THE ART OF PROTEST' I write modern protest songs. There is so much going on out there, so much to say, war, money, environment, extinction, social collapse to name but a few.

I've just won an award from the WWF for a song and video HOW CAN YOU SLEEP.

Come and see me at my website

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