Monday, April 14, 2008

Whatever Happened To Protest Music?

"You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you sit back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud"

"Masters of War," ---Bob Dylan, 1963

"We can dance, we can dance, we can dance, we can dance tonight
Come on just move your body
Come on just move your body"

"Not Leaving Without You," ---Paris Hilton, 2006


Back in the 1960s, even the biggest-selling music artists routinely released songs that protested the Vietnam War and demanded change. From John Lennon ("Give Peace A Chance") to the Rolling Stones ("Street Fighting Man") to Bob Dylan ("Masters of War") the pop charts were full of protest songs.

Today, we're living in an era that is like the 1960s in many ways. The nation's social fabric has been torn asunder. An unpopular war based on lies rages on. And the occupant in the White House is a crook who makes even Richard Nixon look like a good president. In short, America is going down the toilet.

But unlike the 1960s, if you listen to today's music, you'd be unaware that there was any problem at all with today's America. The top pop stars of today have little to say about anything. Outside of some of the socially conscious hip-hop artists, today's music stars are content to peddle the most bland, innocuous lyrics imaginable. Mostly, the songs are about sex, sex, and more sex. If there's any message at all, it's: "Be apathetic. Don't use your brain. Be a good little consumer."

The shame of it all is that there's probably never been an era in American history that cried out more for protest songs.

Today, America is saddled with an unbelievably corrupt occupant in the White House. George W. Bush is guilty of a long list of serious crimes, from embracing torture as official state policy to illegal wiretaps to lying America into a $3 trillion fiasco of a war.

What's worse is that our nation's mainstream media has failed in its responsibility to inform the American people about Bush's crimes. Indeed, "journalists" like the Judith Miller of The New York Times actually worked hand-in-hand with the White House, to sell Bush's war to the American people.

Given this sad state of affairs, one might think that at least some of today's pop stars would be inclined to speak out about the ongoing crisis in America. The crimes of Bush and Cheney could easily be the inspiration for hundreds of protest songs.

But sadly, this isn't the case. Today's pampered pop and rock stars are quite content to sit in their mansions and count their cash and refuse to speak out on the issues of the day, much less write songs about them.

And as a result, our radio stations and pop charts today are full of the most sugary, banal, shallow dross imaginable. In fact, there's probably never been an era in U.S. musical history where popular music was as sanitized and apolitical as it is today.

True, there is the occasional exception (like when the Dixie Chicks dared to speak up against Bush). As a result, their career took a hit when Clear Channel yanked the group's songs from its radio stations. The band even received death threats from the NeoCon Bush supporters.

Most other top artists, though, have failed to follow the Dixie Chicks' lead and speak out. It's clear that they are cowards who are afraid any sort of risks of damaging their commercial prospects. (Of course, it's also possible that they simply don't give a sh*t about what's going on in America). I'm not sure which is worse: apathy, or cowardice---but today's pop stars are similar to the mainstream media in that they lack a spine and they're only concerned about making as much money as possible.

Ironically, despite the blatant commercialism of today's pop scene, music sales continue to plunge in the U.S. The big record labels bitch and moan endlessly about this. They point the finger of blame at file-sharing services. The latter, no doubt, have some of the blame---but I believe the main culprit is that today's music just plain sucks.

The best pop/rock music has always been risk-taking, rebellious, bold and creative. That's the polar opposite of today's sad line-up of Britney, Paris Hilton, Justin Timberlake and their endless clones.

Meanwhile, here's a salute to some of the best protest music of yesteryear:

  • "Ohio," ---Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1970.
  • "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag," ---Country Joe & the Fish, 1967.
  • "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," ---Gil Scott-Heron, 1970.
  • "Power To The People," ---John Lennon, 1971.
  • "The Call Up," ---by The Clash, 1980.
  • "For What It's Worth," ----Buffalo Springfield, 1967.
  • "Shipbuilding," ---Elvis Costello, 1982.
  • "Between the Wars," ---Billy Bragg, 1985.
  • "Talkin' World War III Blues," ---Bob Dylan, 1963.
  • "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," ---Pete Seeger, 1967.
  • "Get Up, Stand Up," ---Bob Marley, 1973.

Cross-posted at