Monday, April 4, 2011

Where Have All the Protest Songs Gone?

I've been thinking about this long before I read a review in yesterday's Plain Dealer about a book called "33 Revolutions." The author Dorian Lynskey wrote, " I began this book intending to write a history of a still vital form of music. I finished it wondering if I had instead compsed a eulogy."

I am word person, a lyric listener. The sole reason I love certain songs are for their meaningful lyrics. My daughter gave me satellite radio for Christmas. I figured I would hear all kinds of new music and new brilliant lyrics - but, not so much. I started wondering why twentysomething artists are not commenting on the state of our country or the world anymore. Certainly there are enough reasons to protest!

I grew up in the 60's and 70's when, yes, we had our share of bubble-gum pop, but also evocative, mind-changing lyrics that impacted who I became in some ways. We had Neil Young singing four dead in Ohio, songs like "He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother", Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call. Don't stand in the doorway, Don't block the hall. For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled. There's a battle outside and it's ragin'. It'll soon shake your walls for the times, they are a-changin."
Other songs like "Eve of Destruction" and "For What It's Worth." I could go on and on.

Now I hear one of the recent top songs is "Just the Way You Are." Didn't Billy Joel write that a few decades ago?
When I see your face there's not a thing that I would change, 'cause you're amazing just the way you are." Brilliant, huh?

Another popular one says, "You're so delicious, you're so soft, sweet on the tip of my tongue. You taste like sunlight and strawberry bubble gum."

Even the music is boring. I call them silly little ditties. There's even one called "The Giant Turd Song" but I'll let you imagine the lyrics.

The "Just the Way You Are" rip-off is an artist named Bruno Mars. In the PD review a critic from The New Yorker named Sasha Jones said in her critique of Bruno, that most current pop stars seem oblivious to the times in which they live.

So I did a web search for more recent protest songs. Guess who was doing them in the 2000's? Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Tom Waits... sound familiar?
I looked for some younger artists and there were a few: Pink and her "Dear Mr. President" - What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street? Who do you pray for at night before you sleep? What do you feel when you look in the mirror?

Greenday's "American Idiot" - Don't want to be an American idiot, one nation controlled by the media, information age of hysteria.

John Mayer's "Waiting for the World to Change" apparently his protest against the apathy of his contemporaries in song writing. Now if we had the power to bring neighbors home from war, they would have never missed a Christmas, no more ribbons on the door."

There were a few more - Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz, Eminem, Arcade Fire, but can you think of a current song that is going to stand the test of time like the ones written in the passionate time of the 60's and 70's? We are in two on-going wars, we have lived through a disastrous economy, we have poverty and hunger, celebrity worship and disease - doesn't anyone have anything to say? I am around a considerable amount of twentysomethings and I don't hear anything.

Where have all the protest songs gone?


Rob-bear said...

Thank you, Diane, for a phenomenal post! You should get an award for that!

Smitty said...

You bring up an important point. Is it the record companies that call the shots? Is it the audiences who need to speak up? Or did those artists do the work that will meet our need for all times?

I noticed that you did not mention Jackson Browne. I seem to remember he had songs about the political situation in Central America in the 80's. Like yesterday to me.

Daniel Bell said...

The album was "Lives in the Balance" and it is one of my favorites. Each and every song has a political element or is boldly political. He gets back to his Hispanic roots and kicks ass. It was his worst selling album to that time, even after re-release a year or so later. It was Regan's time, the Me Generation. No one wanted to hear it. It was "morning in America" and we could do no wrong.

Maybe when the so-called middle class (actually, the better off working class) gets pinched hard enough by the have-to-have-mores we'll hear some of these themes in music again.

Susan said...

Personally as a twenty something it's probably because we know what the deficit is. We know that it's never really going to be fixed and our generation is screwed. So rather than complain in songs, we look for an escape. Music is more of an escape from a reality we don't want to think about all the time. Hence the protest songs that are memorable have faded because they are about things we really don't want to think about when listening to music.

Diane Vogel Ferri said...

Excellent point Susan! I'm sure you're right. I just wish there wasn't so much apathy.

Smitty said...

Revisiting this topic again, I want to share that I was moved by Daniel's memory of Jackson Brown's album, Lives in the Balance. It was such an articulate and moving call to those of us who thought deeply about the ramifications of our politics at home and abroad.

I think I also get that when I put my ear to the pulse of the music scene today, that escape is the correct word. People are tuning into their own emotions and relationships. I see it as a time of paradox: music that is personal and sassy; sometimes introspective AND there are times it is in-your-face so that we harden ourselves to pain, through the words and rhythm.

I also think that the music of protest must come from REAL protest on the ground. REAL protest that brings people together from different walks of life. It takes enough disenfranchised people, who have time, and hope... to step into action. And in the time of the most profound protests we had wars at home and abroad. We had journalists who covered that war who were not embedded and vetted by the military powers. They had genuine free speech and we heard the news of it daily, until we could stand no more.

Today our dead come home with no fanfare, they come home quietly...... and so we don't have as much public emotion to motivate the speech and nourish the lyrics and music that would bring us together in protest.

This is my analysis anyway. I appreciate that we've had such a long discussion of the topic!