Rob Patterson

Protest Music Coming Back

Finally! After too many years wondering in this space where the hell all the high-profile protest and topical music is, my prayers have been answered by some major artists.

Those old enough to remember Neil Young's "Ohio" -- recorded with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young -- coming on the radio soon after Kent State can attest to the galvanizing influence of protest on the pop charts. It's unlikely that radio chains like BushCorp toadies (Un)Clear Channel will be programming Neil Young's Living With War, but Young has already circumvented the corporate conformity cabal by streaming it on his website prior to its release on CD.

It's playing as I write this, and the album is also probably way too rock'n'roll to also get spun on big-time radio. It's Young as I like him best -- rocking with pummeling power and gritty guitars to create the sound of rebellious anger and righteous indignation at the thoroughly fucked state of governmental affairs these days. Yet he leavens it and underscores the sentiments as populist by adding a giant vocal chorus throughout. Because after all, this is music that anyone with a brain and soul -- as well as genuine Christian values of peace and humanity -- should all be singing along with.

"Listen to Bob Dylan singing in 1963," Young sings on "Flags Of Freedom," an obvious homage to Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom." And now it seems like something similar is emerging in our times. Pearl Jam has also turned topical on their latest eponymously-titled disc. Boston Globe music critic Joan Anderman describes it as "fueled by outrage and filled with urgency" as the ruggedly non-conformist Seattle band that arose in the grunge movement tackle the BushCorp agenda on songs like "World Wide Suicide," "Army Reserve" and "Marker in the Sand."

But Anderman's observation on Pearl Jam's songs -- "It's hard to imagine any of these tracks becoming anthems, or cover tunes, or even lodged in anyone's memory for very long" -- also applies to those on Young's new album. The chorus chiming along as he sings "Let's impeach the President for lying" certainly implies that this should be a number that the masses are singing as they hopefully gather and march against the senseless war in Iraq and the decimation of our nation, Constitution and economic security by the evil and incompetence of Bush and his minions. And one can't help but be impressed with how Young outlines his case in song and then in a coda uses Bush's own words to indict the dumb and dangerous if not deadly "Decider," framing it as he sings "flip … flop." But nothing on Living With War has that anthemic appeal either.

That point is underscored by Bruce Springsteen's latest: We Shall Overcome -- The Seeger Sessions. His tribute to the folk icon and the breadth of traditional material found within his vast repertoire is filled with songs you can't help but sing along with, and is his loosest and warmest recording ever. But other than a wonderfully reverent reading of the civil rights anthem that serves as the title tune, there's nothing explicitly political about the collection. Then again, Springsteen's comments about Bush during his set at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival indicate that he is also part of the burgeoning movement as well.

And such observations notwithstanding, it's clear that the tide is turning with some of our musical pop stars, which will hopefully inspire others to join in the proverbial chorus of protest. Entertainment has served as the Weapons of Mass Distraction as Bush and his crew of wrong-headed and cold-hearted minions have hijacked patriotism in the wake of 9/11. But it can also be the Weapons of Mass Dismay, Disgust and even (civil) Disobedience as the growing majority that object to what is happening to this nation and our actions within the world community begin what will hopefully be the next great American Revolution.

So whether it's Young and his chorale singing "America The Beautiful" or the National Anthem translated in Spanish, it does look like the times they are a-changin'. And not a moment too soon.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2006

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