'Agitpop' Missing from Music Scene

By Rob Patterson

As Occupy Wall Street sparked parallel uprisings across the nation and overseas unlike anything seen since the 1960s, there’s virtually zip, zero, nada, nothing when it comes to current songs that have anything even faintly resembling the impact and resonance of the songs that emerged from, commented on and accompanied the leftist movements of that era. Yeah, a couple of artists with a national profile released Occupy Wall Street songs. None is worth mention here.

Why? Because as songs, they don’t have the power to match that found within the movement in the streets occurring today. The ones I’ve heard are merely passing ephemera.

The political concerns and strong emotions expressed by the Occupy movement will continue to resonate. Those songs won’t.

I’m starting to feel at least metaphorically hoarse, as I have shouted in this space about what it takes to create an effective political song for far too long.

Admittedly, I don’t have any sort of huge forum here.

But the points I keep making are kind of obvious already.

Yes, there is a significant barrier between any major recording artist who wishes to make political music and reaching the masses: the conservatism of commercial radio and its corporate owners/masters (read: Clear Channel, for the most part).

But if Internet memes can go viral, can’t a really damn good political song? I’ve yet to hear one. (And trust me, with 1,600-plus Facebook friends, many of them avid Leftists, if one were out there, your not-so-humble correspondent would have heard it.)

We can to at least some degree blame the audience. Songs with political content or commentary did make it onto pop radio in the 1960s.

I don’t know if you, dear reader, have heard what passes for the pop Top 40 these days, but I can likely guess that most all of you have as little interest in hearing it as I do. But that’s what many people want to listen to.

Then there’s also the rising number of people who get all grumpy and whine how they don’t like it when artists they listen to get political in their music. Get over it. Genuine artists don’t exist to serve you.

The most prominent musical artist who’s committed to making political music to release an album this year is Tom Morello, former guitarist for rebel rockers Rage Against The Machine.

I enjoy seeing him on Real Time With Bill Maher as he is intelligent, articulate and passionate when it comes to his political beliefs. Alas, his album, World Wide Rebel Songs, may have a few good brief moments, but for the most part it’s only fair to middling musically.

Plus it’s the rare topical song that can transcend its day. (The Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young number about the Kent State shootings, “Ohio,” seems to have lasted beyond its day as a popular number, albeit I suspect as also nostalgic memory.)

In the final analysis, the great political song should bring listeners into the notion it offers, in fact be a bit of a conversion experience as well as a motivator and rally cry. But perhaps as the people on the left finally arise and let their voices be heard, maybe the political music for this age will follow. For all in the political landscape that gives me pause and even disturbs me and evokes fear, the Occupy movement and the reawakening of the left has given me encouragement.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2012


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