Monday, November 7, 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be... (On the Billboard Top40)

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 4:19 PM

They've fired smoke bombs on crowds in Oakland...

...20 were arrested in Atlanta, and in Cincinnati they've been so inspired as to form their own political party - All this born from the Occupy ___ movement - originating from Wall Street protesters who rallied more than two months ago to air grievances of varying forms of disenfranchisement and to call out corporate corruption of democracy.

Guy Fawkes Day has come and gone, observed with augmented iconoclastic idealism if only by the connection some Occupiers have twist-tied to the famous would-be revolutionary with those creepy-grinned pale masks from the V for Vendetta movies...

Bank Transfer Day has come and gone, also - seeing Occupiers adopting it as yet another offshoot of their message - with hundreds of thousands across the country transferring their accounts from the big banks to smaller, not-for-profit Credit Unions.

And so,  Reggae troubadour Ziggy Marley wondered, recently, "Where's the music?"

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Editorials have been popping up every year since 9/11, questioning the vigor of contemporary musicians' ability (or motivation?) to pen the new classic protest song.

Some are wondering if any contemporary artist will write the Occupy Wall Street theme song? But we need to take those posts with the contextual grains of salt necessary in the internet age of puffed-up non stories and half-informed bitchy blogs.

The Wall Street theme(s) has(/have) been written...

They're already out there, they just aren't receiving the platform and cover-page ballyhoo that a Dylan circa-'62 would - and that's compounded by the fact that most aren't looking (or listening) in the right spot (i.e., don't expect shabby-chic bohemian with an acoustic guitar and harmonica)...as Alternet pointed out, maybe you should listen to that one certain Katy Perry track, instead of fixating on her Hershey Kiss bra.

The media just loves to sum things up, is all. At first, pundits were confused by the protests because there wasn't a singular, catch-phrase-able message; then there were whispers as to whether there would be a one unifying personality...

It's harder to gauge that kinda thing  in the Internet world - Should we count up the number of headline returns on your Google news reader? Does that, by default, make Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine) some de-facto-half-Dylan, with his handful of live performances? Is Kanye a hero for visiting Zuccotti Park?

I began this post with intent to draw attention to a recent History book of 20th century Protest Music - Dorian Lynskey's 33 Revolutions Per Minute (A History of Protest Songs from Billie Holiday to Green Day).

But like too many other blog posts, I feel I'll start traipsing too closely, distractedly, into the tempting tides of over-reaching philosophic pondering's - to sum up, somehow, the scattered and subtler impacts of music on listeners of an Internet generation...

Lynskey (of The Guardian) exclusively documents songs that broke into the mainstream - like CSN&Y's Kent-state inspired "Ohio," Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," Holliday's "Strange Fruit," even up to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and Green Day's "American Idiot."

Lynskey's emphasis upon the inherent difficulty of writing, not merely a good protest song, but to make an impact, an immortal, succinct and instrumentally provocative song...an eventually transcendent piece (albeit in some cases forever echoing its initial context, whatever off-setting moment from the past, be it the L.A. riots, the Red Scare or the Cuban Missile Crisis...), is appreciable, as is some of the juicier details behind these songs' stories.

So, then, -has the Internet, with Facebook, Angry Birds and the all too accommodating twitter, created incurable armchair protesters out of it's would-be rebel rousing 20-somethings? Or is there a multitude of Wall Street themes because there are, now, a multitude of platforms (i.e. bandcamps?) for any one with the passion to put it out - Thus that, maybe we don't need a new Cobain or whoever, to speak for us...now, we're out in the streets, ourselves, singing this song, or that...song.

See? Pardon my over-reaching philosophic pondering's^

Long story short: Check out this book - it gives highly insightful back stories behind dozens of the most influential protest songs (again, those that you likely heard on the radio, growing up), -from clarifying lore like Seeger's threat to chop Dylan's amp chords with an axe, to capturing the raw shock and awe of being in the room for Holliday's first live performance of the haunting anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit."

In summation, I'd like to harp on the quote of critic (and author of Retromania) Simon Reynolds, cited by Lynskey in his Epilogue: "The realities of how music is made, distributed, consumed and experienced seem to agitate against investing belief in artists as spokespersons/saviour...These days, a performer who wanted to have any kind of political effect would most likely not bother writing a song about an issue, but get involved in activism...But even this will tend to get mocked as superstar grandstanding or noblesse oblige."

Wait and hear... how it all plays out...

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