Something In the Air

The irony is not entirely lost on me that since I finished The Protest Song Project, I have been royally one-upped by various Bigger Names.

First came Dolly Parton with her CD “Those Were the Days“, featuring 60’s folky faves Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, Where Will the Children Play? and John Lennon’s utopian vision of a better world, Imagine.

Then Bruce Springsteen came along with “The Seeger Sessions,” covering the songs of protest-singing hero Pete Seeger. I admit I haven’t heard this one, because sometime during the eighties I choked on too much Boss, and I can’t listen to any more of his tortured snarl or witness his gotta-be-fake-by-now blue collar pose. Also, he dances like a girl. Nonetheless, I have to say he has jumped on the protest bandwagon with this release, and good for him.

In March The Dixie Chicks came storming back from their three years of death threats and righteously indignant wingnut attacks (brought about by the Chicks’ public opposition to the war on Iraq) with an unapologetic CD and single, Not Ready to Make Nice and Neil Young has just released “Living With War,” a merciless indictment of the moral bankruptcy of the Bush Administration and its bloody and useless war on Iraq (you can hear his entire CD if you click on the link).

Dolly and Bruce are hedging their bets a little, doing old songs by other writers. If they get too much heat for saying bad things about the government they can always claim they just liked the tunes, grew up with them, etc., and wanted to do some kind of “tribute,” but God forbid they actually meant to actually say anything to their audiences, or to the administration. Still, the songs on their current CD’s are legitimate protest songs, and hearing them sung by artists of their stature can only help the cause of peace, honor and justice in America and the world, so I say “Right on, Dolly and Bruce!”

Neil and The Chicks are putting more on the line with their releases. They are unmistakeably speaking truth to power, and attaching their names and reputations to their words, not to mention that their new music might cost them a lot of money, not just now but for years to come, as ignorant jackasses boycott their records and concerts. Do you think “ignorant jackass” is a bit too strong? These are the same people who will “never go to France,” for God’s sake, or drink French wine, because the French didn’t join the coalition of the willing in the runup to our invasion of Iraq. So to Neil and The Dixie Chicks I say “Right fucking on!!”

I don’t have the juice to put a piece of music in front of millions of listeners. But even though it will forever look like these artists came forward bravely at a time when no one else dared speak, you know and I know that The Protest Song Project originated here last June, so we know who really came forward first. My fellow bloggers, I think you deserve a little credit for your vision and your bravery. You’ve been speaking out and raising concerns for six years now, and whether or not you rolled up your sleeves and wrote a verse to Not In My Name, may I offer you my fondest regards, and my best power salute:

Power To The People!!Right on, brothers and sisters!
UPDATE, MONDAY, MAY 15, 2006: It was late and I was sleepy when I wrote this post last night, so that’s my excuse for not saying the most important part, which is WAHOO! our artists, musicians and songwriters are getting on board! The government is slightly out of control right now, and it was looking as if everyone felt so defeated that they were just giving up. But props to all the above performers (and U2, too) and all the others who are making strong statements in the name of peace, justice and freedom. As always, my pulse quickens with the thought of the new revolution!
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30 Replies to “Something In the Air”

  1. I was reading in Entertainment Weekly about the slow proliferation of protest songs on the airwaves. And I guess it has been pretty slow, hasn’t it? Who would’ve thought the Dixie Chicks (and a certain blogger named Larry) as being prescient, but I guess they were. They had the guts to say what they felt from the get-go and paid a pretty hefty price, so kudos to them. I don’t think the stakes are higher for the people getting on the protest song bandwagon now, you know? Oh well, we’ll take it where we can get it.

  2. kStyle – Whoever they need to copy, as long as they git ‘er done…

    Steph – If you recall, it was MPH who was prescient. I just did the part he was too stoned to do.

    You read Entertainment Weekly?

  3. Larry, Larry, Larry; you’ve disappointed me! I can understand getting tired of Bruce during the 80s (well, no, I can’t really, but I accept that many people did)–but I don’t think actually getting out there and campaigning for Kerry, which is what Bruce did, is exactly “hedging your bets.” Plus, in concert, he’s been making clear his opposition to this administration and to the war for several years now. I think what he’s doing with the Seeger stuff is throwing his weight behind another protester–he knows that the Springsteen imprimatur will get it more notice than it might otherwise get. So you don’t have to listen to Bruce, but at least give him his props.

  4. Goldie – I see I have crossed your line. Sorry, but I did commend him for this latest CD. And I did get totally overloaded with him twenty years ago. I applaud him again for working for Kerry – it was the least he could do, and I will always associate him with Truth and Righteousness. I don’t know the financial details of Pete Seeger’s estate, or the value of his publishing, etc., so maybe Bruce did the family (if there is one) a big favor by recording Pete’s songs, but the legacy of Pete Seeger will stand on it’s own. No imprimatur needed.

    And where is Springsteen’s own anti-war anthem, which we can sing as we march, which will inspire us to keep up the fight, and bring the millions in?

  5. I’m about to alienate both Larry and Emma. First, let me say you are both the coolest cats, and I hope a difference of opinion won’t come between us.

    Ahem.

    Don’t like Bruce, don’t like Dylan!

    Sorry.

  6. kStyle – This would have really pissed me off if you hadn’t said I was a cool cat. But since I am a cool cat, I just say “Whatever, sugar. It’s all good. Live and let live…”

  7. Thanks for understanding, you hepster, you.

    I kick it old school and a little smooth. Nat King Cole, Sinatra, the old songbook standards, bossa nova, neo-bossa…and funky shit, hiphop and Prince and EWF, Stevie and Bob Marley. My palate doesn’t run much to the more rock-infused music.

  8. Yes, I know that Seeger’s work will stand on its own–I’m merely suggesting that it might get a bit more notice right now with Bruce putting it out there, and that’s a good thing for everybody.

    Some might argue that “Born in the USA” is an anti-war anthem, though of course it’s been misunderstood by many, and it’s a little complex for the marching and chanting thing. Perhaps he should cover Phil Ochs?

    and kstyle, it’s okay to not like Bruce. I end up being the only one around, other than my brother, who does like him, so I’m used to it. I’ve ended up going to several (okay, many) concerts by myself because of the paucity of Springsteen fans in my life.

  9. When Bruce came along, I liked his Greetings From Asbury Park record. It was a sort of poetic Dylan thing. When Bruce became a Working Class Hero, I realized it had all been pretence and stance. So, too, I guess, is being a working class hero! He’s been that for so long now that I’m bored with so much pretence and stance, even though he once seemed very good to me (Born In The USA). Let him eat Count Chocula cereal, I don’t care. You’re still pretty cool, but watch your ass. We could turn on you in a minute flat!

  10. kStyle – I think you and I could have a little music party. I dig most of your choices, and some of them the most. A bottle of wine, a crackling fire in the hi-fi. But what’s up with the hiphop? Music by people who neither play nor sing… doesn’t seem to fit in with your other stuff. Have you heard Diana Krall? Steve Tyrell?

    PS: You’re a geek? I have The Mills Brothers’ “See You In My Dreams.”

    Goldie – Our differences are unimportant. I would totally escort you to Springsteen concert. He’s been overexposed, but I don’t hate. I just want to know who’s got the music to coalesce the masses today, the way “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” did in the Vietnam era? (“What’s that spell? What’s that smell?”)

    And are you trying to say that a split infinitive is not as great an offense as ending a clause with a preposition?

    Ron – It all started to unravel for me when I realized that Bruce’s drummer was also in the house band on The Conan O’Brien Show. Need I say more?

  11. You got yourself a date, sweetie.

    I’m unfamiliar with Diana Krall (though I’ve heard her name) and Steve Tyrell. I suspect Ms Krall might play Montreal Jazz Festival this summer, in which case, I’ll likely see her live.

    How do I love hiphop, let me count the ways:

    1. The Roots, in fact, do play their own instruments.
    2. Lauryn Hill can rap and the lady sings better than, like, anyone else on earth.
    3. You can hear how hiphop is a natural evolution; you can hear how it starts in Africa and comes through America, through blues and jazz and bebop and funk, and ends up hiphop, if you’re familiar enough with all those pieces of the African diaspora.
    3a. People who don’t get hiphop hate on the sampling, but sampling is a tradition going right back through Africa, where traditional drum beats are used and reused in new ways. It’s a sign of respect to the masters, and a way of making tradition one’s own.
    4. Hiphop speaks truth to power.
    5. A lot of hiphop delivers a message of valuing your self-worth. (Digable Planets, Mos Def)
    5. When you get away from the commercial crap, the performers are writing their own songs and music.
    6. The good rappers are poets.
    7. Just as a singer makes her voice an instrument, sounding like a woodwind, a rapper makes his voice an intrument, but it’s a richly toned drum.
    8. Phat, phat beats.

  12. Wow, do I feel smacked down. I won’t debate with someone so knowledgeable, passionate and poetic, but just a couple of observations:

    1. Obviously, I have missed something. Please help in my education by telling me the top five pieces I should listen to.

    2. We should never have to say “…some of them play their own instruments” when discussing musical artists, should we? That’s like talking about painting and saying “Some of them don’t use paint-by-numbers kits.” (This addresses your points #1, 2 and 5 above.)

    3. Sampling is a lot different than using a similar drum beat, or, for that matter, even an identical drum beat. Sampling involves copying someone else’s complete production – all the writing, arranging, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, singing and recording, and using it in your own performances and recordings to make money, without actually being able to do any of that stuff yourself. The idea that someone could get away with this and people actually buy it is appalling. Unlike the tribal drummer showing respect to his predecessors, you are not actually playing anything (i.e., making your own music, with skills that you have learned and practiced). I play some Chuck Berry licks on my guitar, but I don’t play recordings of Chuck and pass them off as my own. (This addresses your points #3, 3A and 5 above.)

    Before you think I am just an old rocker tasting sour grapes, let me just say that while disco (DJ’s playing records in clubs instead of clubs hiring me to play live) was putting me partially out of business in the 70’s, I embraced it as “the perfect dance music,” and went on to do things that DJ’s can’t do. There’s room for all of us, but no one would put the radio DJ spinning Oscar Peterson in the same class with Oscar himself.

    Stll love, though.

  13. “When the President Talks To God” was another wonderful protest song this year by Bright Eyes. The warbly bastard can’t sing worth a shit, but he’s a hell of a lyricist.

  14. Most sampling uses just bits and pieces of other recording and inserts them into a new song, like a collage. Is the found-object artist less than the painter?

    As for not playing instruments: Did Ella Fitzgerald play an instrument? What about Nat King Cole? Sinatra? In fact, I can’t think of a single great jazz vocalist who plays an instrument. Traditional Portuguese fado has a singer, who sings; and a guitarist or two, who play guitar. Broadway singers have an orchestra to play while they belt. The vocalist dos not need to play an instrument to be an authentic musician.

    I don’t graze widely in the hiphop field, and I own very few albums. I really dig “Big Boi and Dre Present…”, which is a sort of best-of Outkast; “Black of Both Sides” by Mos Def; and “Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space)” by Digable Planets. I’ve been meaning to buy some Roots, Fugees, and Common, but my CD budget is limited. What you should do is rent the movie Dave Chapelle’s Block Party.

  15. Brent – Protest songs out the wazoo, now that we’ve shown the way.

    kStyle – Let me stipulate that there must be quality artists working in every genre, and that some genres must be beyond my ken.

    That said, are you being purposely obtuse? You don’t really think I’m dissing a singer with a five-octave range, perfect pitch and the power to bring tears and cause chills just because she is backed up by an orchestra? I think the skill and talent involved in producing a fully orchestrated Ella Fitzgerald extravaganza is totally legitimate and exhilarating to hear. And I guess my blind spot is that I don’t think the same thing about most of what I hear that I think is hiphop. To me, it seems more like karaoke. And as I said before, the fact that some of them can sing doesn’t strike me as a great recommendation. I wouldn’t enroll at a college that advertised “Some of our faculty is proficient!”

    There’s probably some good stuff. God knows it has taken over the popular culture, and I know I revelled in pissing off the older generation when I started listening to and making music. They are certainly doing that. I always try to be open-minded about music, but rappers seem determined to alienate me.

    Maybe it’s just me.

    And yeah, my server was down for a couple of hours this morning, and I have the feeling it is not back to full speed even now.

  16. Of course I don’t think you’re obtuse. But I’ve never understood, why the distinction between singing vocalists and rapping vocalists? It’s never been a legitimate argument to me that rapping doesn’t take loads of talent, too.

    But hey, luv, you don’t have to like it. It’s cool. I don’t like Dylan, remember?

  17. kStyle – We have lots of common ground. I’ll focus on that for now.

    Let’s call a truce
    Cuz I got news
    You’re not obtuse
    Let’s shake this loose
    It ain’t my scene to be mean let’s stop it clean
    Let it end now
    Wanna be friends now
    C’mon doll you know I ain’t small I like it all
    You a citizen of the universe
    Wish I had another verse
    Let’s have a truce
    We ain’t obtuse
    (Let’s don’t go to MySpace hell
    Don’t tell me you LOL)

  18. Hiphop is all foreign to me, and even if I’m just an old rocker, I dont mind if I keep it foreign.

    Yes, I know about Bruce’s drummer. He’s the lead dog for Conan, and that’s funny as hell. I watch them sometimes when there’s nothing else to do. People have to make a living, I guess.

  19. Really, I think hiphop gets a bad name because many people are only familar with the rap on their local station that has a name like “Jammin’ 107-6” and hosts with names like “Romeo J”.

  20. kStyle – Make me a mix CD! Please! I’ll email you an address. And you’re probably right about rap radio. There’s a good chance they’re playing bogus stuff. Rock radio has been known to do that.

    Ron – People do. The lucky ones get to keep playing their instruments, too.

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