Music In Protest

Politics coupled with music is a subject that fascinates me. You may remember my Spoils of War posting back in August. What I did not mention in that post was the civilian use of music as a form of protest against war.

In 1971 Eric Bogle, wrote And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. “I wanted to write an antiwar song but didn’t want to denigrate the courage of the soldier,” Mr. Bogle recalled in a November 2005 interview for The New York Times. In that same article, Pete Seeger called it “one of the world’s greatest songs,” explaining “In a few lines of poetry he captured one of the great contradictions of the world: the heroism of people doing something, even knowing it was a crazy something. And he showed how the establishment has used music for thousands of years to support its way of thinking.”

In April 2002 a Silicon Valley weekly newspaper ran an article by Jeff Chang with the headline “Is Protest Music Dead?” Chang wrote

“When the United States goes to war, the musicians begin calling for peace. Opposing war hasn’t always been a popular position, but it has created some great music.” Then he listed songs from the Vietnam era, “songs like Edwin Starr’s War, Jimi Hendrix’s cover of All Along the Watchtower, Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and Wars of Armageddon, Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam, Country Joe and the Fish’s Fixing to Die Rag, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising and Have You Ever Seen the Rain? and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On turned defiance into a raging, soaring, brave and melancholic gestures of community….When Bush Senior sent troops to Kuwait in 1991, rappers Ice Cube and Paris trained their verbal guns on the White House in I Wanna Kill Sam and Bush Killa…”

But, he wrote, the muzzle is now on.

“We’ve seen dozens of acts quietly bury their edgier songs. We’ve seen radio playlists rewritten so as not to “offend listeners.” And we’ve seen Republican officials and the entertainment industry – long divided over “traditional values” issues such as violent content and parental advisory stickering – bury the hatchet. White House Senior Adviser Karl Rove has been meeting regularly with entertainment industry officials to discuss how they can help the war on terrorism. The result? Not unlike the network news, there’s been what a media wonk might call a narrowing of content choice.”

Later in the article Chang writes

‘Message music is being pinched off by an increasingly monopolized media industry suddenly eager to please the White House. At least two of the nation’s largest radio networks – Clear Channel and Citadel Communications – removed songs from the air in the wake of the attacks. Songs like Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” were confined to MP3 sites and mix tapes. And while pressure to maintain “blacklists” has eased recently, the détente between Capitol Hill, New York and Hollywood – unseen since World War II – has tangible consequences.”

Two+ years later (8-15-04) Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot wrote an article titled “Rocking the Boat.” The sub-head was “As a contentious PRESIDENTIAL RACE revs up, musicians from every genre are jumping into the fray with politically charged albums, Web sites and concerts”

So, as Chang wrote, “musicians must do what they do, and the story is not yet over.”

Indeed the story is not over. I have a friend, Margo Guryan, who is a composer and songwriter, and an fabulous poet (sadly unpublished in that last arena). Do you remember Sunday Morning? That was one of her songs. Here’s an excerpt from Margo’s myspace page (you can also hear Sunday Morning from her myspace page.)

Margo Guryan is a rare discovery — a songwriter and arranger with amazing vocal talent who had a brief – but nonetheless significant – impact on pop music. During the highpoint of her career, her songs were recorded by some of pop music’s most important stars: Mama Cass, Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell, Astrud Gilberto, Julie London, Jackie DeShannon, Carmen McCrae, The Lennon Sisters, and Claudine Longet. In fact, there were two hit versions of the Margo Guryan-penned “Sunday Morning” released a year apart in the late 1960s — the first by Spanky And Our Gang, and the second by Oliver (who had previous success with “Good Morning Starshine” and “Jean”). Although she preferred writing songs that others could record and perform, in 1968 Margo recorded and released an album entitled “Take a Picture”. Although the success of this record back then was limited, it has since become a much sought-after collector’s item….

She seized 16 Words and put them to music, and then a wonderful video clip was made and posted on YouTube. Here are the sixteen words – do they sound familiar?

The British government has learned
That Sadam Hussein recently sold
significant quantities of uranium from Africa

And here’s what the myspace site says about 16 Words

“Despite misgivings about the accuracy of the 16 words embodied in this song (these words had been previously removed from a Bush speech given in Cincinnati, Ohio in October ’02), the words appeared in Bush’s State of the Union address ’03. The words were among a litany used to gain the support of Congress and the American people for an invasion of Iraq. Fury over Joseph Wilson’s July ’03 NY Times article debunking the truth of the president’s statement resulted in the “outing” of Wilson’s wife by high government officials. The ensuing investigation is ongoing.”

Now click her to see and hear 16 Words for yourself; the animation is great and it’s a wonderfully produced satirical work in protest of the war.