THE FUTURE OF PROTEST MUSIC
Jennifer Marchini asks:
Stephen Stills composed his hit song "For What It's Worth" after witnessing the closing of a nightclub called Pandora's Box. This song was composed and released shortly after the event. Considering that digital music is at the forefront in the music industry, do you believe more hit songs will emerge in a similar manner? Since songs can be composed and released within a short period of time, do you believe musicians may use popular, or current, events to gain an audience base?
An inspired musician with a transformational message could use the Internet to distribute his song around the world in a single day. The last line of defense in any democracy is the arts. Prior to the assassination of John Kennedy, there was a certain flavor of innocence that permeated our society. The American dream, invented by the returning victors of World War ll, took root in the late forties and fifties when millions of ex military personal received free educations through the G.I. Bill. The resultant birth of a dominant middle class was dedicated to the idea that, "I went to war so my kid wouldn't have to go." The bubble burst when JFK died leaving the nation in the midst of a series of bazaar residual incidents and myriad conspiracy theories. There was a loss of trust and open rebellion against the government and universal military service. The acceleration of the Viet Nam War, that Kennedy had planned to bring to a halt, further alienated the youth who were expected to bleed and die in service to a military industrial complex driven by paranoia about communism. Little consideration was given to the fact that Ho Chi Minh was the George Washington of his country. This environment created a basic distrust of the political system that fueled the event known as "The Riot On Sunset Strip." Stephen Stills classic song "For What Its Worth," as released on record by Buffalo Springfield, was both an observation of the event itself and a vision warning of more intense confrontations to come. The legend says that Stills recorded the song in one night, played all the instruments and sang the vocals. It received massive airplay on AM and FM radio almost instantly. He and many of the songwriters of the "Folk Rock" era were emulating the social commentary of Woody Guthrie, Peter Seeger and Bob Dylan who exposed the corporate excesses of the thirties and the insidious racism that poisoned the united States. These and other great singer/songwriters have historically described the injustices of their time through music. They were an admired force and their opinions valuable and influential. During the sixties, the youth of America abandoned loyalty to the system that failed to protect their president and chose new leaders to follow. Musicians became the new national heroes. This resulted in the massive explosion of music and arts that resulted in the establishment of the postmodern record business. The war to stop the Viet Nam war was ultimately won through the passive resistance of the Hippies and the militant actions of the Black Panthers. They abandoned traditional mores, experimented with psychedelic drugs, created a counter-culture and used music to rally opposition forces. This anti-war mind set was fueled by ubiquitous television coverage of a very graphic nature. The blood, fire and hot lead was screened on TV nightly, creating the first major "reality" television programming. Today, the perception of "necessary" wars is carefully sanitized to keep the true cost out of the public purview. A compliant fourth estate has abdicated its historical obligation to report the "truth" and instead contributes to a psychological cushion that helps keep the public disengaged. Unless you are part of a military family you are rarely reminded that the wars exist. The news media is now part of the propaganda machinery in service to the corporate interest. This is why the newspaper is rapidly losing its efficacy as a tool for enlightening the public. Most discerning adults, and virtually all of the youth, rely on Internet sources for their information. Serious life lessons could be communicated instantly to the world if artists would discern the truth and had the courage to write and sing about it. This will require a change of perception about what is really going on in the world. Performing artists must form convictions and present them to a core audience currently confused by the fog of war. It must be jump started by a change of mind and will be driven by artists with the courage to resist the "fear" politics now fueled by a cultural war on "terror," just as the communist "menace" fueled a hot war in the Viet era. Many artists offer enlightened points of view, but the Evolution Revolution needs a superstar with an inspirational message to emerge. A great musical talent with an impassioned mission could stimulate the expansion of the peace movement. With the erosion of the United States Constitution, and the erasure of many of our basic civil rights, implemented by the Bush administration such a peace initiative could be curtailed in minutes. The government need only call it terrorism to allow a crack down on dissent. However, at this time no powerful voice is singing loud enough to effect a real challenge to the institutions that thrive on war profiteering and the destruction of hardware and human life. The song may be mightier than the sword, but someone has to sing it, and somebody has to be listening.