The Shifting Winds of Protest Music, by Alexander Billet


The Times They Are a Changin’: The Shifting Winds of Protest Music 

   Alexander Billet 

The subject has been brought up by so many writers that by now that it’s almost cliché. It’s been asked by musicians, activists old and new, and music journalists alike. And as it’s become obvious just how devastating the US’ very presence in Iraq has become, it’s a question with a quickly growing urgency: “where are the protest songs?”

It’s not a simple question to answer. Writers are quick to call up memories of the late 60s and early 70s; the height of the movement against the Vietnam War. Duncan Campbell of the Guardian did when he wrote an article this past February as tens of thousands turned out in London and Glasgow against the occupation, and were entertained by renditions of Edwin Starr’s “War” (what is it good for…? You know the rest) and Dylan’s iconic and still-scathing “Masters of War.”

“These are all great songs,” Campbell pines, “but where is the defining anti-war anthem of today?” Campbell is by no means dismissive of the myriad artists that are putting out good, sometimes great, anti-war material. Instead, he puts forth that there has yet to be an anti-war song that “somehow captures the moment and the mood.”

Nit-picky? Maybe, but he brings up a good point. It’s not that there aren’t any protest songs. It’s that most of them aren’t on the same level as the tunes that conjure up the timeless images of rebellion from the days of the Panthers and SDS. Where is our “Masters of War,” our “What’s Going On,” our “Give Peace a Chance?”

The answer lies in the very fabric of the modern music industry, and in our readiness to take it head on. So, this weekend as tens of thousands will once again turn out all over the country to stick it to Bush and co, it’s worth taking a look around and asking ourselves if we are going to ever hear that perfect soundtrack as we march in the streets.

You Hide Behind Words, You Hide Behind Desks…

But why would any of the major outlets we get our music from ever want to bestow such an anthem upon us? MTV has all but banned most anti-war videos. System of a Down’s “Boom” was neglected airplay because it contained facts and figures about the invasion of Iraq. MIA was told that her video for “Sunshowers” would not be aired until she took out references to the PLO. And was promptly told to screw right off by MTV when they asked to advertise their Rock Against Bush compilation in 2004.

The radio dial won’t yield any better results. Since the deregulation of the airwaves ten years ago, media behemoth Clear Channel now owns around sixty percent of local stations. Bad enough in itself, but the shameless radio tyrant’s hard pro-war stance makes it even worse. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Clear Channel paid for advertising pro-war rallies in Fort Wayne, Philly, Atlanta and Cleveland, and provided the entertainment. And then, of course, there was their infamous post 9/11 do-not-play list, not to mention their ban on the Dixie Chicks.

Moves like this are especially frightening considering the company’s increasing venture into live entertainment. When one of the most outspoken and successful radical artists of our time, Ani DiFranco, played a show the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in 2003, Clear Channel, a main sponsor of the show, told her she would have her microphone cut off if she said anything political!

Free speech? Sorry, only for those who can afford it….

[Continues here.]

This is a ZNet Commentary.

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