We're still waiting for this year's Give Peace a Chance.
April 8, 2003 3:21 PM   Subscribe

"This war's musical outcry is no different from those of the past, with one gleaming caveat. Whatever your feelings on folk music, most of the new protest songs concerning the war in Iraq -- how to put this maturely -- suck fetid donkey biscuits. This is the worst dreck ever to to be digitized 'n' downloaded."
posted by kirkaracha (36 comments total)
See also: the Beastie Boys' contribution to the genre
posted by dhoyt at 3:29 PM on April 8, 2003

To quote Jon Stewart (from memory,) "if it sounds like a commercial for a pickup truck, it's prowar. If it sounds like a commercial for an extreme soft drink, it's antiwar."
posted by homunculus at 3:40 PM on April 8, 2003

i actually liked the Chris and Kate song that was posted a while ago. doesn't look like it's available anymore ...

i don't think all the bad songs mentioned in the article are inherently bad b/c of the subject. they're just indicative of the state of mainstream crap these days.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:51 PM on April 8, 2003

Here's a collection of recent war protest song links from salon.com. I'm partial to Ani DiFranco, myself.

In college, one of my creative writing profs advised us to wait a while before writing about something that was important to you, so you could let your feelings about it mature and deepen. I think it's harder to write well about current events. No perspective.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:54 PM on April 8, 2003

Request to the community: go locate an mp3 of Bruce Cockburn's "If I had a Rocket Launcher" (if you don't already know it) and tell me if there's anything new and as good as this that I ought to hear.
posted by jfuller at 4:07 PM on April 8, 2003

The thing about a good protest song (written for popular consumption) is that it's not direct and in your face. What worked about Dylan's anti-war songs, for instance, is that they came at you indirectly, either with symbolism or allegory. Even something as unsubtle as Masters of War (which may be the exception to the rule) never said, "Vietnam is EVIL," or "War is BAD", it attacked the motives of the people who sent others off to die for them.

If it's too obvious, your brain doesn't need to work, and the song becomes forgettable. To me anyway.
posted by Hildago at 4:08 PM on April 8, 2003

P.S. Jane Galt has a theory that may partly explain the protest music, or the suckfulness thereof. "What (Kevin) Drum sees as a sign that the anti-war movement is going middle class looks to me more like the anti-war movement is just getting older."
posted by jfuller at 4:15 PM on April 8, 2003

The problem with this generation's protest against the war (be it music or otherwise) in Iraq is that they are mere echoes of the protests of Vietnam. Let's face it, the whole war may be an echo of Vietnam -- like a Cold War hangover. At least that's how our conversation at dinner tonight was progressing. That's not to say that the protests lack validity: it's just that they lack a certain punch against generations of history. When the 60's hit the 50's they were running against 150 years of Victorianism. Now, anti-war protests are running against what? You'll need to excuse me, I've had a bit too much wine and armagnac this evening.
posted by Dick Paris at 4:22 PM on April 8, 2003

Here's a link to Ani's site... If you haven't heard it, "self-evident" is a bloody amazing track.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:37 PM on April 8, 2003

I recommend this one.
posted by NsJen at 6:25 PM on April 8, 2003

Might I direct you to Ted Leo's "The High Party" on the latest Ted Leo and the Pharmacists record (or any of the other tracks, for that matter).

Here you go, right from Lookout Records(link to mp3 on right).

Surely political but not overt or didactic, and, more importantly, pure rock goodness in the tradition of The Clash. Rolling Stone Article about Ted Leo.

Seriously, check it out, you won't regret it.
posted by malphigian at 6:42 PM on April 8, 2003

I liked the Zack de la Rocha/DJ Shadow protest song March of Death.
posted by pb at 6:43 PM on April 8, 2003

DJ Shadow and Zack de la Rocha


"I was born with the voice of a riot..."
posted by Hogshead at 6:52 PM on April 8, 2003

...second only because I paused to listen to it the way through again...
posted by Hogshead at 6:53 PM on April 8, 2003

If it's too obvious, your brain doesn't need to work, and the song becomes forgettable. To me anyway.

Whoopie, we're all gonna die?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:11 PM on April 8, 2003

No protest song surpasses This One: "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die" It's been said that if you remember the sixties you wern't there, but what I can tell you is we had a lousier war and much better music.
posted by Mack Twain at 7:12 PM on April 8, 2003

3000 some poems disguised as people
on an almost too perfect day
should be more than pawns
in some asshole's passion play

You want more songs.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
I have a dream today!"

You want more words.

"War. Good God, y'all. What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'. Say it again!"

You want more music?

"Oh, deep in my heart I do believe that we shall overcome someday..."

Haven't there been enough?

"Then may he play on his harp in peace,
In a world such as Heaven has intended,
For all the bitterness of man must cease,
And every battle must be ended.

Gee whiz, I just don't see it. I don't hear it. The point has been made into the ground. People need to listen to what has already been sung. Then they need to live it. I think humanity's afraid to let go of violence. It's like Linus' security blanket.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:03 PM on April 8, 2003

Zach/Dj Shadow is the only good protest song I've heard so far and thats only because DJ Shadow couldn't make a bit of dreck even if he wanted...

(ObDerail) Violence isn't a security blanket. Its hardwired into the psyche because it was a successful evolutionary mechanism. And it will probably never ever go away.
posted by pandaharma at 8:15 PM on April 8, 2003

meanwhile, certain pro-war anthems have a sort of ironic anti-war effect to them.

Cuz will [sic] put a boot in your ass
It’s the American way

posted by mcsweetie at 9:04 PM on April 8, 2003

Whoopie, we're all gonna die?

I said good, man, not famous.
posted by Hildago at 9:14 PM on April 8, 2003

Hidalgo, I disagree--Masters of War sucks. It's an example of what he later called his finger pointing songs. It's two dimensional, black and white and anybody could have written it. Talking World War III Blues had its moments--then--but it was ersatz Woody Guthrie, light weight,and again, hardly among his best.

It's A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, on the other hand, was something only Dylan could write and has some depth, but note it's not explicitly or overtly against war.

I feel the same about Fixin' To Die Rag: two thumbs down. Country Joe & The Fish seemed so cool when all I had to go by was their first little Takoma EP that came out in '66. The more I heard of them after that, the more they sucked.

Who did that arrangment perfect parody of Lou Reed called Take a Walk on the Supply-Side in the early 80s? It wasn't anti-war and it was, as a parody, Dr. Demento fodder but it was funny.

I read somewhere about a song by Billie Joe Royal--of Down In The Boondocks fame--that was an anti-Vietnam song that was released in the late 60s/early 70sand then immediately disappeared. It evidently derailed his career for years. The writer who mentioned it had nothing but wonderful things to say about it. Anybody know of that one? Damn, I wished I'd bookmarked that...
posted by y2karl at 9:14 PM on April 8, 2003

Anyone mention What's Going On by Marvin Gaye yet?
posted by y2karl at 9:28 PM on April 8, 2003

I don't think Masters of War sucks, y2karl, but you're right in that It's a Hard Rain.. is certainly much better. It is specifically what I was thinking of when I said that subtle protest songs are best.

Apparently some anti-war songs are too subtle, though, because they end up being played during truck commercials with transparent flags waving in the background. Ahem.
posted by Hildago at 9:40 PM on April 8, 2003

Well, for a fact--What's Going On, for example---the best songs are too wide and deep to be reduced to a war, an event, a slogan, a poster or a bumpersticker. That's why any song mentioning Saddam, Bush or Iraq by name is a stillborn loser.
posted by y2karl at 9:54 PM on April 8, 2003

That reminds me. If you want to write an anti-war song, (or poem, for that matter), the story of Abraham and Isaac is as good a place as any to start.
posted by Hildago at 9:54 PM on April 8, 2003

System of a Down's Boom is a stillborn loser. And I'm so against the war.
posted by raysmj at 11:14 PM on April 8, 2003

What is it good for?
It's good for business."
— Billy Bragg, "North Sea Bubble"
posted by kirkaracha at 11:58 PM on April 8, 2003

Those Isaac examples are excellent illustrations of your point, Hildago. I didn't know the last two, and I liked them alot, thanks.

I basically agree with you and y2karl, except that I think some songs, by naming names, themselves become monuments to that particular time and moment. Like Abraham, Martin, and John, and Crosby Stills Nash & Young's Ohio. If the song captures the feelings of the time and those feelings mattered, the song will be remembered. The difference is that it won't be covered by anyone in another 20 years because those names and events aren't transferable. But I think the songs still have meaning and power for what they say about that time, and aren't stillborn.

Also, I just wanted to mention DiFranco again, because she has really carried on the tradition of the folk protest song through other topics beyond war. She's got some excellent ones about abortion, capital punishment, caste systems, and tolerance. Not to mention what she's done for women's body issues and sexuality. If modern war protest songs suck, it's not because modern artists have lost their grip on the protest genre.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:52 AM on April 9, 2003

I'll throw in a vote for Billy Bragg, too, the Last Socialist, god bless 'im.

His Price of Oil tune is pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:16 AM on April 9, 2003

Let's not forget that the right wing has musical talents equal to any of the worst on the left.

Won't you put your hands together and give a great big Metafilter welcome to.... John Ashcroft performing his hit "'Let The Eagles Soar' (ram. file)
posted by zaelic at 2:34 AM on April 9, 2003

Via Enigmatic Mermaid, it's the Brazilian contribution to the genre: "La vem o homem-bomba" ["Here comes the suicide bomber"] by Caetano Veloso and Jorge Mautner.
mata um, mata dois
Mata mais de um milhão
Não vai deixar sobrar nenhum
Mas eu sou contra essa ideologia da agonia
Sou a favor do investimento
Pra acabar com a pobreza
Sou pelo estudo e o trabalho em harmonia
O amor e o cristo redentor
Poesia na democracia
"He kills one, he kills two / he kills more than a million / he's not going to leave anyone alive / but I'm against this ideology of suffering / I'm in favor of investment to end poverty / I'm for learning and working in harmony / The love of Christ the redeemer / Poetry in democracy"
posted by hairyeyeball at 6:09 AM on April 9, 2003

"Might I direct you to Ted Leo's "The High Party" on the latest Ted Leo and the Pharmacists record (or any of the other tracks, for that matter)."
Amen! That record (check out "Ballad of the Sin Eater", too) and the Shadow/DeLa Rocha track are the only things I've heard thus far that come close to speaking in a contemporary voice, with passion about current issues and a sense of perspective.
Oddly enough, I heard an interview with Chicago Sun-Times music cricket Jim DeRogatis on a usually reasonable NPR show and he was just gushing about how great the Iraq war protest songs have been and how a generation has been mobilized by new protest songs. They played a bunch of snippets of songs and mentioned some others I'd downloaded and besides the shadow/dela rocha track (which admittedly has its share of trite lyrics), they sucked!
The Beasties track was more embarrassing than Hello Nasty.
I couldn't believe I was hearing the same songs he was.
posted by chandy72 at 7:43 AM on April 9, 2003

Has anyone done a contemprary cover of Eve of Destruction? It was pretty horrid--whatever happened to P.F. Sloan?--it seems like it'd be in good company today. As awful as protest songs are let's not forget that the opposites are worse: God Bless The USA, Ballad of the Green Berets... The current protest songs may stink, as many did in the past, but the gung ho tub thumpers still stink worse. We haven't had good patriotic pop songs since the second world war.
posted by y2karl at 9:00 AM on April 9, 2003

Y2Karl:Has anyone done a contemprary cover of Eve of Destruction?

Psychic TV back in '89 (is that still contemporary?). It's on this collection as "Eve Ov Destruction", natch.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:19 AM on April 9, 2003

I think that for many of the best and brightest musicians of today, writing politically-themed songs is a big and difficult change from their usual output. When I think of most of my favorite, contemporary bands, very few of them have any songs involving anything remotely political. The seething anger apparently dissipated when Reagan went away but I'm sure it will be back again, and these new, bad, ham-fisted songs just might signal the awkward return of politically charged music.

Once they realise that a successful political song relies on more than just anger and outrage, maybe then we'll see some quality.

I must say though, did hear a great version of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War" by Yo La Tengo yesterday.
posted by picea at 9:41 AM on April 9, 2003

holy war by manowar is possibly the greatest song ever written.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:24 AM on April 10, 2003

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