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Where Is The Voice Of Protest In Today's Music? Chuck D, Tom Morello Have Ideas (MTV rant)
MTV - Viacom (Parent corp of SeeBS News) ^ | 05.17.2006 | Gil Kaufman, with additional reporting by Jennifer Vineyard and Corey Moss

Posted on 05/19/2006 11:14:57 AM PDT by weegee

Looking at daily headlines, you'd think the radio would be filled with songs of revolution and protest.

President Bush's approval ratings recently dipped below 30 percent — the third lowest of any president in the past half-century. Gas




"It's like Public Enemy and N.W.A were warring for the heart of the hip-hop nation, and a gentrified version of N.W.A won out. The blingy version." -- Audioslave's Tom Morello

prices have more than doubled since he took office. Plus, the Iraq conflict is more unpopular (nearly 60 percent of those polled say sending troops was a mistake) after three years than the Vietnam War was at the same point nearly 40 years ago (48 percent). Not to mention the lingering public anger over the government's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and concern over the latest wrinkle in the White House's domestic spying program, a USA Today story that reported that information on domestic calls were being put in a massive database.

When you see footage of demonstrations from the 1960s and early '70s (usually anti-war or pro-civil rights) on television, it's almost invariably accompanied by a protest song from the era — by Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon or another activist-minded performer. Such songs were everywhere at the time — so you'd figure, with social unrest at its highest level since the 1970s, that today's airwaves and charts would be buzzing with angry songs, right?

Right?

Well, Young's weighed in with a hastily recorded and rush-released anti-Bush screed called Living With War, which came out last week. And in the underground, hip-hop acts such as Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, the Coup and Perceptionists have made strong statements about Bush and the war, as have punk bands State Radio, Sick of It All, Against Me!, Dollyrots, NOFX, Kill Radio and Outernational. Even some notable rap stars, like Juvenile, Papoose and Killer Mike, have addressed Katrina in songs and freestyles.

But other than some recent songs on albums by Pearl Jam, Pink, System of a Down and the Dixie Chicks — and a kindred-spirit effort from Bruce Springsteen featuring protest songs from decades ago — major artists have barely made a peep of protest in song.

What gives?

Are artists afraid to talk for fear of payback at the cash register and/or radio — i.e. getting "Dixie Chicked"? (see "50 Cent Still Tops; Dixie Chicks Backlash Hits Home On Albums Chart") Do they not have anything to say? Do they feel that pop music is simply not an effective forum for fighting the power? Or is it just a collective case of battle fatigue — has everyone been so beaten down by the doublespeak and half-truths of the War on terror that protest feels futile?

We asked artists — from Public Enemy leader Chuck D and Audioslave's outspoken guitarist Tom Morello to the Dixie Chicks and rabidly political band Anti-Flag — why they think more musicians aren't making noise about the state of the nation.

The Chicks are the obvious people to speak with first, since they suffered a radio ban and serious backlash three years ago after singer Natalie Maines told a London audience, "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." The comment set off a whirlwind of controversy that has dogged the country act ever since — and led to the term "getting Dixie Chicked" for when an artist gets a commercial and public smackdown for speaking out.

The Chicks' new album, Taking the Long Way, takes on their detractors with songs such as the first single, "Not Ready to Make Nice" (which some stations have refused to play), and Maines recently told us her band's experience has clearly cast a chill on dissent.

"After what happened to us, it gave people that idea: 'We know what happens to you if you don't like the president. You lose lots of money in album sales, so I'm going to speak to the people who do like him, and then I'll make lots of money,' " she said, before adding that post-Katrina, it seems to have become a bit more acceptable to speak out.

Tom Morello agreed, pointing to bands like the Coup, the Living Things, Bright Eyes and his side project, the Nightwatchman, as acts that are voicing strong opinions.

"It seems like there's quite a bit of really uncompromised, great, leftist rock and rap happening now," he said. "Bad presidents make for good art and music."

However, he noted that the hip-hop world's contribution to the voices of dissent has been an "enormous letdown," especially in light of past anti-establishment acts like Public Enemy.

"It's like Public Enemy and N.W.A were warring for the heart of the hip-hop nation, and a gentrified, blingy version of N.W.A won out," Morello said. "You listen to [Public Enemy's] 'Fight the Power' and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and you can hear America changing. Now it's just the relentless booty shake of hollow bling. There's not yet a soundtrack like in the '60s, when the music of the time was the music of revolution."

From a purely commercial perspective, rapper/poet Saul Williams — whose lyrics are often extremely political — suggested that some artists might be avoiding commenting on the war and Bush because, unless you're a legend like Neil Young who can get a label to rush-release an album just months after your last one dropped, it can instantly date your music.

"The war could end two days after you do a record on it," he said. "But in the face of political strife, there should be more artists speaking up."

Hip-hop legend and professional agitator Chuck D said the music business is so focused on sales and results these days that it scares young artists away from doing anything controversial.

"Young groups are not paid to take chances," he said. "Someone like Neil Young has more references and perspectives from a different time. Young bands are clouded by weapons of mass distraction. But I don't buy that it's apathy: Bands are still looking to be loved, but there aren't a lot who compare themselves to bands who have prospered by saying something that needed to be said, like Green Day or [Public Enemy] or Neil Young. But why take a chance on making music a certain way if they don't believe the media will cover it? People like Neil Young are from a time when you felt one man can make a change, whereas young people in society today feel invisible."

Other artists, like Walkmen singer/guitarist Hamilton Leithauser, said they simply don't expect pop stars to offer political commentary.

"I don't look to Pearl Jam or R.E.M. for politics," he said. "We're all very politically conscious in our band, and we all grew up in Washington, D.C., but I don't really want to hear it. We used to go to Dischord [Records, which featured politically motivated bands like Fugazi] shows when I was younger, and 80 percent of the concert would be somebody up there with, like, a clipboard reading furiously in a blind rage about every f---ing topic you can possible imagine. And two and a half hours later, Fugazi [would] rant about the sh-- too.

"After awhile you'd be like, 'I didn't come here for this!' I mean, if they want to do that, great; more power to them. But I'm not gonna get involved in that. I think you can do that in a different way."

Battle fatigue has also definitely had its effect, said Kirk Huffman, guitarist for the punk band Gatsby's American Dream. Huffman said he's not out in the streets shouting slogans because he skipped his 10th-grade English class to do that at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999.

"I was exceptionally talented at holding a fist in the air and saying the same phrase monotonously over and over again, but pepper spray hurts like a motherf-----," he said. "My point is, do you have any idea how deep this thing really is? Trying to 'turn over the system' by talking about it and voicing your opinion was an idea that died at Woodstock — and it ain't doin' so well in the nonprofit-organization sector of things nowadays either."

In some cases, it's simply a matter of not knowing what to say, according to Rock and Roll Soldiers singer Marty Larson-Xu.

"I write the songs for our band and I can tell you why I don't focus on politics," he said. "I feel music is a creative avenue that I use to get away from everything and try to express ourselves in a way that gives people an avenue to escape reality."

Larson-Xu said there are already enough places to get the news besides his band's albums. Plus, he thinks a lot of young bands simply don't know enough about what's going on in the world to write about it. "I don't feel like I'm knowledgeable enough about politics to write songs for or against anything," he said. "There are many people who are so much smarter than me, and I couldn't deliver a message like Kill Radio or Anti-Flag."

The latter is one band that said it has definitely not given up the fight. The decade-old punk band's latest salvo, the highly charged For Blood and Empire, is packed with virulently political songs such as "The Project for a New American Century," the anti-war anthem "I'd Tell You But ..." and the current single, "The Press Corpse," which decries the media for toeing the White House line.

"It's been shocking to me over the last couple of years to see so few bands questioning the White House in any way," said Anti-Flag singer Justin Sane. "I've always been a person who believed there's room for all music — pop bands that sing about relationships and love, and hip-hop bands who sing about bling and the police. That said, I have found it frustrating and concerning that no one in the mainstream is taking a hard stance and questioning the policies of this regime. Why? I think a lot of these bands have been following the lead of the news media, who have failed terribly in their job as watchdog of the powerful."

Sane said he's witnessed an "either you're with us or against us" stance that has stymied a lot of dissent and public debate. "Because in the height of nationalism in the months and years after 9/11, people are very worried about appearing unpatriotic," he said. "There's been an overt message in the mainstream media that if you criticize the president, you're criticizing America and you're unpatriotic — which is ridiculous, because this country was founded on dissent."


TOPICS: Music/Entertainment
KEYWORDS: activistactors; agitprop; antiamericanism; belikethecoolkids; bullzogby; mtv; music; polls; popularitycontest; propaganda; shutupandsing; viacom; vichychicks; vioacommie; zogbyism

1 posted on 05/19/2006 11:15:02 AM PDT by weegee
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To: weegee
"There's been an overt message in the mainstream media that if you criticize the president, you're criticizing America and you're unpatriotic — which is ridiculous, because this country was founded on dissent."

Ahh yes, the standard leftist bilge that dissent isn't allowed in this country. Actually that's what they really wish was the case, so they can think of themselves as dissidents, like the real ones that were in the old Soviet empire, or like the 60s protesters.

2 posted on 05/19/2006 11:20:14 AM PDT by dfwgator (Florida Gators - 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Champions)
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To: weegee

This article is hilarious!


3 posted on 05/19/2006 11:26:09 AM PDT by randog (What the...?!)
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To: weegee

Hip Hop Protest Music!!


We be overcoming,
We be overcoming
We be overcoming some day

Yo! Deep in my heart
I does believe
The ladies are all ho’s and stuff
But Bush is a moron

We’ll walk hand in hand
And then we’ll pop a cap
Into any M****F****
Who doesn’t dig my rap!


4 posted on 05/19/2006 11:27:28 AM PDT by ClearCase_guy (Never question Bruce Dickinson!)
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To: dfwgator

"...you're unpatriotic — which is ridiculous, because this country was founded on dissent."

The founders of this country WERE unpatriotic to England. They dissented against the crown and knew that they faced charges of treason. Also, our independence was declared in 1776 but we continued to fight against the British for decades.

Those who cheer on the foreign "insurgents" (jihadists) fighting the US AND the Iraqis in Iraq ARE antiAmerican.


5 posted on 05/19/2006 11:29:05 AM PDT by weegee (Slowly but surely and deliberately, converativism is being made a thoughtcrime.)
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To: ClearCase_guy

Word!


6 posted on 05/19/2006 11:30:09 AM PDT by dfwgator (Florida Gators - 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Champions)
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To: weegee
The thing people don't like isn't protest music against certain things in society. It is the unbridled hatred of one man. It doesn't come across as anyone being upset about war, but upset because GWB is in office. Plus most artists today just aren't as talented of songwriters as many in the past were. With that said, Tom Morello is awesome no matter his politics.

7 posted on 05/19/2006 11:32:13 AM PDT by Mr. Blonde (You know, Happy Time Harry, just being around you kinda makes me want to die.)
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To: Mr. Blonde
It is the unbridled hatred of one party.

The top guy can step down but they just demonize another figure in the party. Reagan became 12 years of Reagan-Bush. Boo Newt! The Gingrinch Who Stole Christmas. Boo DeLay and Frist...

8 posted on 05/19/2006 11:56:27 AM PDT by weegee (Slowly but surely and deliberately, converativism is being made a thoughtcrime.)
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To: Mr. Blonde

Where were all the protesters when Klinton was bombing Yugoslavia?


9 posted on 05/19/2006 11:57:34 AM PDT by dfwgator (Florida Gators - 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Champions)
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To: weegee

Where have all the protest songs gone?

The answer my friend, lies blowin' in the wind. The answer lies blowin' in the wind.


10 posted on 05/19/2006 11:59:30 AM PDT by Supernatural (Its not dark yet, but its getting there.)
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To: randog
This article is hilarious!

You certainly got that right!!

"I was exceptionally talented at holding a fist in the air and saying the same phrase monotonously over and over again, but pepper spray hurts like a motherf-----,"

OH man, the lefties are hilarious!

11 posted on 05/19/2006 12:00:08 PM PDT by subterfuge (Call me a Jingoist, I don't care...)
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To: weegee

I'm still waiting to hear Neil Young's songs of protest against the way Saddam Hussien treated the Kurds and Shiites during his time in power...I guess that makes me against freedom of speech.

This hubub over "protest songs" is tiresome. They're not protest songs, they're political songs from the artists point of view. They should be referred to as such.

As for Tom Morello, I can't stand his politics, but he is one hell of a musician.


12 posted on 05/19/2006 12:08:31 PM PDT by MNlurker
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To: randog

The conclusions about the "State of the Union" drawn in the opening paragraphs are 'not' to be questioned.

Why doesn't the writer ask where are the cajun or swamp pop songs that should be coming out of Louisiana targeting Nagin and Blanco for their mishandling of the Katrina disaster? Their elected officials completely failed them but everything is Bush's fault and singers should be slamming 'him'.


13 posted on 05/19/2006 12:09:48 PM PDT by weegee (Slowly but surely and deliberately, converativism is being made a thoughtcrime.)
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To: Mr. Blonde
With that said, Tom Morello is awesome no matter his politics.

Yeah, lyrics notwithstanding, I've always dug the incendiary sound of Morello and RATM.

The new Pearl Jam CD kicks ass as well.

14 posted on 05/19/2006 12:11:02 PM PDT by Drew68
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To: MNlurker

The Stray Cats - Storm The Embassy

Fifteen man taken captive in a hostile foreign land
Scorchin' sun beaming down onto miles and miles of sand
A mideast country being ruled
By a man who thinks it's fun
To hold our people in return
For a sjah that's on the run

I think it's funny
Freedom takes money

It's a heartache and it's hard luck
Well that's tough shit
Man it's no fun
Storm the Iranian embassy
Before they start shootin' down you and me

Scourge of suits in control
Of the diplomaticness
While the nations of the world
Look on and they care less
The Soviet Union won't agree
To an economic plan
And then they laugh and march their troops into Afghanistan

Orders from Moscow
Invade Teheran now

It's a heartache and it's hard luck
Well that's tough shit
Man it's no fun
Storm the Iranian embassy
Before they start shootin' at you and me

A nation worries and reads the papers
Hoping that no-one has died
Hearin' rumours that the hostages
Will soon be tried as spies
Demonstrations on the street
Saying that the end is near
The man from New York Times on vacation
Wants to know what happened here

Agressive acts now
We want the best now
Fifteen moms crying
Is my son dying ?

It's a heartache and it's hard luck
Well that's tough shit
Man it's no fun
Storm the Iranian embassy
Before they start shootin' at you and me


15 posted on 05/19/2006 12:12:04 PM PDT by weegee (Slowly but surely and deliberately, converativism is being made a thoughtcrime.)
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To: Supernatural

The ants are my friends
and they're blowing in the wind...
the ants are blowin' in the wind.


16 posted on 05/19/2006 12:13:13 PM PDT by weegee (Slowly but surely and deliberately, converativism is being made a thoughtcrime.)
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To: dfwgator; Mr. Blonde
GIS for "Anti-Flag"

They have a rebellious look to go along with their namesake. LOL.

Third one from the left looks like a younger version of the lead singer for "Jane's Addiction".


17 posted on 05/19/2006 12:36:39 PM PDT by MotleyGirl70 (Cooler than the other side of the pillow.)
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To: MotleyGirl70

Posers. Iggy and Johnny Rotten are the only legit punks.


18 posted on 05/19/2006 12:37:29 PM PDT by dfwgator (Florida Gators - 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Champions)
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To: dfwgator

"Posers. Iggy and Johnny Rotten are the only legit punks."

Yep. These nancy-boys are carefully manufactured, right down to their stunning coiffs and "anti-social" name which I'm sure tested well among 13-17 year-old middle-class white males.


19 posted on 05/19/2006 12:46:21 PM PDT by L98Fiero (I'm worth a million in prizes.)
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To: weegee
There are some pockets of the music that are more conducive to protest than others. The Adult Alternative/Singer-songwriter 'genre' for instance. It is buffered from the commercial backlash that the Poor Dixie Twits encoutered because it only gets a lot of play on college campus radio stations and the local coffee houses. Even so, there's not much. And what is there is isn't bold or catchy. Little coy lyrics here and there that will get more praise for their clever irony than their actual message. It's not about 'war' or 'the war' just 'American life sucks' and 'why cant we just get along'. The only protest that pops to mind is Ray Lamontagne's "How Come?" It's really lame:

People on the street now
Faces long and grim
Souls are feeling heavy
And faith is growing thin
Fears are getting stronger
You can Feel them on the rise
Hopelessness got some by the throat you can see it in their eyes
I said how come
How come
Everybody on a shoestring
Everybody in a hole
Everybody crossing their fingers and toes
Government man spin his politics till he got you pinned
Everybody trying to reach out to each other
But they don't know where to begin
I said how come I can't tell
the free world from living hell
I said how come
How come all I see
is a child of god in misery
I said how come the pistol now as profit
The bullet some kind of lord and king
But pain is the only promise that this so called savior is going to bring
Love can be a liar
And justice can be a thief
And freedom can be an empty cup from which everybody want to drink
I said how come I can't tell
the free world from living hell
I said how come
How come all i see
is a child of god in misery
I said how come
Its just man killing man
Killing man
Killing man
Killing man
Killing man
I don't understand
Its just man killing man

20 posted on 05/19/2006 12:51:58 PM PDT by Lil'freeper (You do not have the plug-in required to view this tagline.)
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To: dfwgator

Iggy went disco went he went "solo" with Bowie.

Scott Ashton remained punk (Destroy All Monsters).

The Ramones were legit as were/are the Dictators.

Lydon makes "profound" statements but sometimes for shock more than any firm stance. He now says he isn't against the royals and liked disco in the 1970s.

"Punk" was a backlash against politically correct hippies. And then it got co-opted by the left and made politically correct. Same drummer, different costume. Hard to say which movement has uglier chicks.


21 posted on 05/19/2006 2:06:37 PM PDT by weegee (Slowly but surely and deliberately, converativism is being made a thoughtcrime.)
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To: weegee

That's what I like about Rotten, he knew it was all just a big joke, and he just sat back and laughed at everybody that took him seriously.....now that's punk.


22 posted on 05/19/2006 2:08:57 PM PDT by dfwgator (Florida Gators - 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Champions)
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To: weegee
Strange article.

Here's another vote for the lyrics removed karaoke version of RATM w/Morello's guitar. Hell of a musician.

We all seen the diva minstrels, warbling on about this and that political cause, with consternation in their gaze and emotion in their voice, but you can only hear it so many times. Popular culture artists are not the historians of their generation, the whole idea of a soundtrack to rebellion is from some other age decades ago.

23 posted on 05/19/2006 3:31:42 PM PDT by JerseyHighlander
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To: dfwgator

He's also a millionaire real estate investor.

While it may "be" punk to be poor, it isn't cool to CHOOSE to remain poor. And Johnny is wise enough to point out in his autobiography that peers WILL pull down a friend if he becomes too successful (even a smart student with dumb friends).


24 posted on 05/20/2006 8:27:07 AM PDT by weegee (Slowly but surely and deliberately, converativism is being made a thoughtcrime.)
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