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Saturday, September 07, 2019

Why is our protest music stuck in the past? | Washington Post

Over the years, we here @ TW -- and many, many others -- have tracked the decline of "protest music".

From It’s a brave new world. Why is our protest music stuck in the past? | Washington Post by Chris Richards:
These are wild and anxious times for our wild and anxious planet. So why do the most visible protest songs of the Trump era feel so inert? From the numb thud of “This Is America” to the woke winks on the new Taylor Swift album, contemporary protest pop feels increasingly prominent, deeply unimaginative and embarrassingly insufficient.

As it stands, the two most widely applauded protest anthems of Trump’s presidency are “Love It If We Made It,” by the British band the 1975, and “This Is America,” by Childish Gambino, the nom-du-rap of Hollywood polymath Donald Glover. The former was named the best song of 2018 by Pitchfork in December. The latter won record and song of the year at the Grammys in February. “Love It If We Made It” recites the ugliest global headlines of the past few years while flashing a hopeless smile. “This Is America” holds a mirror up to our violent, racist, violently racist system, then gives a blank shrug.

What are these songs trying to achieve? Both offer hyper-topical verses, flanked by titular refrains that radiate heroic despair — and by setting those feelings of total powerlessness to such patently urgent music, the effect becomes strangely self-canceling. You feel seen, but you also feel small.
So why has "protest music" gone "inert" as Chris Richards contends?

Obviously -- for us -- the penultimate protest song is Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young 1970 song "Ohio". The song "Ohio" is "perhaps the most powerful topical song ever recorded: moving, memorable, and perfectly timed. But it turned out to signify the end of the era of protest songwriting which had begun with the folk revival rather than a thrilling rebirth", author Dorian Lynskey writes in the book 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day.

Freedom: Kent State University, Ohio - May 4, 1970 
(Click to enlarge full frame & note girl's shirt message)

Neil Young wrote in the liner notes of the Decade album about the song he wrote for CSNY "Ohio": "It's still hard to believe I had to write this song. It's ironic that I capitalized on the death of these American students. Probably the most important lesson ever learned at an American place of learning. David Crosby cried after this take."

Rock's "Fahrenheit 9/11"
Living With War by Neil Young - 2006

In 2006 -- as Gulf War II raged -- Neil Young was urged to deliver another "Ohio" -- a song which helped change public attitudes and marked an important turning point in the Vietnam War. In response to the challenge, Neil Young released the anti-war, protest album LIVING WITH WAR was released to a firestorm of criticism and controversy. Neil Young called the music "Metal Folk Protest" like Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan's.

Upon release, Neil Young stated that he felt compelled to write his new album "Living With War" because he was tired of waiting for young protest singers to pick up the torch.

What followed was an inspired reaction from "younger singer-song-writers" who maintained that they were holding the flame. A provocative article titled Why Neil Young Is Wrong by Stephan Smith-Said has generated a lot of attention. This article resulted in Neil establishing the Songs of Our Times page on the Living with War site, ass well as, a series of concerts called Songs of Protest.

Songs of Protest - Feb. 10th, 2007
Poster by McNevin Hayes

In 2008, the man whose song "Ohio" played a part in helping end the Vietnam war, admitted that "music can no longer change the world". Neil Young made the comment at the Berlin film festival which is screening "CSNY: Deja Vu".

"Music Can't Change World" - Neil Young
2008 Berlin Film Festival
Neil Young's comment that music can't change the world was been met with a pretty strong reaction from around the world.

Many argue that music can change the world while others argue that it never has and never will. Young responded with a post titled "A Song Alone":
"No one song can change the world. But that doesn't mean it's time to stop singing."

"Children of Destiny" - Neil Young + Promise of the Real

In 2017, Neil Young + Promise of the Real released a song and video titled "Children of Destiny". From Neil Young News @ Thrasher's Wheat: A Happy New Year for 2018's "Children of Destiny" on the state of today's "Protest Music": The protesting of state sponsored brutality and violence continues, but where are the musical anthems that capture the emotions of our times? From Billboard | 'Fear of Being Blackballed' Prevents Artists From Releasing Protest Music:
Neil Young was so shaken by photos of the four unarmed students killed by military gunfire at Kent State that he wrote "Ohio" for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young right away. By the end of the week, it was playing on the radio. That was 1970. Now, in 2014, outrage over police brutality has become much more widespread, inspiring protests and "die-ins" nationwide for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men killed in confrontations with cops. Days ago in Brooklyn, two NYPD officers were murdered while sitting in their patrol car. But this year will end without a defining protest song. ... "I think a lot of it is just due to fear of being blackballed and not making a living," Questlove of The Roots told Billboard, referring to the backlash the Dixie Chicks faced in 2003, when Natalie Maines told an audience that the band was "ashamed" that President Bush was from Texas. "We were like, 'Man, if a white woman can lose her career in the United States for speaking up for what's right, then shit, we'll get the electric chair.' I think that was the bottom line. And that just really rendered America silent." 

Neil Young performs "Ohio"
Farm Aid 25: Growing Hope for America, Miller Park, Milwaukee on October 2, 2010

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At 9/07/2019 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Apathy, sleepwalking, polarized, entitlement, racism, ego, and greed. The Roman Empire repeating itself before our eyes and nowhere to hide if you speak out against any of the above symptoms of a world gone mad. We have all surrendered our civil rights through the technology we love. I pray we can survive in the world we’ve created, but it may be too late. A song can’t change the world, people have to change first.

Let the hate towards my comments begin


At 9/07/2019 03:13:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks for thoughts Dan.

No hate from here. only love.

we're all just trying to light a candle and keep the homefires burning.

while music didn't stop the Vietnam war, it was certainly the background soundtrack.

bringing the troops back home only takes us back to to a starting point of peace.

many continue to be bewildered by the absolute silence from the vast majority of artists today. artists have long been the consciousness of peace movements.

as the WaPo article points, today's protest music -- what little there is -- is tepid, timid and clearly ineffectual. we're just as fatigued as everyone having to resurrect a protest song from 1970 to hold up as an example of "this is how it's done folks".

if anyone does have some good links to today's protest songs, pls share.

on occasion we find some worthy contemporary protest songs @

Felice Brothers seem promising @


At 9/07/2019 04:42:00 PM, Blogger Richie Cruz said...

What's there to protest about? Life in 2019 is so much easier than it was in 1969.

300 channels on your television, hundreds of shows you can binge watch on Netflix, all of us have a phone that can now show you anything you want and answer any question that you might have. You don't even need to leave your house to buy anything you want, if you choose.

Family, religion, community are all concepts that are slowly but surely being destroyed. Without any kind of true moral commitment, life is as easy as the next pill, which of course brings up the fact that there are millions who are too doped up on some kind of drug or medication to really give a crap about anything.

Throw in the fact that there is no major war going on, so therefore no draft sending thousands of young people off to battle like it was in 1969, and there really isn't anything to protest.

Of course, this does not mean that there is nothing to protest. And there are pocket groups like Antifa who fight against Trump, and groups like the Proud Boys who fight for Trump. But truthfully, nobody trusts the media, anger from Hollywood and the entertainment world is phony and hypocritical, the economy is booming, and most people would rather just stay home and watch Walking Dead reruns.

At 9/07/2019 05:07:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Thanks Thrasher. Love and Only Love will change the world. Hate is everything you think it is. The battle rages on.......


At 9/07/2019 05:45:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@ Richie Cruz
You make some valid points, and uncover many of the problems that 2019 has to offer. The numbing of the masses is part of the programming created to facilitate thought control. If your stoned or zoned out on T.V. the power belongs to someone else. The weaker we become. the easier it is to control us. We have sold ourselves out for the convenience of the technology we have become addicted to. A technological carrot dangling in front of us, leading us nowhere.

Our only hope is to wake up and recognize that we have been bamboozled by this technology that I'm actually using right now. That same technology can work to our advantage, if we are willing to use it that way. Unfortunately everything we say and do is under scrutiny by the powers that be, and they have all the power to corrupt the technology.

So here we are at the end of the second decade of the 21st century. My solution is to be the change I want see; with integrity, accountability, and congruity. Just like it was before, it is today. I can't change anyone but myself, so I choose love over hate. There are no borders on our planet, they are simply theoretical ideas that are outdated and pointless. The sooner we figure that out the sooner we will begin to see ourselves as one world, one family, and one species.


At 9/07/2019 06:10:00 PM, Blogger Richie Cruz said...

@Dan Swan

Excellent thoughts and ideas as well. And trust me, I'm just as guilty of the things I was talking about as anyone else. I sit around a lot, watching tv, smoking weed, just getting heavier and lazier. I spend way too much time staring at either a television screen or a phone screen. I'm estranged from my family and haven't attended a church service in over 25 years.

But I'm realizing my mistakes, and I'm trying to "go back", as Neil might say. Trying to get back to the values that were important to me all those years ago. I think all of us would be wise to start really thinking those things.

At 9/07/2019 06:21:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Richie & @ Dan - thank you both so much. sincerely.

@ Richie - when wee 1st read your comment, we were having a bit of trouble with whether you were serious, providing dark satire, or just what. so thanks for clarification.

exactly. protest what? where to start? everything going hyper-digital has created the new brave world prison control grid matrix. wee are the prison guards of our own prison.

for us, it's not so much that we advocate protest per se.

we protest for truth. we protest against lies.

transparency and full disclosure is our path to freedom, sovereignty. it is all we seek.

we try and separate the wheat (truth) from the chaff (lies).


At 9/07/2019 07:06:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@ Richie Cruz

I friend of mine was in a recovery center and one of the younger guys asked the question, "How do you know when you've hit bottom?" The answer was, "When you put the shovel down".

You've put down the shovel, and you know where you want to go. That's the hardest part of recovery. Recognizing where you need to change and what you really want, and owning it. Congratulations for knowing where you want to go. I've been 20 years sober and I've been at the bottom, so I support you on your journey. Joy is right in the palm of your hands.


Thank you for your statement: "transparency and full disclosure is our path to freedom". Certainly an important part of the solution. Thanks for the platform to share with others who are brave enough to tell their truth. Positive or negative.


At 9/07/2019 07:11:00 PM, Blogger willforestwater said...

At least some of the dinosaurs are still singing Neil's protest songs. I saw David Crosby last week and he ended the concert with Ohio, and the crowd roared. He had been his usual political self in his stage banter throughout. BTW he still is in fine voice, easily the best singing voice of all of CSNY.

At 9/08/2019 05:50:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Gimmie some truth

At 9/08/2019 05:57:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ willforestwater - good to know. thanks. where did you see Crosby?

btw, in the interst of spotlighting some more protest songs, we're partial to the new album by Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real "Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)"

we consider that to be a protest song of a different type.

much like the spirit of brother Micah's "Everything Is Bullshit".

turn off to get tuned in...

At 9/08/2019 05:59:00 PM, Blogger bluesoid said...

Time to grow up. I can watch the news or keep up with it via the web. Don’t need popular musicians pissing and moaning from behind their microphones. Protest singers are people who refuse to come to terms with the realities around them. Anarchists if you will. Assholes with a cause to give their pathetic lives a semblance of meaning.

At 9/09/2019 01:44:00 AM, Blogger Rebar said...

Great post Ritchie.

At 9/09/2019 11:52:00 AM, Blogger willforestwater said...

I saw David Crosby at The Neptune in Seattle. Sold out concert. As I said, he was in amazing form. The Lighthouse Band backed him, and their harmonies were great. Having a female voice in the mix reminded me of Joni Mitchell's backing voice on Crosby's If Ony I Could Remember My Name album. I believe the energy of that new band is keeping Crosby on the creative edge these days. His most recent album is the best since his 70s solo album.

It would be great for the protest movement if CSNY got together again, but I think all the rest of CSNY hate Crosby now, so I don't think that's gonna happen. Their dissolution is kinnda reflective of the state of the 70s protest movement IMHO. Personalities and ego get in the way of protest and change. But maybe if Neil wanted it...


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