Why We’ve Got No Protest Music

1. Mariah Carey

Bob Dylan looked up to Woody Guthrie, today’s nitwits admire Mariah Carey. That’s right, she hit almost three decades ago and dominated the nineties and what was her message? Empty hedonism. Sung by a woman with great pipes. So, that’s who today’s TV contestants emulate. They figure someone else will write the songs, after all if you know how to sing… Clive and company made all those other victors winners.

2. Income inequality

Everybody’s so busy struggling, they don’t want to take any steps that might hold them back. Therefore, if you get ahead, you want to stay there. Kinda like Taylor Swift, the biggest star in America, she’s been mum about Trump, because she doesn’t want to lose any potential fans. And if Swift is mum, what are the odds anybody else is gonna voice a controversial opinion? The best and the brightest avoid music, because they know the odds are long and if you don’t make it and haven’t been investing in your straight career you’re screwed. Only the poor and disadvantaged commit to music, and they see it as a vehicle out of the dumps, not one of self-expression. They want some of that money and lifestyle, and, ironically, those who make it hang with billionaires and emulate them. Our society is dominated by money, not culture. After all, we elected as President a man whose sole calling card is he’s supposedly rich. We used to elect big thinkers, no more.

3. No sense of history

Dylan, et al, emerged out of the folk scene, with its long history of standing up for people’s rights and protests. There’s no folk scene today, there’s no sense of history at all. Will kids tomorrow emulate the English bluesmen who emulated the delta bluesmen? Possibly so, but there’s no evidence of this yet.

4. Hip-hop culture

Used to be about speaking truth to power, now it’s about lifestyle. Hip-hop is the most vibrant music we’ve got, but it’s become self-referential, kinda like metal. You can’t understand today’s metal unless you listened to decades of it before. As for hip-hop culture… This is dangerous, but I’ll wade in. The African-American has been screwed from Day One in America and he sees it as a badge of honor to get his and rip-off the man. So rappers don’t turn down corporate endorsements, they don’t say no to power, they want to become brands with all that money. And it’s understandable, since these same men who run the brands have been screwing them from time immemorial, and the opportunity to take back is hard to turn down. And my inbox will now fill up with missives telling me I don’t understand, and maybe I don’t, but that proves the point that everybody’s afraid of wading in, discussing the issues, especially if they’re murky. Funny how Republicans will say the seemingly unpopular, especially Trump, and Democrats are so busy pussyfooting, afraid to piss a single person off, that they end up saying nothing.

5. Hip-hop culture 2

It dominates, especially on streaming services. If only there was an embraceable anthem, akin to those of NWA and Public Enemy of yesteryear. I remember during the Rodney King riots realizing everything Ice-T said was right. But now that Trump’s in office and white man power is at its zenith, I can’t point to one hip-hop song that nails it. But, even if there was one, would I even know it? The truth is 40% of the public will never listen to hip-hop, never ever. Yet hip-hop is even bigger on streaming services than in sales, quite the conundrum.

6. The music is made by Europeans

Max Martin, DJ Snake, music has become international and too many of the hits are made by people not rooted to American soil, whose first language is not English. And on one hand, this is fantastic, music is living in the now, but on the other, there are no boots on the ground that want to send a narrow, American-focused message the same way studios don’t want to make comedies because they don’t play well overseas.

7. No singability

I knew every lick of “Blowin’ In The Wind” long before I knew who Bob Dylan was. Because we sang the song at summer camp, around the fire, along with those of Peter, Paul & Mary and Joan Baez and… We are making no new standards, certainly none that everybody can sing along to. There’s no melody and no harmony. We used to sit around and sing Beatle songs, playing the chords on our guitars. I haven’t seen a group of kids sitting around playing today’s music…ever!

8. Niche rules

Protest music is inherently broad, it appeals to everybody. But the only artist who fits this paradigm today is Adele and her last album was a disappointment. She’s got a great voice and you can sing along to the songs. Should we be following this paradigm? I’d say so. But Adele learned how to sing in school and nobody knows how to play an instrument anymore.

9. Money

It comes first, it’s top of mind, not only do you want cash, you want nothing to hold you back from getting it. So, you pull your punches.

10. Gotcha society

Country artists believe if they speak their truth and it’s not red state/right wing they’ll be blackballed. Meanwhile, who is the “they” that control this country, that know what’s going on? Looks to me like media is out of touch, Lady Gaga is being trumpeted but she’s got the stiffest album of the year. In the old days she’d be poked fun at as a has-been, but the mainstream media and the NFL are in thrall to the usual suspects who pump misinformation which makes you wonder if a protest song could even be heard.

SOLUTIONS

1. A song

In an era where most of the hits are written by professionals, these professionals are the ones who must write protest anthems. And the truth is, if they write hits, singers will line up to sing them. Don’t forget, the unheralded Barry McGuire sang P.F. Sloan’s “Eve Of Destruction.” Do not depend on the artists to serendipitously come up with a hit. This is not the seventies, when the stars wrote their own material, the songs are written by committee, first we must infect the committee.

2. Anthems are necessary

How many times can we sing “We Shall Overcome” and “This Land Is Your Land”? There’s a huge vacuum waiting to be filled. Write and record a protest hit, and you’ll own the airwaves, as well as the marches and rallies.

3. Melody

Beats rule but they don’t translate very well. If it can’t be taught to elementary school kids, if I’m not humming it in my head, if we can’t break into a verse at the sporting event, we’ve got a nonstarter.

4. Truth, not anti

It’s not about putting Trump down, but speaking for the disadvantaged, and the left wing will not regain power until it connects with the disadvantaged. A protest song that talks about the lack of jobs and the foibles of corporations and the elite will unite the great mass of Americans against them, and that’s what we need. We need middle class leaders speaking up compassionately for the disadvantaged.

MORE RULES

Singable chorus. Which comes early in the song

Short verses. Which express both frustration and speak to the plight of the working person.

Don’t worry about offending. Just by speaking your truth you’re gonna piss off somebody. Don’t let that hold you back. Great art has historically made people uncomfortable.

You’re doing it for society, not for yourself. Narcissism is passe. You’re providing a service.

CONCLUSION

It’s individuals who are leading the revolution, there are no heroes, none on the landscape I can see. Hillary lost and the Dems went into hiding. I wish I had confidence the artists would step up, but pissed-off protesters showing up in public spaces seems about as much as we’re gonna get. But what are they gonna sing?

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  1. The Fire We Make Chords | Online Watch Series The Wire commented on Feb 10

    […] Why We’ve Got No Protest Music – The best and the brightest avoid music, because they know the odds are long and if you don’t make it and haven’t been … before I knew who Bob Dylan was. Because we sang the song at summer camp, around the fire, … […]

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