Where has all the politically charged music gone?: New generation of protest songs missing from media

The war in Iraq has been compared to the Vietnam war countless times since it began in 2003. If this war really is our generation’s Vietnam, where are all the other things that came with Vietnam? Where is the activism? Where are the tie-dye t-shirts? Where are the hallucinogenic drugs? Where are the cool sunglasses and long hair? And where on earth are our Bob Dylans and John Lennons and Jefferson Airplanes and The Fugs? Where did all the politically charged music go? Neil Young recently came out with a new album, Living with War, which is extremely politically charged and anti-war. The album, which came out April 28, is available in its entirety at www.neilyoung.com. It features such tracks as “Shock and Awe,” (“History was a cruel judge of overconfidence/ Back in the days of shock and awe”) and “Let’s Impeach the President” (Let’s impeach the president for lying/ And leading our country into war/ Abusing all the power that we gave him/ And shipping all our money out the door”). The problem is, Young doesn’t belong to this generation. He has been playing political music since the Vietnam era, albeit some of it has been a little misguided and even downright bad (case in point: “Let’s Roll”). Neil Young said it himself: “I was waiting for someone to come along, some young singer 18 to 22 years old, to write these songs and stand up. I waited a long time. Then, I decided that maybe the generation that has to do this is still the ‘60s generation.” Where did our protest music go? Could it just be out of the mainstream? “I don’t know why there isn’t any hippie music on the radio, except that it’s just a different generation,” sophomore Sam VanFleet said. “Progressivism doesn’t seem to matter to the target audience now. Plus, now there’s Clear Channel.” Clear Channel Communications (CCU) is a company that controls a very significant portion of radio media. CCU owns over 1,200 AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations in the United States. With ownership of so many radio stations comes power. CCU has the power to let you hear–-or not hear–-pretty much whatever it wants. After Sept. 11, CCU put out a list of songs that it recommended radio stations not play. Among the “banned” songs were John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” and “all songs by Rage Against the Machine.” Perhaps CCU justified its latter restriction because Rage Against the Machine is a politically and socially active band. In addition to the band’s charged and revolutionary lyrics, the band website has a “Freedom Fighter of the Month” section, which highlights a fan who has done noteworthy work in social justice. Rage Against the Machine has also done a benefit concert for Mumia Abu Jamal, a man who is currently on death row for the murder of a police officer. However, some question whether or not Jamal is really guilty, and there is evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. Rage Against the Machine is not the only band that is keeping progressive music alive, though. Fugazi makes its political views known, and it refuses to do interviews with magazines that publish ads for alcohol or tobacco products. They cannot be heard on the radio, however, partly because the band owns its own record label and sell its CDs for low prices. Then there’s the Green Day song, “When September Ends,” which carries an anti-war message. Even Eminem has made a politically charged song, with a music video taking stabs at President Bush that came out just before the 2004 election. There are also two volumes of Rock Against Bush, a collaboration effort among many artists. And of course, there is Kanye West’s infamous assertion that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Sophomore Wyatt Miller also weighed in on the issue of politically charged music. “I think people generally find it pretentious and preachy, and that’s why it’s off the radio, with a few exceptions,” Miller said. “There’s still plenty of discontent music though, in the form of angry metalheads and crying emo kids. I also think the political music people of the 60’s and 70’s still have an influence today.” Miller also believes that part of the issue could just be a change in the style of music. Many of the protest songs were written with impersonal and detached lyrics (“How many roads must a man walk down”), whereas today that style of songwriting isn’t as popular. Lyrics have become more personal and intimate, which doesn’t work as well with progressive and political themes. “Basically, mixing pop songwriting with politics as subject matter made it so that, as with all things in pop songwriting, it eventually goes out of style,” Miller said. The final reason for our lack of protest music is the grimmest. The biggest issue keeping politically themed music out of the limelight is apathy. We don’t have protest music because we hardly have protests. The Vietnam era of civil disobedience is gone, and now people are content with politely holding up signs and talking amongst one another. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is passive, polite, and (seemingly) ineffective. There’s still hope though. Maybe activism and real, politically charged music will become popular and cool again. I’ll do my best to help. In the words of P. Diddy and MTV, “Vote or Die!”