The Need for Protest Music (or "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night")

Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans*, and inspired by a post that originally appeared @ Crooks & Liars... click here for relevant audio that I uploaded, thanks to BlueNC's spiffy new audio feature!

At the risk of showing my age, one my earliest memories involves my dad showing me how to use the family record player. I didn't have any music of my own, so I would listen to a lot of what was in the record cabinet, which was primarily what my dad was into in the 60s. He listened to a lot of folk music - he was particularly a fan of Bob Dylan's pre-electric period - and it was through my dad's record collection that I discovered the time-honored tradition of the protest song.

When I was older, I discovered Phil Ochs. I found a couple of his albums in a milk crate underneath someone's vendor table at a swap meet (I think that's what they call "flea markets" west of the Mississippi River). I remembered seeing his name in the same paragraph as Dylan's in a brief entry on folk music in a set of encyclopedias that we had, so based on that knowledge I picked them up for $.50 a piece. One of those records, entitled I Ain't Marching Anymore (originally released in 1965, and still very highly recommended) contained a song called "Here's to the State of Mississippi". The song is an extremely scathing indictment of that state's void of civil rights and prevailing bigotry and racism.

Here's a sample verse:

Here's to the state of Mississippi,
For underneath her borders, the devil draws no lines,
If you drag her muddy river, nameless bodies you will find.
Whoa the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes,
The calendar is lyin' when it reads the present time.
Whoa here's to the land you've torn out the heart of,
Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of!

Thanks in part to Phil Ochs, my own personal standards of lyrical content within popular music were set pretty high early on, which probably explains why one would have to dig pretty deep within my own collection to find any love songs. (Admittedly, this made making mix tapes for girls that I was interested in kind of a pain in the ass, but I digress...)

Earlier this year the program VH1 Storytellers devoted an episode to Pearl Jam. I'm not a Pearl Jam fan, so I most likely ignored it when it was initially broadcast. That was at my own peril, unfortunately: courtesy of YouTube, here's their lead vocalist, Eddie Vedder, performing a solo acoustic modern-day update of the aforementioned Phil Ochs song, along with a brief history of how the song was updated in the 70s as "Here's to the State of Richard Nixon".

Protest music never went away, but sometimes it takes an Eddie Vedder, a Neil Young, a Bruce Springsteen or a Conor Oberst to bring this time-honored tradition to the forefront again. Dissent and criticism of our current administration's domestic and foreign policies may be viewed as unpatriotic by the powers that be in the GOP, and despite any of Bush's Rose Garden tirades that would indicate the opposite, it's still perfectly legal and protected speech.

And what better time than now for protest, with less than fifty days remaining until Election Day and a President that wants us to shut up and let him do whatever the hell he wants, all in the name of his twisted, neo-conservative Manifest Destiny? There's a lot riding on this upcoming election, and this is a perfect opportunity to take whatever it is you're doing, in whatever your preferred form of expression may be - music, video, short essays, poetry, street art, even blogging - and use it to say that you've had enough of the corruption, the incompetence, the corporate cronyism, the intolerance and bigotry, the fearmongering, the growing culture of stupidity and ignorance, and that you demand change.

In short, if you have something to say, don't let anyone stand in your way. Say it!

And, to quote Rage Against the Machine, a now-defunct band who also embraced the protest song: "Turn that shit up!"

*I think I forgot to mention that I was invited to join Scrutiny Hooligans about a week and a half ago...




I see a poem in my future.

Excellent post

Congrats on joining Scrutiny Hooligans. Great team up there in Asheville!

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