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Ear buzz: Where's the new note of protest?


BROTHER, what's going on? We're about to go to war without a single note of protest sounding in the pop charts. Is this the first time a generation has been too apathetic to sing out against bombs, bullets and death? Whether or not the conflict is justified, it's vital that some kind of dissenting voice comes from youth. Why? Well, because the youth are there to remind politicians what they really should be fighting for ... regardless of the - how shall I put it - oilier truth.

I grew up during the Cold War. From nine until 18 I lived in the shadow of a mushroom cloud. It's an anxiety that hasn't entirely dissipated. However, at the time, I didn't feel as though I was being helplessly pulled towards doom by an ocean of apathetic people: I do now. Consider this: one of the biggest selling singles of the 1980s was Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes, a song wreathed in the nuclear paranoia of the time. It stayed at number 1 for weeks, and helped politicise an entire generation - not so they joined radical parties - but it, the accompanying video and the morbid 12 inch mixes that sampled monotone four minute warnings, made me and my school friends very aware that there was a nastier world out there. A world that we didn't dare ignore. The biggest selling single of recent times is Will Young's Evergreen. I - almost - rest my case. Protest songs, dressed up as pop songs, are nothing new. Woody Guthrie begat Bob Dylan begat Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? The sometimes violent demonstrations against the Vietnam War by American youth, while their brothers and sisters were coming back in bodybags, is one of the most enduring images of that supposed golden age of enlightenment and freedom. Protest songs certainly helped to change public opinion about that war, and maybe helped save some lives. Who says music has no place in politics? Here in Britain, punk lit the touch paper: proper punk, not the puerile, skater pap that masquerades under that banner these days, regaling us with juvenile, masturbatory fantasies. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s there was a bristling amount of politicised music, not just lurking on the periphery, but regularly getting into the Top 10. The Specials, The Jam, Bob Marley, The Clash - even Nena with her 99 Red Balloons - all helped shape a youth that accepted they could dance and snog to a tune, as well as being provoked by its lyrics. The likes of Public Enemy, The Levellers, Billy Bragg, U2, Massive Attack and Rage Against the Machine continued to rally against perceived injustices from the higher echelons of the charts. You don't have to agree with what they were fighting against, just recognise the fact that they were prepared to raise a voice against the status quo. Who is doing it now? S Club Juniors? Has dance music lobotomised contemporary music's ability to care for anything other than a rampant, self-centred lust for hedonistic satiation? Evil begins with an ``E'', as well. It's worth remembering that the next time you want to escape reality. I leave you with the words of Brother J.C. Crawford: ``Brothers and sisters, the time has come for each and every one of you to decide whether you are gonna be the problem or whether you are gonna be the solution.''

So - what will it be?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 17, 2003
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