Friday, October 28, 2016

Where Have All The Protest Songs Gone?

It mystifies me (sort of) that protest music doesn’t exist here. Yes, it was different Back Then. Labels didn't charge artists for use of their facilities. Radio stations were privately owned and could do a lot of independent programming. They may not have been the greatest examples of American music, but we learned the songs, we sang them during protests and in coffee houses and "our" bars. Hell, one of the protest songwriters got a Nobel Prize for Literature this year...50 years late, but at least he was recognized. I don't get it.

I don't blame young people, really. I just don't understand why, if the anger is there, if the dissatisfaction is there, why isn't the music there? Or do I just not hear it?

You're absolutely right, and I didn't even think about it. There were all kinds of protest songs in the '60s and '70s... then nothing. Sure, there were some deep tracks on some LPs (like Prince's "Ronnie Talk to Russia"), but they never got any airplay. Why is that?

The airplay is easy...St. Ronnie opened the can of worms that is currently known as broadcasting. There is hardly a radio or TV station that isn't part of a conglomerate. I cannot think of an independent radio or TV station that's on-air today. Even most of the Jeebus stations are owned by Jeebus companies. He did away with the Fairness Doctrine, so broadcasters no longer had to present both sides (or, god forbid, ALL sides) of an issue. Jeebus stations could have been challenged by different sects. No more. Talk radio exists because they don't have to be responsible to the public, to air all viewpoints. Big companies tend not to like to ruffle feathers, so no protest.
But Joan Baez didn't live in a vacuum. She, Dylan, Nina Simone, Phil Ochs, and other protest singers made an impact underground. We knew where to look in record stores. Major labels discovered there was more than pop, jazz, country, and Jeebus. Independent stations built formats around folk music. Their signals made it out to the country, where those of us who were ripe for rebellion could hear, too. Singers at coffee houses sang about civil rights and the war. Sometimes the protest music got out of the shadows. Just as white singers tamed black rock and roll, nice guys (Peter, Paul, and Mary, for example) took the edge off protest...didn't necessary change the lyric, but didn't sound as angry or threatening. And the likes of Simon and Garfunkel could be heard on pop radio. Good, responsible people didn't listen to FM radio except for elevator music, so programmers got smart and decided they could continue to make money off their AM stations while programming for "the kids" on FM.
The Civil Rights Act and the end of the Vietnam War greatly reduced the need for pop protest music. Radio got a little less nasty, but they were still responsible for political content. Then St. Ronnie came along, waved his magic wand, and suddenly it was OK to own more than 7 stations nationwide, and he knew that broadcasters would be socially responsible and continue to present both sides of an issue, so he did away with ruling and conglomerate broadcasters showed how socially responsible they could be.

To me, the radical, racist anti-Constitutional America ammosexuals are deeply, fundamentally worthy of protest and protest songs. We are worthy of having protest songs sung to us, to have protest theater onstage and on the streets. Young people hate old people, which is fine by me...I did the same when I was young (when the hell are you guys gonna die off?). Can't that passion become music?  Can't the Bernie folks continue his ideas onstage? Music delivers opinion its own special way, and I don't understand why protest music, street theater, independent papers, the college campus circuit, or even pirate radio stations don't exist.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Them Lex Boys

He laughs like Walter Brennan or Gabby Hayes, a high-pitched laugh that approaches a cackle.  It's fun to hear, at first, and the laugh is not what you'd expect.  He's around 50, would be a bear if he wanted to be, OK looking, and his nickname is Woody.  (I didn't ask.)  He seems to have a good heart, although he's drunk the Kool-Aid about Hillary Clinton.  But I'm currently living upstairs, so I don't have to see him much.

The landlord and his two brothers are remodeling the house.  They're all experienced in construction and are an excellent team.  Brothers either click or they don't; these guys are thoroughly in sync.  The landlord, Joel, is in charge.  While his brothers have done their own remodeling work, deference is given to Joel because it's his property.  It's fun to overhear Woody and John, the third brother, dis Joel over some of his decisions...not to his face, of course.

Joel and John would be taken for brothers by anyone.  Woody is much taller and stockier than the other two.  Joel and John even have their hair cut and combed the same way. Their clothing choices are similar...kind of hip construction guys as opposed to Woody's overalls and heavy boots.

As I've written before, my late spouse was a hoarder.  I think he hastened his death because the EMTs couldn't get to him because the place was so filled with stuff.  I will admit to being Jack's enabler, but at some point I just gave up trying to make sense of the place:  He didn't care, so why should I?  When I returned from the hospital, watching Jack die, I was greeted by a two-page letter that essentially evicted us because the place was deemed unfit for human habitation.  They didn't know Jack had died and apologized profusely...the policeman who reported it stopped by the next day and apologized over and over because he didn't know Jack died when he taped the notice to the door.  I found that touching, but it's also a small town, and that's what we do.

We had a couple of "get this stuff outta here" work days with friends of Jack's and mine and pretty much cleared out the house, except for some mementos, books he wrote, and some things I wanted to keep, including my huge vinyl records collection.  Although the living room looked worn, it also looked far more spacious than I remembered.  To appease the health guys, Joel decided to rip the entire first floor out, remodel it, new heaters, update the electric wiring, and while it's not done, it's fantastic.  I remembered why I first rented the place.  It's an old house and it has a certain charm.  Also, it now has insulation.

While that is going on downstairs, I've moved my basics upstairs.  We have two rooms and the bath upstairs.  One room remains the bedroom, the other has become a sort of office, and it's also where the records are.  I bought a turntable that connects to the computer to make whatever has replaced mp3s so I can make CDs of music I never replaced and some music that I had.  I think we've been through this before, my preference for the vinyl sound as opposed to the digital.

Upstairs is not out of earshot of downstairs.  When I met Joel's brothers, Woody seemed like a people person, in that he knew how to get along with people in whose houses he worked.  John, however, seemed a little put off.  I have no idea what Joel gave them as the backstory to the house's condition or to Jack and me.   I wrote it off as John not warming up to people.  When I'm not at the LGBT Center, I'm upstairs with the computer and the cat.  The guys brought in a radio and there was a song with Elton John...and it sparked comments.  Woody said he liked Elton's songs.  John said he didn't because "the guy is gay."  I heard a "shhh," probably from Joel, and except for Elton singing, there was silence.  I assume Joel brought John up-to-date.  The next I heard from John was, "Did I say that out loud?"  Maybe not the best recovery line, but it showed a little effort, certainly more of an effort than I used to encounter.

John has actually become's not nearly as cold around him as it was.  I'd like to think that's it proves Harvey Milk's observation that coming out is not just a political act, but it makes straight people think.  "David's gay?  But I've always heard that gay people are this, that, and the other thing.  David doesn't seem like that at all."

The problem is the thinking part.  The concentrated dumbing down of America has worked on far too many people.  Kids are taught how to pass government-made tests.  They do not learn for their own good, they learn to give the school a good enough rating that it will continue to receive money.  Kids are not challenged to think.  Thinking takes time nor is it easy.  Memorize for the test, then forget it.

And so it goes.  Work continues, although a fourth guy has appeared who, it seems, has nothing to do with the project...they're standing around being butch (football, the awful Hillary, the smart Drumpf) and not disparaging gays.  I leave the LGBT Center tomorrow, and that's another topic.  I'll be here as things progress downstairs.  And it sounds like, aside from the bathroom, Joel doesn't want to do much up here.  I miss Jack terribly.  This, though, seems to be a way of starting a life without him.  That's probably a good thing.