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.

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