Protesting Protests About Protest Music
The whole thing started with a call from USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham.
DeWayne knew I used to be a music critic and had an intriguing proposition. He was organizing a civil rights conference for the journalism program he leads at historically black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University -- would I be interested in talking about why the classic protest songs of the '60s and '70s have no modern counterparts?
Answering that question led to me developing an engrossing, 90-minute presentation that hit on everything from how folk music influenced easrly soul and gospel singers to the impact of 9/11 on radio formats. It went so well, Les Payne of Newsday suggested I develop it into a story, so it landed in Sunday's Floridian.
Reaction so far has been interesting -- totally dependent on the respondent's political perspective. Several readers emailed to accuse me of not blaming Right-Wing corporate media for silencing artists -- even though I cited a lack of radio support several times in the piece and even quoted artists like The Coup's Boots Riley speaking out about it.
An avowed, 19-year-old black conservative who likes country music -- gotta admit, I didn't know such a person existed -- wrote to tell me that there are other forms of protests music, like songs by Darryl Worley and an actual U.S. soldier talking about how necessary the Iraq war is. (one hint, my young GOP friend: it's not a classic protest song if it actually supports large institutions like big business or the government; check the definition here).
Others claimed my story said there were no protest songs being written anymore, even though I spent several paragraphs describing the fate of new protest songs by Pink, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Do people even read stories before sending emails about them, anymore?
At any rate, this story has gotten more response than anything I've done in a while, and I appreciate all the feedback -- even the less, um, attentive stuff. If you want to check out some of the music which inspired me to write the story in the first place, click here.
I particularly liked getting an email from Flee, a personality at local community radio station WMNF, where protest music is always kicking it (I LOVED a recent show wednesday where they commemorated the 25th anniversary of What's Going On by playing all the cool cover version of songs from the album!)
Flee reminded me that WMNF has teamed with the Bay Area Arts and Music Organization to create a CD due in October: "Power to the People: A Tribute to Protest, Dissent and Electoral Dysfunction Songs," including declarations of discord from raucous and rebellious local artists including Ronny Elliott's "I Don't Hear Freedom ring anymore," Lori Karpay's "Dangerous George," Crash Mitchell's "Radio Station Abomination," as well as original, angry yet amusing songs by nonconformists Ricky Wilcox, Lorna Bracewell, and the Threads."
Flee says an all-day celebration of free speech is scheduled for Skippers' Smokehouse,910 Skipper Road, Tampa, FL 33613 on Saturday November 4 from noon to midnight. Over twenty-five local bands will perform both original and classic protest songs.
Want to prove my story wrong? Make a success out of this CD and that concert. Time for fans of good protest jams to put their money -- and their dance moves -- where their mouth is.