Protest Songs

Is it my age? Am I ‘out of touch?’ Do I no longer have my finger on the pulse of a vibrant and anti establishment societal undercurrent, a sub-culture of analysis and proposed insurrection. Was that even ever a thing?

It’s Saturday and I have a relaxed day in mind catching up with my partner and walking the dog, planning a week of working on the house and filling up time with tasks that under normal circumstances would be forever put off for another day. And so I am not going to rant on but I’ll simply get straight to the point.

Where have the protest songs gone?

Without the protest songs how do we ‘big time’ promote an idea? And despite the protest songs, why are we still here, fighting the man and feeling the need to sing some old and new anti establishment tunes? To highlight this I’ll start in the ’60’s and link to one song per decade (of course there are very many more) and wonder at the issues that seemed so key at the time but still are not resolved.

But they are not dead, are they, and we aren’t standing over their graves… I’ve never much got on with Dylan but this classic protest song is one that still has power and meaning 57 years later! So much for democracy and the ever upwards progression of societies development.
I love Gil, such a poet and campaigner and such a great musician too. This is the 70’s offering and one that looks at the Watergate scandal and corrupt politicians in general. Will they never learn? Will the politicians never learn that they will be found out. That justice will be had if not in their lifetime but upon their legacy. And will the people never learn that this is how it is, the people we allow to hold power will always be shitty types. They will by fact of being there be undeserving of our trust. Think on how many ‘gates’ there have been since Watergate…
This is where my political understand was developed and set, in punk and specifically in the anarcho punk movement spearheaded by Crass. Big A Little A is as good a place as any to understand me and to understand the worldview of the black clad of the early nineteen eighties.
I just like the title and I think this nineties anthem should be revived for the Covid times. All protest is for the children and right now we are doing them such a great disservice. Not only are they being psychologically damaged they are not receiving education and they are the ones that are going to have to pay for the maniacal policy decisions of most world governments.
Neil said that he waited for someone to write a protest song attacking the wars following the attacks on the twin towers. The subsequent preemptive policy of Bush’s administration that led to war in Afghanistan and Iraq seemed fruitful ground for protest but Neil said he saw no musician offering up their dissent so he quickly made ‘Living With War’.
What an album and this early 2010’s see PJ Harvey provide a raft of protest songs to provide a soundscape for the decade.

And so where are the anti covid songs, the mass movement of young people raging against uni lockdowns, house arrest, state intervention in our sex life and police intimidation?

There are some, and they are all (it seems) featuring Van Morrison who is manning, almost as a one man band, the barricades in defence of musicians everywhere.

But, the big question is, do protest songs effect change? Our brief listen through history appears to quite clearly sing out loud ‘NO!’ If they did then EXACTLY the same issues would be done and dusted, not swept under the carpet but actually washed and finally hung out to dry.

And music aside, go and read some Titus Livius for some understanding of the entertaining machinations that weft their way through the lives of the Romans and you’ll know that we have learned NOTHING. They are the same problems. Humans it would appear are born to live through the same learning and decision making options that their parents went through, that their grandparents went through. Yes, times do change, geography and populations and technology changes but the basic elements of human conflict remain remarkably similar over decades centuries and millennia.

I believe that we simply do not live long enough. Another few hundred years and we’d actually mature and have a fuller knowledge and understanding of the idiots that as youths we all most certainly are. And we might be able to effect change for all, for better, for mutual benefit.

Individually we are fine. Together in small groups we achieve much. Collectively we can go on to build great things but it is in the collectivisation of our society that an inertia to cut out the rotten develops, an inability to reign in the those with ill intent grows and a groupthink that, led by the few to the detriment of the many, can proliferate. And no protest song has the power to alter human nature.