Musings On Protest Music (Part Two)
Today we continue Pete Mason’s look at protest music in the United States. Be sure to read part one, if you haven’t done so yet.
When David Crosby and Graham Nash played Zuccotti Park on November 8th, their 20 minute set (“Long Time Gone,” “Military Madness,” “What are Their Names,” “They Want It All,” “Teach Your Children”) touched on common themes in support of protest and free speech, ending war and supporting peace, against the corporations and those that run them. The set then ended on an upbeat note, emphasizing the need to set a moral example, both to your children and to your parents as well.
The major focus of most popular protest music in the 1960s and 1970s is the Vietnam War . Lee Andresen’s book Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War cites 178 songs with such a subject matter. One of the first is Dylan’s “Masters of War,” which adapts its music from the English Folk song “Nottaman Town.” “Masters of War” calls for pacifism in relation to President Eisenhower’s description of the ‘military-industrial complex.’
Phil Ochs, a ‘topical singer’ as he put described himself, studied journalism in college and found more radical topics to write on than his college paper would allow. He began an underground paper, The Word and penned articles on politics and music. He later moved to New York City to become a “singing journalist.” In time, Ochs played at numerous events, including Anti-Vietnam War rallies, college events, labor gatherings and civil rights rallies, as well as a headlining performance at Carnegie Hall. Ochs was influenced by the first wave of protest singers such as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie but also by rock stars like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley as well as other notable figures, including John Wayne and President John F. Kennedy. His song titles alone hold a hint at what Ochs stood for: “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” “Draft Dodger Rag,” “The War is Over,” “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” and “Changes.” In describing his own songs, Ochs offered two quotes that apply to protest music in general:
“One good song with a message can bring a point more deeply to more people than a thousand rallies.”
“A protest song is a song that’s so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit”
Arlo Guthrie’s 18 minute long “Alice’s Restaurant,” is a bluesy satire of the Vietnam draft, citing his personal experience that anyone convicted of a crime could not go to war (and presumably commit war atrocities). Taking the trash out (semi-illegally, at the town dump while it was closed) led to an arrest. Later when Guthrie went to his local draft board, his littering charge was enough to deem him not morally suitable for war. The irony of this story is explained in great detail, with the intro and refrain citing “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant,” even getting out of going to Vietnam. The song is notable for its direct message encouraging listeners to resist the draft and end the war.
Country Joe McDonald was a veteran of the Navy, a fact that adds some zest to his notable Vietnam protest song, “Fixin to Die Rag.” Recorded by Country Joe and the Fish, it blames the leaders in Washington as well as the military industry for U.S. involvement in the conflict. The song’s catchy lyrics are part of its popularity.
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
“Fixin to Die Rag” gained renown when the group sang it at Woodstock in August of 1969.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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