Music of Protest – Part 2

I ended yesterday’s post at day 15 of a series of posts I did in December 2009, where I was posting a song of protest every day for a month. I will finish that list today.

I am doing the same thing again this year, and will have another 30 videos to post when I complete it, later this month. I just finished day 19, so I’ve got another 11 days to go.

Like yesterday, I will post the name and artist, a link, and then whatever text I had that accompanied the original post.

Day 16 – Fuck Tha Police by N.W.A.


Aimed directly at the Los Angeles Police Department, this song delivers
a damning verdict on the state of our criminal justice system and its
continued inequality.

At the beginning of 2008, over two million people were incarcerated in the United States. Or roughly, one in every hundred people. In term of the song by N.W.A., the rates are far worse. One in 15 black males over the age of 18 is behind bars in this nation. Conversely, for white males of the same age group, the numbers are one in 106.

These numbers make it readily obvious that we are still a nation of prejudice with much work to do to ensure the equality of every citizen.

Day 17 – I Ain’t Marching No More by Phil Ochs

Full Disclosure: I have a hard time taking seriously any peace activist that idolized Che Guevara. Fighting for the rights of your people – kosher. Purging dissidents and political opponents, not so much.

Regardless, Phil Ochs – the Singing Journalist – had both an amazing voice and powerful writing. His songs influenced many of the day, including other political reformers and entertainers. He traveled extensively, particularly in South and Central America, where revolutionary struggles were taking place in numerous countries.

Unfortunately, he also struggled with alcoholism, drug dependencies and bipolar disorder. After years of a successful singing career, he later careened into depression and hung himself in 1976.

Day 18 – Biko by Peter Gabriel

Sixty-three years ago, today, a man was born. Thirty-one years later, he’d be dead on the floor of a South African police station. His crime? Teaching that “Black is beautiful.”

Steven Biko was an anti-apartheid activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement that sought to empower the oppressed citizens of South Africa. Biko’s teachings brought him in direct conflict with the government of that nation, who actively sought to repress his ideas.

In 1973, under South African law, it became a crime to quote his words and he could not talk to more than one person at a time. Despite this, he organized protests against the Apartheid government.

In August of 1977 he was arrested under South African terrorism laws. A month later, he died in custody from massive head injuries sustained from beatings during interrogations.

It would be nearly 20 more years before the apartheid system ended.

Day 19 – The Man’s Too Strong by Dire Straights

I grew up in an age of clandestine wars. Too late for world wars, Korea and Vietnam, too early for the Middle East. The 80s were all about small Central and South American conflicts and our shadowy funding of dictatorships.

A number of songs, including the title track, of the Brothers in Arms album by the Dire Straits look closely at these conflicts. “Internet debate” abounds regarding this particular song – is it religious allegory or does it reference someone specific? Given the times and the other songs on the album that aim critical views at Central American wars, I tend to think it’s an amalgam of both.

Day 20 – Which Side Are You On by Pete Seeger

Originally written by Florence Reese, the wife of United Mine Workers organizer Sam Reece. In 1931, during a strike by the UMW, mine officials hired local deputies to terrorize Sam into ending the strike. Sam wasn’t there, so they took out their anger on his family. That night, she wrote this song.

Pete Seeger was one of many performers instrumental in bringing about a revival in the American folk movement.

Day 21 – Hurt by Johnny Cash

I’ve known I wanted to put a Johnny Cash song in this list since I had the idea. But I wasn’t ever sure which one to use. This one might break my own rules. We’ll see.

Cash had an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide. He held particular contempt for our prison system. That’s not what this song is about, though there are plenty of examples.

I chose this one because it’s something of a self eulogy. It’s a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song, and he honestly does it much better then they did. I think this song gives an amazing look into his life as he neared the end.

Note: In 2011, a couple years after I posted this, the video to this song, which is heart-wrenching for any Cash fan, was named the number 1 video of all time by NME, and appeared in the top 30 videos of all time in Time magazine.

Day 22 – So Long, Mom by Tom Lehr

Injectin’ some more humor into this here concept.

Tom Lehrer is so many things. Comedian, satirist and mathematician. He’s perhaps best known for his song listing all of the elements. While he claimed he was mostly preaching to the choir, his works have influenced many other artists.

His works have been critical of the wars of the day, empty protests, and the political establishment. When Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, Lehrer remarked that political satire was now obsolete.

Day 23 – Holiday by Green Day

This song was released in 2004 on the American Idiot album. The song expresses frustration over the lead-up to the war in Iraq. It particularly looks at our governments belligerent attitude towards other nations during that buildup and coercive efforts at coalition building.

This album was viewed by many as anti-American. The band is adamant that that isn’t the case. Prior to performing this song in concert, they will often announce the song as a protest of politicians and the Iraqi war.

Day 24 – True Colors by Cyndi Lauper

Somehow, Cyndi Lauper came up in a conversation with a friend yesterday. This song, and a number of others from the same album, were dedicated to a friend of Lauper’s that had recently died from AIDS.

In 1986, when the album came out, AIDS was still discussed with hushed voices. Rock Hudson had died the year before, after announcing he was had the disease.

With the various chemical cocktails now available, AIDS may not be the death sentence it once was. However, the stigma still remains and many people still incorrectly characterize it as the “gay disease.” Globally, it is among heterosexuals and intravenous drug users that the largest rise in cases is being seen.

Day 25 – Let It Be by the Beatles

It will be all right, just let it be.

Note: Ok, it was Christmas and I wasn’t very chatty.

Note 2: Finding un-screwed with versions of Beatles songs on YouTube is freakin’ hard. Those copyrights are enforced hardcore.

Day 26 – Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

This song is about Thanksgiving, littering and Vietnam. Oh, and Alice. You didn’t forget about Alice, did you?

Primarily a monologue, this song details the true events of a moment in Arlo’slife starting one Thanksgiving, but winds up detailing the absurdities of the draft during the Vietnam war. How to get out of being drafted? Be a litterbug.

Not a great recording, but the only decent recording I could find was split in to two videos.

Day 27 – Pride by U2

Credit where credit is due. I would have totally forgotten about U2 on this list if April hadn’t reminded me of this song. I’m not a Bono fan, but U2 has a history of excellent songs about social issues.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was perhaps one of the most influential civil rights leaders this country has ever seen. While controversy still surrounds his assassination, the fact remains that on April 4, 1968, this country lost a tremendously important social reformer, whose works helped improve not just the lives of African Americans, but minorities the world over.

His works continue to inspire reformers and his legacy will continue for as long as one groups struggles against the oppression of another.

Day 28 – Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

May 4, 1970 – Shots ring out at a college campus in Ohio. A crowd of students scatters, four dead on the ground.

The students had gathered to protest the escalation of the Vietnam war into neighboring Cambodia. Around 2,000 students gathered on campus and the National Guard was called in to disperse them. As the Guard moved in, the students moved to a new area.

Shortly after noon, with no warning, the guard opened fire. Of the four killed, two weren’t even participating in the protest (one was, in fact, an ROTC member…)

┬áDay 29 – Boy in the Bubble by Paul Simon

From high tech. terrorism to the marvels of modern medicine, technology is a two edged sword. We have instant, on demand communications. We have precision weaponry. We can cure diseases that once killed thousands. And we can engineer new ones.

These are, indeed, the days of miracles and wonders.

Day 30 – Orange Crush by R.E.M.

I have to admit, when I first heard the song, I thought it was about the soda. I didn’t really care about the lyrics, the tune was so freakin’ catchy.

But with the video and interviews performed with the band members, I came to learn that this is a song about Agent Orange, the defoliant used extensively in the Vietnam war and several other locations.

Over 20% of the Vietnamese Jungles were destroyed through its use. Its use resulted in half a million birth defects and nearly as many deaths. There are areas within the country that still have not recovered from the destruction of large areas of vegetation.

Day 31 – What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong

1968 – The U.S. is deeply in to the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June. On the streets protesters where marching against the war and for civil rights. The streets of Washington D.C., Chicago and other large cities were alight with anger.

And along comes this man, Sachmo, with an infectious smile and a song about the beauty of the world. It was more than a song, it was a challenge. Could we live up to the ideals? Or would we continue to throw away the wonders that shine daily. If we would just choose to open our eyes a little and look for them, they’d be easy to find.

I’m not an optimist and this is a song of ultimate optimism. Optimism with a capital O. It can make even my cranky, old heart feel joy.

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