Monday, November 7, 2011

The Politics of Music

I've realized something the other day.  The political messages of music has changed, or the political messages are no longer there.  Now, folk music typically lacks what used to grace it during the 60s and 70s.  Country music used to be more progressive in its content.  And the Scots and Irish continue their political positions.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez once were a powerful force in politics, inspiring many folk musicians to do the same.  Their music wielded the mightiest of swords, and, in a time of political upheaval due to the events of the Vietnam War, it reflected the left-wing political views.  Pete Seeger is still a political force, pushing for peace around the world.  But contemporary folk artist, though great music, lack the social and political view that their predecessors once owned.

Country Music, now that I think of it, was actually a combination of left-wing and right-wing political power.  It's what made the artists truly unique.  Loretta Lynn pushed the highly controversial birth control in her hit song, "The Pill" (featured below).  It rocked the world.  There was her song "Fist City" in which she turned the tables and made the woman a true threat to a man.  "Don't Come Home A'Drinkin'" supplied a strong female voice in the way that the 1950s housewife was really thinking.  She sang of the double standards that exist in gender with "Rated X".  Lynn convincingly took the role of "The Other Woman" in the same-titled song.  She even spoke out against the Vietnam War with the song "Dear Uncle Sam" taking the role of a widowed wife.  Despite her left-wing political position, she was best friends with the beloved Tammy Wynette, who respectfully and dutifully stood by her man.  Wynette seemed to need a man in her life at all times.  She relied on pain meds in the 80s and 90s to fuel her addictions and increasingly unhappy life.  Others who took on politics with anti-war issues and anti-monopoly, blue-collar issues were the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Merle Haggard, and Emmylou Harris.  Country is now more right-wing-dominated with the likes of Toby Keith.  How did Country become so ignorant when it once tried to promote knowledge and sensibility?  One artist who is still a social activist, at least, is Martina McBride with songs like "Independence Day" and "Concrete Angel", raising awareness of child abuse and women's issues.  And the Dixie Chicks, of course, make their political views known, but for that very reason, they were ostracized from the Country community, much like Chely Wright has been for coming out as a lesbian.  Country has become nothing but down-home, country living being better than anything else, and it's a bore, especially because they're sung by people with unremarkable talent.

This leaves me with the Scots and Irish.  Surely since the 1800s, Irish rebel songs have been a staple for the nation's music.  "A Nation Once Again", "Go On Home British Soldiers", and "Come Out Ye Black and Tans" leave great impressions on the political scene, often being used to back politicians expressing driving the British out of Ireland.  Contemporary popular musicians, such as U2 and The Cranberries, carry on the tradition with an anger and sadness of war.  Traditional folk singer-songwriter Tommy Sands actively promotes peace and knowledge, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, as the Troubles defined his musical career with the person song "There Were Roses".  Modern folk-rock artist Damien Dempsey (featured below) is perhaps the most active in political protest.  No album goes without a message to the government or to the people, declaring change.  Through historical events, Dempsey portrays how history repeats itself.  Dempsey's very hard on the educational system and colonization.  Traditional folk artists, like Karan Casey, continue the Irish protest and political music in their relevance to today's society.  With the recent economic troubles in Irleand, "Sailing off to the Yankee Land" has high relevance to Ireland today.

Though the Scots may not have the traditional protest songs as heavily as the Irish, the Scots continue to be incredibly involved in politics, writing new and beautiful songs.  Modern folk-rock artists, such as Karine Polwart, continually protest.  Polwart's recent protest was inspired by the documentary You've Been Trumped about Donald Trump's battle with the Scots in a shady deal, bribing Scottish officials and declaring environmental agencies are backing him when none are, so he can build a golf resort.  Polwart recently formed a group called The Burns Unit (featured below), and their first album consists of many hard-hitting protest song.  Tunes such as "No Gods and Few Heroes" work their way into the Scottish sound with their daring and bold messages.

I think now, more than ever, the U.S. needs protest songs, and it's not getting them.  Is the country too divided?  Do people not care enough about anything?  Thoughts?

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