These Guys Show Green Day How It’s Done…

In the last few years, the music world has seen a resurgence of the protest song, mostly in response to the war in Iraq.  Some of the more notable anti-war tunes or albums have come from the likes of Green Day, Ani Difranco, Eddie Vedder, Bonnie Raitt, Public Enemy, Pink, Morrissey, John Fogerty, Wyclef Jean, REM, Paula Cole, Beastie Boys, Lennie Kravitz, the Dixie Chicks, and Neil Young.  It’s become quite a profitable little musical niche for several artists.  How much of the profits made off of multi-platinum albums such as Green Day’s American Idiot have been channeled into charities or anti-war groups?  I think it’s a legitimate question, and one my internet research has yielded no results on.

Before I go any further with this, I must make a few things clear.  I am not attacking any of the bands listed above.  I am not pro-war, nor am I pro-Bush, for that matter.  My sole purpose for posting such a long list of diverse artists is to question the effectiveness of the protest song in today’s world.  In the mid-1960’s, artists such as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and others lit a fire underneath the conservative American society and sparked off a cultural revolution in the youth of the United States.

These days, however, with the record industry in constant decline and the Bush administration enjoying a 27% approval rating in the face of the Iraq war, it seems almost like a safe bet to record anti-war songs.  When over two thirds of Americans agree with what you’re saying, are you really stirring up that much shit?  If you’re not giving away some or all of the profits made off of these recordings, then what is the point behind them exactly other than preaching to the choir? 

Last year, a band released an album that was mostly devoted to scathing criticism of the music industry.  The band is a folk/punk group called Against Me!, and their album is titled New Wave.  Included among these songs was one that really got me thinking about the futility of protest music in today’s political and economic environment.  That song is called “White People For Peace,” and I think that it expresses very well my frustrations with the current glut of anti-war music that’s flooding today’s market.

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7 Responses to These Guys Show Green Day How It’s Done…

  1. As someone with a markedly different perspective on these issues, it always annoys the hell out of me when the latest anti-war album or movie is described as “brave.” There’s nothing brave about it. George Bush is not going to lock you up in Guantanamo for putting out American Idiot. In fact, all you’ll get is good reviews and claps on the back from your peers, who all agree with you. It would be far braver for a rock or folk musician to make a song in support of deposing Saddam Hussein and the possibility of freedom for the Iraqi people–such a musician would at least risk being ostracized by his peers. As it stands, it’s an echo chamber where everyone says basically the same thing and then congratulate each other on how brave they all are for saying the same thing. (Country music might be a different matter, although it might not be that different if the artist said his piece without seeming to be disrespectful to the country and the audience, a la the Dixie Chicks.)

    The second-to-last time I saw Steve Earle play, he kept trying to make himself sound like some kind of martyr. I was in Louisiana with a likely conservative audience, many of whom probably had friends and family serving overseas. They listened respectfully and waited for him to get back to playing music, enduring him saying things like Tim Robbins getting his speech at the Baseball Hall of Fame canceled because they were worried he’d start going off on politics was some sort of shredding of the First Amendment. Needless to say, Steve Earle is still making records and touring, not locked up somewhere, and Tim Robbins is still making movies. I wrote about it at the time, and I may dust that piece off and significantly revise it for posting here someday.

    The Pink song (“Dear Mr. President”) isn’t so much anti-war as anti-Bush, although the war is part of it. While it’s simple-minded (how did Bush cause homelessness? Did everyone have a home when Bill Clinton was president?) and mean-spirited (“I can only imagine what the First Lady has to say…”, “You’ve come a long way from whiskey and cocaine”), musically, it’s not bad at all and I don’t usually skip it when I listen to that album.

    I liked this song, although trying to get the phrase “in response to military aggression” to roll off the tongue was probably a mistake.

    Good video, too, although it could have done without the Nine Inch Nails/Skinny Puppy imagery–the sports field stuff was well done and good enough to carry the whole thing.

  2. Alex LaPointe says:

    “LET’S IMPEACH THE PRESIDENT FOR LYING” -Neil Young tells us how he really feels about things.

  3. Alex, did you happen to purchase Living with War – “In the Beginning”? I was curious about it but was a little hesitant to spend $25 to buy a different version of an album I already had only a few months after its initial release.

  4. Delfina says:

    When Green Day released American Idiot in 2004, public approval of the Iraq war and George Bush was still fairly high. But it’s true that even among their most devoted fans there many who didn’t listen to or care about the political content of the album. But is that the musicians’ fault? The public is largely apathetic and uninterested. Music doesn’t seem to have raised their level of engagement in political issues nor their desire to become more informed, but does it make sense to fault to bands for putting their message out there?

  5. Jason says:

    In September of 2004, when American Idiot was released, Bush’s approval rating had already fallen below 45%, and he was right around the middle of a slow decline that has continued mostly uninterrupted to this day. While this number is still fairly high in relation to where it is now, it is still about half as high as it was two years before. See here for evidence:

    http://www.hist.umn.edu/~ruggles/Approval.htm

    I’m not faulting bands for saying what they want. That’s a good thing, and I’m glas that they do. I’m just questioning their motives and the general effectiveness of it all. I am not so cynical to say that these bands are absolutely only in it for the money, but their songs are obviously not inspiring people to affect change, so what’s the next step? It’s not very “revolutionary” or “rock ‘n’ roll” to say what everyone else is saying. I guess the whole idea just seems stale to me. I don’t hink we’ll see another rock artist change the world any time soon, unless Bono becomes pope.

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