We need more socially conscious musicians and less corporate music
There is nothing I like more in this world than seeing someone speak out against war, injustice and oppression. I appreciate it even more when the person speaking out does it to a beat or rhythm. Politically inspired musicians have always inspired me to do what I do.
But if I want to speak up and shout as they did, I have only the written word in which I can connect to the general public. On a good day that means I reach up to a thousand people. If I were a famed musician, actor or writer on the other hand, I could potentially inspire millions with just a few well spoken words.
In this day and age it’s getting harder and harder to find people of significant status willing to speak out against anything in fear of what repercussions there might be. With the media the way it is in the 21st century there is always that fear of losing a contract, a sponsor, being falsely labeled, or being ostracized by whatever social club you belong to. Nowhere is this clearer to me than in the music industry.
Back in the sixties it was hard to find any artist or musician who didn’t speak out against the establishment in some way, against war, about civil rights or other social issues. These were rich, cream of the crop artists like John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan or Neil Young. None of them were afraid to speak their mind in spite of what they had to lose.
When I was just another lonesome teenager in the eighties most of those artists were gone or at least off the radar to teenagers. The first song I remember falling in love with was “we’re not gonna take it” by Twisted Sister. While that song might sound cheesy to some, it spoke to me, a nine year old with a plastic Fischer Price record player.
From there I went on to mostly underground music. The mainstream music at the time had absolutely nothing intelligent to say. How often have you heard someone say the New Kids on the Block or Madonna really added something to their lives? You know, inspired them to change their career, join a political organization or a protest movement?
So I listened to Anthrax, Dead Kennedys, Henry Rollins, and Public Enemy to name a few. All these musicians taught me how to think freely and to not put up with bullshit. These bands helped me get through my rough teenage years and they helped mold me into the rebel that I am and still strive to be to this day.
With corporate lawyers and accountants running most giant record companies, it’s almost impossible to find any musical act underground or mainstream who really speak out against the man. The music industry is around for one sole purpose, just like the news media; to make money putting the sheep to sleep.
In the last twenty years, most hip hop has become nothing more than a collection of “crime rhymes” to toned down beats. Rock n’ Roll barely exists at all. Pop/dance music consists of nothing more than spoiled teenagers complaining about their love life. You would think the rebellious side of music is dead and gone. Certain punk and metal bands are still the only places you might be lucky to find music with lyrics of substance, but the music itself doesn’t appeal to everyone, nor should it.
With all the major problems we have in society today like our environment, income inequality and scores of others, you would hope more musicians would be lining up to say something intelligent and meaningful. But even artists with independent labels don’t seem to speak up too much.
I’m just guessing, but I think it’s out of fear, either by the record companies or the artists themselves. Scared of their image or what it might do to their sales, so they cower away from controversy. There are still exceptions of course; Jello Biafra is still going strong, Public Enemy is still fighting the power and the Dixie Chicks still have good things to say. Even Neil Young at 68 is still putting up a fight trying to fight tar sands expansion.
These artists have guts, but they are few and far between. The more people like this we have with an audience, the more we can stop dancing like everything is OK and start shouting… we’re not gonna take it!
Great article! I came across a Swedish/US artist Sa’ra Charismata that makes socially conscious music “with a little honey”…political statment comes across but it still has mainstream appeal. Really great stuff https://soundcloud.com/saracharismata/gold-digga
I so agree but looking back I ponder what did it really accomplish?
The Vietnam War drug out for years after the height of protest, the environmental movement had a bit of traction in the 70’s but quickly went away (and us wackos were used as a justification for the change).
Sorry but I have seen my entire adulthood dominated by greed, bigotry, and economic expansion. (born in 1950)
I am inspired by and admire those that stand up for what we all know is wrong – but the dollar always seems to win. I also think that protest music is some of the best music around because it is so “unmainstream”.
BTW – Neil Young is the man!
They’re busy touring. Both The Coup and Ras Kass are making their way around the Northwest right now and I think it would be difficult to find better examples. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acT_PSAZ7BQ and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj74HMlXfjI I know the genre isn’t for everybody but they’re out there working.
Rage Against the Machine, James McMurtry, Bruce Springsteen, Sinead O’Connor, Dixie Chicks. Probably more, but that’s just off the top of my head. Problem is, none of them except Springsteen get air time and it’s mostly his non-political stuff that gets played.
I was just thinking this earlier today when I read the result of the vote at the Tennessee VW plant. the union lost 🙁 And I wondered where today’s Woody Guthrie was? Or even Arlo. There are some bands that do some political songs, U2 comes to mind. I’ll have to tune in to some of the ones mentioned. But I miss Woody, and I was only 7 when he died.
Check out an up and coming band out of Baltimore called Rebel Inc very anti-authoritarian. Lacking a cohesive political message but their sound and lyrics are very reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine.