Talkin’ ’bout my generation…

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

There are many people who lament the end of the ’60s and complain about today’s self-absorbed, materialistic youth.  Now, I’m a teenager, and I can tell you that there’s a grain of truth (maybe a boulder…) to those complaints, but there’s also a vibrant political culture among those of us whippersnappers who do care.

Well, we all know Dylan, Lennon, and Young.  But what about Francis, Folds, and Morello?  If you take a look at the music scene today, it’s apparent that there are a lot of young people who care.  There’s currently a lot of music in the same spirit, if not the same style, as the classics of protest music.

I’ll start with some of the very famous stuff that the oldheads might know, and if you stick with me you’ll get to some newer and lesser known stuff.

Rage Against the Machine is a modern classic.  Their song “Killing in the Name” is world famous and just about as political as it gets in music.  Over my winter break I heard it played in a New Year’s celebration in Spain and I recently discussed it with a student in France, and I love the song as an American.

Rage has a lot of other great songs, too.  They are at their core a political band, and Rage member Tom Morello has been involved in countless political actions.  Their video for the song “Sleep Now in the Fire” was directed by Michael Moore and was shot, in their words, “in the belly of the beast” – on Wall Street.  It’s worth a watch for the headbanging stock brokers, even if you’re not a fan of the intense music.

I could talk about Rage for a long time, but I must move on!  Rise Against is another very popular band, and it is very supportive of PeTA and the animal rights movement in general.  The music video they say they’re most proud of is that of “Ready to Fall,” which contains tons of political imagery:

In the same vein as Rise Against is Muse.  I’m not sure if they actually stand for anything, but their lyrics sound pretty rebellious, if I do say so myself (this is from the song “Uprising,” from their newest album, “The Resistance,” which is an international hit):

They will not force us,

They will stop degrading us,

They will not control us,

And we will? be victorious!

SO COME ON!

Interchanging mind-control,

Come, let the revolution take its toll,

If you could flick a switch and open your third eye,

You’d see that we should never be afraid to die,

SO COME ON!

Although it’s often derided as stupid and superficial, there is tons of rap out there that is high quality protest music.  Eminem, for one, frequently stands up for free speech – and he has had a lot of experience with censorship – and went from being a cultural rebel to someone influencing the culture.  The perfect illustration of this is his song “White America:”

America, hahaha, we love you, how many people are

proud to be citizens of this beautiful

country of our’s, the stripes and the stars for

the rights that men have died for to protect,

the women and men who have broke their neck’s for

the freedom of speech the United States

government has sworn to uphold, or so we’re

told…

Yo’, I want everybody to listen to the words of

this song, I never would’ve dreamed in a

million years i’d see, so many motherf**kin’

people who feel like me, who share the same views

and the same exact beliefs, it’s like a f**kin’

army marchin’ in back of me, so many lives I

touch, so much anger aimed, in no particular

direction, just sprays and sprays, and straight

through your radio waves it plays and plays,

’till it stays stuck in your head for days and

days, who would of thought, standing in this

mirror bleachin’ my hair, with some peroxide,

reachin for a t-shirt to wear, that I would

catapult to the forefront of rap like this, how

could I predict my words would have an impact

like this, I must’ve struck a chord, with

somebody

up in the office, cause congress keeps telling me

I ain’t causin’ nuthin’ but problems, and now

they’re sayin’ i’m in trouble with the

government, i’m lovin’ it, I shoveled sh*t all my

life,

and now I’m dumping it on…

Going on with rap, this one’s a bit older, and I’ll bet many of you remember this great piece of protest rap from N.W.A….

This song, “Fuck tha Police,” created a huge controversy when it came out.  It’s also been a sort of rallying cry for people who do feel oppressed by the police.  According to Wikipedia,

The FBI and the U.S. Secret Service sent a letter to Ruthless Records informing the label of their displeasure with the song’s message, and N.W.A were banned from performing at several venues.

The controversy around the song helped propel sales for the album and, ultimately, helped make it go double platinum…

In 1989, Australian radio station Triple J had been playing “Fuck tha Police” for up to six months, before gaining the attention of Australian Broadcasting Corporation management who subsequently banned it. As a reaction the staff went on strike and put N.W.A’s “Express Yourself” on continuous play for 24 hours, playing it roughly 360 times in a row. In 1996, during massive opposition street protests in Belgrade, Serbia, “Fuck tha Police”, along with Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” was continually played for 2 days on a Belgrade radio station B92.

And here’s “Express Yourself,” one of N.W.A.’s classics.

Although less popular than N.W.A. and Eminem, there’s currently a very strong political rap (and spoken word) scene.  It includes the likes of Sage Francis, Immortal Technique, Jared Paul (who was arrested at the RNC convention in 2008), Saul Williams, Brother Ali and others.  Overall, they tend to be very radical and not too subtle about it either.  Here are a few samples:

Jared Paul – Jesus in a Bowl of Germs

Sage Francis – Makeshift Patriot

Here’s just a video of Immortal Technique, for a taste of what he’s about:

And just for fun, here’s a video I made during the 2008 campaign for Mike Gravel on Youtube, using a Saul Williams song.

There are also many bands and artists that, while not rebellious or political to their core, still have their moments where they shine as beacons of political or social change.

Ben Folds, for instance, seems like a pretty harmless, nerdy, self-effacing piano player.  But the same biting wit he uses to criticize himself and old girlfriends is easily turned against the music culture of the day and American culture.  One of his hit songs, Rockin’ the Suburbs, is a critique of electronically-assisted, top-selling bands that don’t really have talent, but are loved by suburban white kids, in all of their “white boy pain.”

A few years after that came out (by video is directed by Weird Al, by the way), Folds let us know what he thinks of us in “All You Can Eat.”

Son look at all the people in this restaurant

What d’you think they weigh?

And out the window to the parking lot

At their SUVs taking all of the space

They give no fuck

They talk as loud as they want

They give no fuck

Just as long as there’s enough for them

Gotta get on the microphone down at wallmart

Talk about some shit that’s been on my mind

Talk about the state of this great of this nation of ours

Poeple look to your left, yeah look to your right

They give no fuck

They buy as much as they want

They give no fuck

Just as long as there’s enough for them

One band that became political because they had no other choice is The Felice Brothers.  Hailing from upstate New York, hard realities like a world filled with meth, oxycontin, and the Rockefeller Drug Laws (although they were recently reformed, fortunately).  Although the song “Rockefeller Drug Law Blues” isn’t available online, they’re a great band, so here’s another one of their songs:

The rapper Eyedea is not a political animal like Immortal Technique (and he’s much less angry!), but that doesn’t mean he can’t criticize our materialistic culture a bit.

And finally, here’s one last culturally rebellious song from a local band in my area that was incredible before they unfortunately broke up.  They were called Townhall.

So that’s a glimpse at the current protest music scene.  I’m sure I missed a lot, so let me know in the comments if there’s anything else out there that we should know about.  Because these people should really be celebrated more than they are – youth today are criticized for complacency, but there really is a thriving protest music scene.  These artists are quality dissenters.  They’re standing up for justice, and many of them are speaking to audiences that normally wouldn’t think about this stuff.  So let’s celebrate them!

15 comments

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    • rossl on February 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm
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    • TMC on February 7, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    in your generation. One of the advantages of the Internet is staying in touch with what other people are reading and listening to and, even more important, what they are thinking.

    I haven’t been paying that much attention to the music scene other than to turn on a radio and tune it to something not too distracting. Right now I have the live stream of a NYC station that does an Acoustic Cafe on Sunday mornings otherwise it’s one of the local Haitian stations with Creole and West Indian music.

    Great essay, rossl

    • Edger on February 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Your music has very direct messages in it that are essentially the same messages against oppression and conformity and authoritarianism and exploitation of a lot of music of the sixties. The jarring heavy metal sound and rap-ish lyrics of Killing in the Name may take a little getting used to for people like me who grew up with and have an ear tuned more to folk and acid rock, but we’re all hearing the same messages from it I think.

    I know and see a lot of young people, and I don’t think of them as self-absorbed and materialistic or criticize them as being complacent, but rather I sort of see a lot of them as 21’st century hippies.  

    I think the same people who may criticize you as complacent or self absorbed and materialistic are people with the same mindset as those who called me a lazy DFH 40 years ago… 😉

    Here’ some more “new” music from May 2006 😉

    Don’t know why we wanna tear the whole thing to the ground

    We live in the garden of Eden, yeah

    Don’t know why we wanna tear the whole thing down


  1. thank you thank you thank you!

    Ive been asking for a year or two: Where’s the Youth? Where’s THE MUSIC?!?!? for this movement.

    Plus my kid is almost 13 and I might be needing some, uh, help to move her beyond the Pop stuff. heh. When’s she’s ready.

    It may take me all day, but Im going to listen to all of these.

    • RiaD on February 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    i’m thrilled to know RATM is not the only band raging!!

    thank you for bringing this into the spotlight!

  2. “godfather of rap”…. new album, story here.

  3. As a gray beard, or oldhead as you call us (love the term by the way), who has been told that I’m stuck in the 60s, musically, I truly appreciate the musical turn on you have given us today. As Edger said above, my ear is more attuned to the folk and acid rock stuff, and, for me, words have always been secondary to the tunes, the melodies, etc.. Consequentially I have not found much in the current musical genre that I want to want to listen to. That being said, after going to lyrics helper to get the words to the pieces you have promoted, I am impressed. And I was particularly impresed with Immortal Technique’s interview, pretty righteous dude sitting there talking, imo.

    Keep on keeping on rossl, you be doing good.

    Perhaps your generation will get out of the cage and fly, mine didn’t quite make it, although many did individually and have been trying ever since to open the cage for everyone.

    Be well

  4. Are the hope of my life.  I have excellent conversations on deep politics, the “Illuminati” and the state of the world with my son’s friends and they are open to it, unlike my baby boomer generation.  Many of the 911 truth movement come from your generation as did Mr Wanek, a 16 year old who stood against the swine flu fiasco.

    I do see problems though.  Get off the damned video games, the brain cancer inducing cell phones and mainstream TV.

    That and Facebook is a permanent digital record some asshole will use against you simply to prop himself up.

    I am from Massachusetts, where everything is illegal.

  5. you give me hope and being a 60’s child we need it!!!!

    Thank you for the new tunes I shared them with my son and his response was ……..  well yeah, mom where have you been! LOL

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