There was no revolution, it was not televised
article in a national Sunday newspaper in the UK lamented the state
of political songwriting. The world of rock and pop had, the author
contended, had singularly failed to produce any worthwhile response
to the war on terror declared in the wake of September
He has a point.
However, it is a point that has always been salient, despite the
protestations of a generation reared with the heady and completely
false belief that in a time they call the sixties music changed
Did the world change at all? John Lennon was, as ever, sharply on the
spot when he lamented at the end of that much misrepresented decade, that
in spite of everything at the end of the 1960's the fact that those in
power had longer hair didnt alter the fact that they were still
the same people.
There was no revolution, it was not televised and very few sang about
Those Judas shouting, cable chopping, traditionalists now
so roundly pilloried for not moving as swiftly as Dylan, were, in fact
right; he did sell out in political terms at least.
Bob is great, a great musician, and a superb lyricist, but it surely produces
a more honest assessment of the 1960s to note that the real critical and
popular adulation was only heaped upon him when he stopped singing about
the problems of other people and started to sing about Bob Dylan, in obscure,
self-obsessed, reference-heavy drug poetry.
Was there really such a change in the world in the 1960s? Was it really
a social revolution or a commercial and demographic one? The latter is
probably closer to the truth.
There was in fact very little politics in the pop of the 1960s
a great deal of rebellion yes, but largely personal rebellion.
As they stagger into their 40th year, the Rolling Stones are fondly remembered
as the uber-rebels of that generation. The echo of "Hey you get off
my cloud", can be heard in the no-brainer, 'Im great youre
shit' anthems of nu-metal cash cows like Fred Dursts Limp Bizkit.
It is the rebellion of the prancing, sneering, cruel-clever boys you can
find in any classroom political it is not. If you wish to find
yourself a conservative traditionalist then call on Mick Jagger.
There are political song writers of course, but they are as sidelined
as their true predecessors of the early 1960s folk boom. Billy Bragg,
will no doubt in time bring his considerable talents to bear on the Bush/Blair
axis. Remember though, that Billys best sellers were a song about
sex, a cover of a Beatles song and Kirsty McColls reading
of his own New England: chorus Im not trying to change
the world, Im not looking for a new England Im just looking
for another girl. It's no accident that a recent Bragg collection
was titled, 'Preaching to the Converted'
Rage Against the Machine had nakedly political moments. Bands like the
Manic Street Preachers and Radiohead are credited with political impulses
that a reading of their lyrics, quite frankly does not bear out. They
are children of Cobain; whose lyrics, like Dylans, are so obscure
that almost anything can be read into them, Kurts personal rebellion was
corporatised and shifted in heavy units to the very people he was running
from, lifes funny like that.
Public Enemy and Bruce Springsteen may be honourable exceptions: popular
artists who have produced explicitly political work. But the mighty PE
have now retreated from the mainstream to rant away on the internet, and
it was not they, but the late, laughable, and not entirely lamented cartoon
gangsta nigga, Easy E, who was invited to the White House. While his former
colleagues in NWA; Ice Cube (who did produce a great political album,
in Death Certificate) and Dr Dre are respectively, in Hollywood and standing
svengali-like behind Eminem.
Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about how badly America treated its citizens
and then had to spend 20 years apologising because Ronald Regan used it
to tell people how great his America was.
The last song to really change the world was probably the Marseillaise,
in that it really rocks when youre bayoneting Austrians Aux
© Owain Treece November 2002
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