Apropos of nothing, here’s a list of 20+ protest songs
Week 2 of my lectures in Creative Performer 2 at QUT. Persuasion, propaganda, attempt to change the status quo. And that’s just my teaching style.
The title of this lecture/workshop was ‘Performance as Protest’ and, really, it would have been too much if I’d ignored my regard for Pussy Riot built up over the course of the year. I threw in a pair of readings to spice things up – both were essays by Al Larsen, including an inspired one about how a generation of teenage kids are going to grow up believing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is a Miley Cyrus song. Didn’t manage to play a handful of the planned videos – Huggy Bear, The Saints, Barbara Dane, Bikini Kill, PJ Harvey (I make no apologies if an immediate bias is apparent) – due to connection problems on the Internet when i was trying to cue Crass up. The Country Joe one was a student suggestion.
The three-hour lecture/workshop concluded with the Tom Lehrer song, which is a damn fine way to finish any three-hour lecture/workshop.
Some in-class discussion, but not enough. My fault. There was too much to play, and read.
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come (Cooke’s ‘answer’ song for the civil rights movement to Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’)
Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddamn (interesting how many of the protest songs of the 60s were so melodic, and catchy: this one, as Simone herself refers to it, is a “show tune”) (race divide in America in the 60s, bringing the personal into a cultural context)
Barbara Dane and The Chambers Brothers – It Isn’t Nice (not played, damn it)
Pussy Riot – “The girls of Pussy Riot seize vehicles” (required reading: Space Punk: The Online Video Years – “Group Pussy Riot burns Putin’s glamor”)
Crass – Mother Earth (clear influence on Pussy Riot’s Situationist anarcho-collective punk)
This is Crass. This is ‘Mother Earth’ from the recently reissued and repackaged (again!) Stations Of The Crass CD. It’s still nicely, nearly unlistenable. It still makes me choke on my Cornflakes. It seems appropriate to be hearing something like this, in England, surrounded by the effects of the first few months of Tory rule (and lickspittle Lib-Dem toadying), with the students out on the streets and the country grinding to a halt because of a few pitiful inches of snow and a depression or five looming. I’m half-expecting to wake up in my council flat in Rotherhithe any morning.
Plan B – Ill Manors (some students indicated they found the “heavy metal” screech of Crass unlistenable, and the lyrics indecipherable: so I wondered how they’d fare with this)
We’ve been waiting for this. Class warfare, because if no one steps up to the plate then the fucking super-rich will keep getting fucking super-richer.
Ask George. George knows.
George Osborne poised to slash top tax rate from 50p to 40p
This song has many qualities: menace, swagger, insolence, humour, anger, confusion, incitement, a killer chorus that’s bound to get misinterpreted and misused. It’s a voice for our … I type “our”, but of course I’m a 50-year-old living in white Brisbane … times. It’s a sound of the UK that doesn’t shy away from what’s happening in the UK. It inspires. It chills. It elucidates. Does that make it unusual? Not from where I’m standing. It might in a world of BAFTAs and Q Music Awards and Ivor Novello Awards and fucking amoral music industry scumbags and folk who still think music should only be made by white middle-class males playing guitars singing ‘edgy’ lyrics about girls and drugs.
This is what I understand rock’n’roll – call it whatever term you like – can be. This is Plan B. This makes me proud to be part-British.
The Muppets – Ode To Joy (a classic call-out for universal suffrage and peace: and a great first-half closer)
The Saints – (I’m) Stranded (Punk rock in Brisbane: Sounds reviewer declared it, “Single of this and every week”, and three weeks later the band signed to EMI)
Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl (tracing the line back from Pussy Riot)
Huggy Bear – Her Jazz (tracing the line back from Pussy Riot, also would’ve afforded great opportunity to talk about microcosms of protest)
Pussy Riot – Putin Lights Up The Fires (enough Pussy Riot already)
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (art as protest)
Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner (who needs words?)
Country Joe And The Fish – Anti Vietnam War Song (this one was played, a rousing singalong)
Eric Bogle – The Band Played Waltzing Matilda (bringing it home)
Pussy Riot Brisbane – Free Pussy Riot (played – this is the song we recorded a few weeks back in the very same room I was giving the lecture in)
Periscope – Free Pussy Riot (played – protest inspired by protest and taking the stems of the Pussy Riot Brisbane song as its base)
And, to round it all off…
Miley Cyrus – Smells Like Teen Spirit (required reading: Advice for Everett True on How to Write About Nevermind – and you really should read this if you haven’t already, it’s a hoot)
PS22 – Price Tag (Jessie J cover) (required reading: Advice for Everett True on How to Write About Nevermind)
And, of course, the one and only…
Tom Lehrer – We Will All Go Together When We Go (my earliest encounter with the art of protest)
Of the man himself, my family knew little. No photos, no accolades, just 12 (and later 11) songs that struck right to the heart of the American dream – or what we knew of it from my parents’ collection of Mad books, also bought during the 50s. We knew he was a Harvard graduate and had financed the release of his first two mini-albums himself, selling the initial 350 pressing to friends and family. We were even aware that a couple of live albums had appeared, 1960′s Tom Lehrer Revisited and 1959′s An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer. My parents, however, doubtless heedless of the pointlessness of paying good money for a couple of albums which merely duplicated the originals, only with “coughs, snores, sneezes, impacts” added, hadn’t bought them.
Sorry, some Lehrer humour there.
Related posts: A list of 20+ performances that have shocked