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December 30, 2019

The power of song

Opinion

December 30, 2019

Woody Guthrie wrote the words “This guitar kills fascists” on his guitar. Victor Jara was murdered by the Chilean military authorities during the 1973 CIA-assisted coup in Chile; his hands were severed and then he was murdered.

Phil Ochs, a folksinger and agitator for popular resistance to war and racism considered Jara his inspiration and hero. Tom Morello, the lead guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and other musical conglomerations has a modified version of Guthrie’s slogan on some of his instruments. All of these musicians are known for both their politics and their musical compositions and performance. The tradition they are part of is one that nowadays seems to be muted at best and non-existent at worst.

For those of us who gained some of our first political awareness that wasn’t provided by a parent, teacher, church or newspaper from a folk song, a rock song or a rap song, this dearth of politically radical tunes seems a real shame.

No troubadour with the reach of Bob Dylan or rock band with the Top Ten power of Creedence Clearwater Revival reaches the airwaves today, no matter how one defines them – radio, TV, streaming device or other modern contraption. I can’t recall a song opposing the numerous wars of Empire reaching those who might very well be fighting one of them in the way Creedence’s ‘Fortunate Son’ or Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ did fifty years ago

It seems fairly safe to assume that part of this lack is due to the understanding by those who profit from wars and the tools of war that musicians singing antiwar songs and young people listening to them is not the best way to run a war. In other words, music is a very effective means to get out a message.

It is in this spirit that author Brad Schreiber penned his most recent work. Titled ‘Music is Power: Popular Songs, Social Justice and the Will to Change’, this relatively short text (considering the volume of material out there to write about) is a survey of some of popular music’s most powerful messages of social change and those who delivered them.

Schreiber discusses those artists whom one would expect to appear in such a book: Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, John Lennon, and Chuck D. More thought-provoking however, is his inclusion of artists such as Lesley Gore, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. Indeed, his discussion of Lesley Gore and her hit song ‘You Don’t Own Me’ will open many reader’s eyes to the feminist side of a female artist more likely thought of in relation to her hit ‘It’s My Party’.

Excerpted from: ‘The Power of Song’.

Counterpunch.org