Saturday, November 01, 2008

Music & Politics - The Sound of Change from the Past to our Future

I find that I cannot wait to get to the polls on Tuesday and cast my vote for Barack Obama. I'm excited about this election in a way that I haven't been excited in a very long time. I remember the feeling I had when Bobby Kennedy was running for President. It was to be my first election and I had just gotten involved in politics. It was "our" time - my generation's. And the optimism many of us felt in the midst of social unrest was strong. The assassination of Martin Luther King had hit us hard. There were riots in major cities despite President Johnson's attempts to introduce anti-poverty and anti-discrimination legislation. And, of course, there was significant opposition to the ongoing military action in Vietnam. And yet, there was hope. And hope is what I see now when I look at the video and pictures of an Obama rally. Hope on the faces of the diverse audience. And I love my "Got Hope?" bumper sticker I put on my car a number of months ago.

I've been thinking about those late 60's/early 70's years and the music that evolved around the politics of the times. So much of that music still resonates with me - and others - even now.

This clip from The Smothers Brothers shows Pete Seeger singing Waist Deep In The Big Muddy with other brief snippets of other soldier songs. Written by Seeger in 1967, the song tells the story of a platoon wading in a river in Louisiana on a practice patrol in 1942. The captain orders the platoon to continue, until they're finally up to their necks. This is also symbolic of the Vietnam War as a whole, and how the United States kept getting deeper and deeper into the war and eventually became so drawn into it that withdrawal was nearly impossible, but kept pushing on anyway. And now, more than 5 years into the Iraq War - it is sadly timely again.

It's hard to believe that the brilliant Marvin Gaye wrote Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) more than thirty years ago - and profoundly sad that so little has changed:

Tom Paxton
has been a hero of mine since the 60's when I first saw him in clubs in the Village. He's just turned 71 and he's still going strong. In this video, Tom takes his "Changing My Name To Chrysler" song about the controversial 1979 loan bailout to Chrysler and updates it to "Changing My Name to Fannie Mae". What's old is new again.

Tom usually includes in his concerts what he calls "short shelf-life songs" and here's his little ditty about Sarah Palin:

Yeah, yeah, yeah - you all know how much I adore Bobby Darin. I also find his song, Simple Song Of Freedom, to be honest and compelling in it's simplicity. It's interesting that what are labeled "protest songs" are oftentimes not negative, but powerfully life affirming. Written in 1969, it just asks us to consider what is at stake. A question that is worth asking ourselves now - on the eve of this important election.

All this Palin and McCain spin about socialism and communism got me thinking about a satirical song called The John Birch Society by the Chad Mitchell Trio from 1962. Just remember :
"You cannot trust your neighbor or even next of kin
If mommie is a commie then you gotta turn her in"

Holly Near.
Oh wonderful Holly Near. Teacher. Entertainer. Activist. Her voice is timeless. Here she is singing I Am Willing at a 2006 at a rally outside the White House.

Buffy Sainte-Marie has been singing Universal Soldier since 1963. And here she is singing it for Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against The War in front of the Capital and Native American Museum in Washington DC on the five year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. 1963 to 2008. And the song is still true. I found this video extremely moving - seeing Buffy singing surrounded by veterans holding microphones to her mouth and guitar.

"He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put the end to war."

Spook Handy is a songwriter from New Jersey who created a terrific song called "Vote" and put it together with a video that hopefully will get your toes tapping right out the door to the voting booth!

Written by Woody Guthrie in the 1940, This Land Is Your Land, remains to me the most memorable and patriotic song of our time. The song was written in response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" which Guthrie believed to be unrealistic and complacent. How fitting for this blog that Bruce Springsteen once again brought back the song in 2008 as set closer when performing acoustic concerts in support of Barack Obama, this time adding a "Yes We Can" chant before and after the song.

This version, performed live by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie is my favorite. It lifts my soul, makes me hopeful, and makes me proud. This is my America.

And finally . . . Clay Aiken singing Grace of God to a moving video . . .

I am an American proudly casting my vote for Barack Obama!

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Carolina Clay said...


Go, Obama-Biden! I thoroughly enjoyed the parallel musical and philosophical journey outlined in this blog entry.

My vote is already in for the "Change We Need." Go, Obama-Biden!


berkeley said...

Nan, I really enjoyed this blog. Music has been the soundtrack of political movements for a very long time. Thank you for reminding me of a couple of old favorites, and for exposing me to several to which I was not familiar.

It's been great to see Bruce Springsteen, who was so influenced by Seeger and Guthrie, using his voice to support of Obama.

And though it might be controversial among his fans, I hope that one day Clay will use his voice, if not in support of a candidate, than as an advocate for the causes that are so close to his heart. I hope "Grace of God" is just the start.

I look forward to the songs we'll sing tomorrow, when a new morning dawns with President-elect Barack Obama. I have a feeling that I'm going to like that tune.