BOB MICHELIN: Singing along with John Lennon’s “Merry Christmas, War Is Over” on the radio the other day, I thought, “Wow, what a really nice Christmas song.” Then I suddenly felt a chill: Was this brilliant man, one who built a catchy carol about the evils of social injustice, the last of the great protest singers? Did the genre die along with him on Dec. 8, 1980? Will we never see the likes of “Revolution,” “Imagine” or “Working Class Hero” again?
The radio airwaves of the 60s and 70s were filled with songs demanding reform of the human condition. We had Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, and even the Smothers Brothers calling for the end to the Viet Nam War.
What was war good for, anyway? “Absolutely nothing,” Edwin Starr testified. We were living in a “Ball of Confusion,” the Temptations warned. Still, we couldn’t believe we were on the “Eve of Destruction.”
No wonder Marvin Gaye asked: “What’s Goin’ On?”Bob Michelin
We were the society that wanted better for ourselves and our children. So what happened? Have we truly become fat, dumb and complacent?
Let’s face it: Outrage over social injustice has been replaced by political correctness, partisan propaganda and a grossly tabloid media. In many ways, we have become apathetic and immune, less engaged and involved.
Democrats? Limousine liberals.
Republicans? Glorified televangelists.
So where are our 21st Century poets?
Our big-time rock stars don’t seem to know where to start. Sure, Springsteen tried with “41 Shots” — and ended up pissing off both the cops and people who came to hear his anthems.
We still have Jackson Browne and Graham Nash and Paul Simon. But could they be any more boring? Steve Earle’s doing his best to live up to the image of his idol, Townes Van Zandt. But he’s on satellite radio, on a signal crammed in among 5,000 others. Good luck finding him.
For me, Billie Joe Armstrong came the closest to a legitimate protest album with Green Day’s 2004 album “American Idiot.” Only trouble was: You didn‘t really know what the hell he was bitching about.
It makes me wonder: What would our predecessors have done?
Would Janis Ian have recorded “Ipod-less Youth” instead of “Society’s Child”? Would Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John” have ended up “Barack, Palin and George”?
Next thing you know, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young will retool one of the greatest protest songs ever written into “(4 Bullied in) Ohio.” Or the Stones will be crying “Gimme Condos.”
Or Dylan will tell us: “The answer my friend… is on Wikipedia.”
Here’s what I want in my Christmas stocking: A real protest song. One that’s short, simple and relevant. One that strikes at the heart of inhumanity and demands change. And since I’m wishing big: Give it a beat even I can dance to.
You may say I’m a dreamer. But ….
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