“The American equestrian classes were welcome to believe that slack-jawed dope addicts had fomented the cultural insurrection of the 1960s; Jerry Falwell knew that it had been the work of Satan, Satan himself and not one of his students at the University of California, who had loosed a plague of guitarists upon the land...”
-Lewis H. Lapham, Editor-in-Chief;
Harper's Magazine, September 2004
As we approach the mark of 1,000 dead soldiers, millions of Americans are outraged with the war, the administration and what, at this point, sure look and smell a lot like lies. Yet it seems this time around that the protestors, politicks and peaceniks are missing a crucial part of their dissidence: a soundtrack.
Anyone born after the Baby Boomer generation will never see anything resembling the original Woodstock. The first modern attempt to recreate Wood ended in a joyful mud-wrestling match; the second was a disaster replete with rage and rape. But will we see an event that even comes close? Do we want to? Who would play? Are there any relevant protest singers left, or have they all traded in their guitars and pot for Xboxes and Prozac?
Moveon.org's “Vote For Change Tour” begins Oct. 1 and will include roughly 40 shows, in 30 cities, in nine battleground states, over 10 days. In a big-brother/big-sister style line-up, six sets of musicians will feature an older act (i.e. Bruce Springsteen) with a newer act (i.e. Bright Eyes) at each venue.
Age brings a clear difference in approach to the election. The Boss, in a rare public statement, recently said: “I feel this is one of the most critical elections in my lifetime.” Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, when performing on Craig Kilborn in May, said: “This song is for the governor of California and the President of the United States. Two men I admire a lot-for their biceps and for their creepy, fascist agendas.”
Another Vote For Change performer, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, has long been vocal about his political beliefs. Vedder spoke about performing and politics in an interview with Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein in the June issue of The Believer magazine. “Sometimes I'll get letters...and I'll get something nasty like, ‘Just shut the fuck up and play your guitar.' I talked to someone who was making music during the sixties, and they felt that even then it didn't do any good, and that it was only the body bags coming back from Vietnam that ultimately stopped this thing.”
One up-and-coming indie-rock band, Rilo Kiley, just released a new album, More Adventurous, and singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis wasn't subtle in her feelings about what's goin' on. From “It's a Hit”: “Any chimp can play human for a day / use his opposable thumbs to iron his uniform/ and run for office on election day/ fancy himself a real decision maker/ and deploy more troops than a salt shaker/...the camera pulls back to reveal your true identity/look it's a sheep in wolf's clothing/ a smoking gun holding ape.” The rest of the song loses its political bent for a more disgusted, sour-mouthed cynicism, much like the stance Oberst usually takes.
If the young generation of potential voters is characterized by anything, it's apathy. When you compare Springsteen's view to Oberst's, there's one important difference: tone. Springsteen sincerely views the upcoming election as important, Oberst chooses mock-cynicism. This is not unexpected, of course, since Oberst has also sung the lines, “I've learned to retreat at the first sign of danger/ I mean why wait around if it's just to surrender/ and ambition I've found can lead only to failure....”
Granted, Oberst and Lewis are not the only youthful, politically minded musicians. But when Oberst-the youngest songwriter on the Vote For Change Tour-still has to fight against the apathy that San Diegans know all too well, it stands to reason why, during this time of unrest and discontent, the protest-singer's guitar has gone missing in action.
Perhaps it has even gone the way of 1,000 soldiers.