Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Needs to Tweak the Soundtrack: The Revolution Needs a Bass Line

Every revolution needs a soundtrack.

Cultural movements often have songs that reflect their tone and spirit, that embody their message and rouse their members. The Civil Rights movement drew music from out of the southern gospel tradition and lifted hearts with its anthem: "We shall overcome". It was sung offkey by the protesters as they marched in front of angry crowds and police dogs, and luminaries such as Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez and Louis Armstrong all gave that beautiful song their unique imprint.

Does anyone know of Occupy Wall Street songs? Artists seem to be playing it extremely safe with little ditties like Stephan Jenkin's "Meet me at Zuccotti Park." There's a pretty decent rap song "I Occupy Wall Street" but it's more of a monologue set to piano with a drum beat. The lyrics drive home anger at the price of food, unemployment, low wages, foreclosures and government patronage of big business.

Music that embodies a movement or captures the zeitgeist flows out of the anguish of its creators and their vision for the future. The music of change, the music of an era, taps deep into how people feel at their core.
The Tea Party had no such music.
Neither does Occupy Wall Street. But the latter has the potential. Occupy Wall Street's very purpose is to confront the complacency that gave rise to the financial corruption of government. Millions have lost their homes in foreclosures, usury by credit cards impoverishes average Americans, hundreds of billions of dollars have been diverted to the one percent (See Free Lunch and The Wrecking Crew for details), and protests have been met at times with brute force by government. These conditions warrant powerful music.

Music is one of the most potent tools of any social movement, but to have effect, it has to well up from the depths and cut into the hearts of listeners. Most attempts at Occupy Wall Street music borrow music from hippies and Woodstock. The hippies of the 1960s did their part. They gave us Bob Marley and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, EPA, Head Start and the National Endowment for the Arts. They wanted civil rights, environmental protection, and respect for individual dignity - themes that continue today.
The music that truly taps into spiritual discontent has been put out there - by groups like Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails in the 1990s. Here are a few songs to get people started (although none of these are really singalong songs). These are weatherbeaten songs, but they have melody, lyric imagery, power, and flow.

Now it's time for the millenial generation to throw down. I don't know what they will come up with -- but every revolution needs a soundstrack. Here's my playlist for #OWS.

1. Wake Up by Rage Against the Machine. RATM = soundtrack of the revolution. The songs may be old but they sound fresh, vivid, right and ripe for today. Their song titles alone (Calm Like a Bomb, Sleep Now in the Fire, Guerilla Radio, Born of a Broken Man, Take the Power Back) must make fascists nervous. RATM frontman Zack de la Rocha has recently dedicated a poem to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
2. [Bite] The Hand that Feeds by NIN (for the insiders who want out).
3. America by Nas (for a lesson in American history).
4. Don't Give Up by Peter Gabriel (a kinder, gentler anthem - a good song after your peaceful protest gets pepper-sprayed, or when you learn a credit card's law firm has just garnished 25 percent of your disposable income, or while packing up the house after the bank forecloses, or when there is no food left in the fridge.)
5. Your Time Has Come by Audioslave.
6. Talkin bout a Revolution by Tracy Chapman (for the romantics).

7.The Fire by the Roots (for everyone who believes).

Honorable Mention:
Promenade by the Street Sweeper Social Club - because of the bass line. Thank you Tom Morello, the sound genius behind RATM, Audioslave, The Nightwatchman, and The Street Sweepers Social Club. He's also been very active in supporting #OWS.

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