[sixties-l] Where Have All the Protest Songs Gone?

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu Apr 26 2001 - 18:04:33 EDT

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    Where Have All the Protest Songs Gone?


    by David Corn, AlterNet
    April 24, 2001

    Traveling on a crowded train through the wet Dutch countryside, where,
    sadly, not a cow could be seen due to the threat of foot-and-mouth-disease,
    I came face-to-face with Joey Ramone, the legendary punk singer who fronted
    the trail-blazing Ramones. He was one day dead, but this was not a vision.
    Instead, I was staring at a large photograph of the leather-clad,
    fish-lipped, weak-chinned, bushy-haired, musical pioneer that had been
    published above-the-fold on the front page of de Volksrant, one of the
    prominent newspapers of the Netherlands. In between an article on Israeli's
    latest military attack in Lebanon and one on a government pilot program to
    employ high-tech identification procedures (such as iris-scanning) to
    identify people, there was a shot of Ramone wielding a baseball bat, an
    appropriate pose, since an early Ramones classic urged listeners to "beat
    on the brat with a baseball bat." Underneath, the caption read, "Ramone's
    Last 'Gabba Gabba Hey' Has Sounded," a reference to what had been a popular
    chant at the group's concerts.
    Since I was out of the United States, I was unable that day to check the
    front pages of the major dailies there, but I doubted that any of Ramone's
    native land papers afforded his early demise, at the age of 49, due to
    lymphoma, such prominence. The American obits I later perused via the
    Internet managed to assign Ramone (real name: Jeffrey Hyman) and his New
    York City bandmates, who were not actually brothers named Ramone, the
    credit they deserved for birthing punk music and influencing rock for
    decades. There were the usual descriptions of the Ramones music, short
    explosions of stripped-down basic rock. The New York Times referred to the
    band's "frenetic three-chord songs," while The Washington Post cited the
    group's incendiary "four-chord songs." (Three or four chords, which was
    it?) Of course, there were references to the band's juvenile nihilism,
    presented in such numbers as "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some
    Glue," "Gimme, Gimme Shock Treatment," and "Teenage Lobotomy." But there
    was only slight mention of one of Ramone's best songs:
    "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)," an anti-Reagan
    anthem that warrants inclusion on the best-of list of a subgenre of
    rock-and-roll protest songs -- the topical-reaction track. And we can thank
    Pat Buchanan, in part, for this wonderful tune.
    About March of 1985, the Reagan White House announced that the old man
    would be paying a visit to West Germany. At a press conference, Reagan said
    he had no intention of visiting a concentration camp site. Doing so, he
    explained, would only guilt-trip a nation where there are "very few alive
    that remember even the war, and certainly none of them who were adults and
    participating in any way." (At the time of this statement, anyone over the
    age of 60 would have been an adult during part of World War II and the
    Holocaust.) Weeks later, the White House noted that Reagan intended to lay
    a wreath at a military cemetery in Germany which contained the graves of
    Nazi soldiers of the Waffen SS. This spurred an outcry from the American
    Jewish community and others. Defending the move, Reagan told reporters that
    the German soldiers "were victims, just as surely as the victims of the
    concentration camp." Holocaust chronicler Elie Wiesel urged Reagan to
    cancel the Bitburg stop. Inside the White House, Buchanan, a communications
    (!) aide, advised Reagan to hold firm and not be pushed around by those
    you-know-who's. Egged on by Buchanan, and probably others
    Reagan refused to yield. "There is no way I'll back down and run for
    cover," he wrote in his diary. His White House did hastily arrange a tour
    of the Bergen-Belsen death camp before Reagan dropped by the Bitburg
    cemetery for eight minutes. During the Bitburg ceremony, he cited a letter
    from a thirteen-year-old girl who, he claimed, had urged him to make the
    Bitburg stop. (In fact, she had asked him not to go there.)
    Joey Ramone flipped over the Bitburg mission. With Dee Dee Ramone and Jean
    Beauvoir, he crafted "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg." Backed by a power-pop beat
    and melodic hooks galore, Joey Ramone snarled, "Bonzo goes to Bitburg/then
    goes out for a cup of tea/As I watched it on TV/somehow it really bothered
    me." Unable to cope with this image, the narrator reported, "My brain is
    hanging upside down." Addressing Reagan, Ramone asserted, "You're a
    politician/Don't become one of HItler's children." And he crooned, "If
    there's one thing that makes me sick/It's when someone tries to hide behind
    politics/I wish that time could go by fast/Somehow they manage to make it
    last." He even took a swipe at Nancy Reagan: "Fifty thousand dollar
    dress/Shaking hands with your highness." In any event, the bang of the song
    is not in its lyrics, hey, this is pop, not poetry, but in the smooth,
    controlled anger of the music. Find it on Napster or elsewhere on the
    Internet to hear it for yourself.
    I'm hard-pressed to recall a better head-on hit against Reagan by a
    somewhat-popular American rock artist. And the tune was a wonderful example
    of the reax-protest song, which responds directly to a specific event. Many
    protest songs kick out large, sweeping messages, say, society-sucks. Think
    of "Blowing in the Wind," or Grandmaster Flash's "The Message." Then, there
    are those songs that concentrate their fury upon a single act of injustice.
    Crosby, Still, Nash and Young's "Ohio" (Kent State), Bob Dylan's
    "Hurricane" (the framing of boxer Rubin Carter). "Bonzo goes To Bitburg"
    ranks with these classic-rock staples.
    Alas, there does not seem to be much reaction-rock out there these days.
    Bruce Springsteen's "American Skin" found on the "Live in New York City"
    album he and his E Street Band recently released, is a new entry in the
    category. With a haunting repetition of the phrase "forty-one" shots, the
    song is both a harsh whack at the cops who gunned down Amadou Diallo, an
    unarmed African immigrant, in New York City and a contemplation of
    institutional racism. Sogabba, gabba hey, let's praise Joey Ramone for
    expanding the list of well-crafted rock agitprop songs with his romp on
    Reagan. Will the misdeeds of that gosh-darn-so-friendly George W. Bush
    arouse such passion among today's rockers? Well, what rhymes with arsenic?

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