Monday, January 17, 2011

Where are the hardcore troubadors?

We use the occasion of Steve Earle's 56th birthday to ask this question:  Whatever became of protest songs?

We have no "Blowin' in the Wind," "Masters of War" or "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" to rally around.  Bob Dylan, as brilliant as he was in the early Sixties, was out of the protest business almost as soon as he got into it.  Not that anybody was going to fill those enormous shoes, but it has been going on 50 years.  And the last time we checked things were not going so well in the good ol' U.S.A.

Earle,  a pragmatic left-leaning hellraiser of the highest order, has been known to stir things up.  His 2002 album Jerusalem includes "John Walker's Blues," a sympathetic take on John Walker Lindh that earned a backlash of negative publicity, including this headline in the New York Post: "Twisted ballad honors Tali-Rat." Some believed Earle was taking sides with the Taliban; he was basically saying that what happened to Lindh could happen to anyone growing up in America these days.

Then came the election year 2004 album The Revolution Starts Now.  With gems like "Rich Man's War," "Home to Houston" and the title track -- which receives two different treatments -- it is never difficult to tell which side of war Earle is on. Except for the grating spoken rant "The Warrior" the album is great, even occasionally brilliant.

Jimmy joined the army 'cause he had no place to go
There ain’t nobody hiring 'round here since all the jobs went down to Mexico
Reckoned that he’d learn himself a trade maybe see the world
Move to the city some day and marry a black haired girl
Somebody somewhere had another plan
Now he’s got a rifle in his hand
Rollin’ into Baghdad wonderin’ how he got this far
Just another poor boy off to fight a rich man’s war

"Condi, Condi," a reggae-like romp on Condoleezza Rice, is more playful than protesting and we're still dying to know what the former Secretary of State thought of the song.  The clip above is from the 2005 Montreux Jazz Festival.

The Revolution Starts Now also includes the F-filled rant "F the CC" in which Earle takes on the FBI, the CIA and the SEC, declaring "I can say anything I wanna say."

And he pretty much does.  But where is everybody else?

1 comment:

  1. Neil Young took a pretty good stab at it on "Living with War," which included this none-too-subtle effort: