Maybe it’s my age or something. But where has all the protest gone? It’s not that the horrors have gone away – the wars, the exploitation and the repression. But in popular culture today who now sings about it? Who now writes poetry about it? There are worthy newspaper reports but nobody is really shouting out ‘No. Stop!’ Protest it seems is no longer a fashionable thing. It wasn’t always thus.
I won’t venture here too far back into history, though I could. Do you remember Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today…
Where are the equivalent popular songs today? And then there was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son:
Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord,
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer More! more! more!
Both of these were protests against the Vietnam War; a war I remotely watched every day on British television news in the safety of rural England. How much I heard about the Mekong Delta and the Tet Offensive! But in Britain too we had an abundance of protest. We all know John Lennon’s Imagine:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace.
Nice words indeed. But there were protest songs everywhere. I guess you don’t remember Tony McPhee and The Groundhogs? I remember seeing them in a South London pub. Tony was by then a sort of under-appreciated guitar hero. But in 1970, in Thank Christ For the Bomb, he sang:
In 1914 a war began, a million soldiers lent a hand,
Weren’t many planes to give support, hand to hand was the way they fought.
Young men were called up for the cause, for king and country and the cross,
In their naivete they thought it was for glory, so they’d been taught.
In 1939 once again there came the sound of marching men,
Occupying European land, all the way to North French sands,
But, in the final year of that war, two big bangs settled the score,
Against Japan, who’d joined the fight, the rising sun didn’t look so bright.
Since that day it’s been stalemate, everyone’s scared to obliterate,
So it seems for peace we can thank the bomb, so I say thank Christ for the bomb.
Who sings stuff like that now?
British folk singers sung about the theft of the common people’s land in The World Turned Upside Down, a song dating back to the 1640s:
The sin of property
We do disdain
No man has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Spring up at their command.
The list of popular protest is truly endless. And it wasn’t just a thing for a few intellectual liberals; it was part of everyday culture. I haven’t even touched on poetry and literature. But please do tell me where this protest is today? I really can’t see or hear it.
What’s going on?