political songs, protest song, topical songs

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Ah, the (semi-) dreaded topic! In past years i've seen these related topics discussed, and there are always those that say 'oh, its a waste of time' or 'i wouldn't want to alienate my audience or 'you'll never convince anyone', etc., etc., etc.

There's no 'right answer, and everyone of course has their own opinion of this. For me, in about 15-20 years of 'active' songwriting (yes, I do have a day job tho!) the political or topical (or as many seem to tag it, tho its not a term I love, 'protest' songs) its always been at least a percentage of what I do. Why? I think, first, I've always been fairly aware and active, politically, its something that 's on my mind, and its also something that very few people do, or at least do well (not that I have any illusions about being so fantastic in the area) it does seem to be a niche i've carved out for myself. I'm also of the mind that 'how much more about, say, love and relationships can I say that's really new and hasn't been expressed a million times before' vs... "I bet there's not alot of songs about, say, how the internet facilitates greater polarization and extremism'.

In the last few years (read as:since we had a very contested 2016 election here in the US and since, with the current president being, in the opinion of a sizeable number of people (myself included) the worst and most damaging president in our lifetimes) i've been writing a greater proportion of so-called 'political' songs. Yes, its been increasingly on my mind. Yes, the stakes are high now- part of me thinks that future generations will be screaming at all of us thru the years- why weren't you writing about, say, global climate change more!) Part of why I write this stuff is also as a kind of 'get it off my chest', coupled with 'maybet this will encourage someone else, or maybe even just a part of myself, to keep having hope despite all the stuff going on'. And while yeah, I know I'm not gonna change any minds of those locked in place, will something I write inform someone about at least an issue they didn't know about (maybe translate this to read- maybe it'll at least better inform me, for a start, about something)

Yeah, this is kind of rambling, perhaps, but I guess I wanted to get some of those thoughts out there and see what, if anything, resonates with anyone else out there in this area...... this year as of now, I have 10 or 11 songs up there, and about half, I think, have some 'political' or 'topical' content in there...

I love political or protest songs and i still do them every now and again. I just wonder now if they have much impact on the community at large. Once it was a great vehicle for a serious message but I'm not so sure anymore! I still keep writing them anyway.

Well, initially when the first opportunity "here" came up, folks actually commented on each others songs of any kind. I remember a few who did seek to provoke or put mud in someone else soup, but got jammed up, -- or many would likely have just skipped that year.

So, what I've observed is folks now as a cause of identity politics who've been ID'd as not "with" the other are now to be against too Smile

I remember comments with, -- "love your track, but can't tell what side you're on, so ... ... ". Maybe the third side of every truth? Smile Every magnet seems to have a middle too?

Yes, I even remember, prior to knowing about the whole ID Politics thing and at that time not check folks first, which I do now Wink ... I commented quite innocently on/in a thread and got a big "FU"! for it... yeah... that's the way to win an argument, or teach someone about peace, love and fairness, -- attack personally, viscously and childishly, and be persistent in all things if even not related, -- LOOK for things to then krappe on and make an argument over! Yeah, that's a good 50/50 American split!

I think of songs like "Ohio", and "Blowing in The Wind" and even "Machine Gun" ... I don't remember anyone specifically personally attacked, and etcetera. So, lets see, 2019 - 1960 is 59 years, plus lets say folks were about 18ish makes that 77 year olds; or add 20-30yrs to that number, so, 97, 107.

-- Any 77 - 107 year old "Love Children" here? Maybe you could give a "Webinar" on "Peace, Love, and Understanding"?, as it relates to "Protest".

Oh, I could go on, but, why bother. I'll wait for the "pile on effect", if occurs Smile It'll be more interesting to see the heads explode and ulcers bust? (All 3-4 sides of it Smile )

But, as someone how has read every word of the EEOC .gov, and archived as well (every), -- I'm shocked as to what folks are "mad" about versus the, real, -- important stuff; versus the abundant conflated hyperbole Wink along a very split party line(s,s,s,s). The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and revisions occurred -- why, how, for what reason enabled to be passed into law? (USA folks, all others get an automatic "B" (grade), just for joining in Smile )

Well, color me foolish, for thinking about stuff like that Wink

I really enjoy your political songs, @mike skliar, and there were some witty and memorable ones from recent years. And that stuff needs to be said.

I've written a few straight-up protest songs but I've found they don't end up in my performance repertoire cus they don't really fit with the others, and I thought they were a bit preachy, a bit more tell than show. I speak entirely for myself. The protest-y ones that I do like are more...smuggled in. Refugees and asylum seekers are a hot button issue here in Australia, so I wrote a song called "Ashes" from a refugee's perspective (Syria was the context that inspired it). Life in a normal city that is later transformed by war, having to flee, losing family etc. My environmental song "Said the bee" has animals addressing the human race, expressing their sorrow at their home being destroyed. In short, for me, an emotional story that the listener can empathise with is the route to reaching hearts and minds. But. I do enjoy an in-your-face protest sometimes, that political frustration just needs to be let out, particularly with the many absurdities going on in world politics right now.

@3tdoan
“...an emotional story that the listener can empathise with is the route to reaching hearts and minds.”
Well said.
Venting is not the same as attempting to create change. I think a more serious ‘protest’ song seeks to wake someone up to what they may have formerly accepted but because of new information can no longer support. How to deliver that is a very important question. It’s more than voicing frustration; it’s about speaking to our mutual humanity.

I tend to not write political songs, I write about lies and liars because it seems to fit the current climate. My songs about liars are political songs, but not real obviously, I guess.

I'm very much more interested in an emotional story that (people) can empathize with. One that might be about a relationship with another person OR about the political world.

Political and protest is not my main thing but I have written a few well cloaked songs of political nature in the past. I don't believe in finger-pointing or name-calling. For me that only further polarizes opposing views. I do believe the most powerful way to deliver a message is to stick to facts and make it real by putting put an actual human face to the story.

After Hurricane Irma wiped out powerlines throughout Florida we were without electricity for ten days. Since then close to half of my songs have had some relation to sustainability (hurricane aftermath, climate change, electric cars, solar panels, plant-based diet, etc.) and in practicing what I preach since we have bought three electric cars, installed solar panels, pay for the balance of our power bill with renewable energy credits, and I stopped wearing clothes made from petroleum products (polyester, spandex, etc.). Oh and I have been writing about that too even though sometimes it feels like Dash 1

thanks for the comments, everyone- just back from seeing a singer/songwriter house concert thing (Jill Sobule) and its late so i'll have to save more thoughts/ comments for another time...

I was something of a political satirist (definition--irritate everybody at some stage).

Cassandra which was developed on FAWM ten years ago --but failed in the end to get off the ground-- received rave reviews from serious critics but could not be staged at all in Australia now. Why? It pokes fun at greens, vegans, environmentalists, mining companies, euthanasia, protest groups, hippies, politicians, media especially news media, morally upright and honest people, lowdown and crooked and dirty people, large corporations (I have a suspicion Veep and his environmentalist wife was actually lifted from Cassandra), hunchbacks ("Igor"), people with a lisp, scientists, sane scientists, mad scientists, whale protection societies, Japan etc. .

But now? not one of those could I satirise without a storm of hate mail. So I don't any more. Okay, I do, but only in print in a small way and only via newspapers. And still get a storm of hate comment. And the subeditors always won't print the sharper stuff anymore.

When the world is ruled by feelings to the exclusion of all else, well hey, that's where it goes.

There's nothing I won't write about, and there has to be more than one approach to make it stick everywhere it needs to. Moderation and carefulness have no place in my notion of making a song-- but they have quashed a few good songs I was trying to write.

I can't abide the warped idea of respecting everyone's opinion, instead of everyone's right to have an opinion. Opinions don't have equal weight; some of them are entirely easy to disprove, so let's step on those tender precious toes!

the protest song in america born wth the union rallies and gained a social relevance outside of workers issues when several black singers emigrated from south afrika, bringig their songs into the folk and gospel arenas.irish singers brought rebel songs to the table, and sing out magazie started to publish songs with socal issues and the protest song became a part of the folk singers repertoire. elvis presley was in the army and off the charts and it seemed rock ad roll was dead so folk songs started to chart, any reaching the top ten, even some number ones. then came folk rock and the protest song became a staple ofeery bubble gum band n sunset strip. but the tru protest singer was a rare bird, and the ones who mattered in the sixties, like phil ochs, are even more popular today. protest music has never died, ore even waned. it just was gnored by the mass mediia, protest songs by singers such as seattles jim page, have been sung in the streets even when the children of tthe revolution turned into young republicans. the difference in these last couple of years is that everybosy is wrting protet songs but nobody is lstening to them. why? because the information these songs contain is easily accessible to the general public in many firms. when ochs sang i aint marchin ny more and draft dodger rag, most kids of draft age did not know there was an alternative to going to war like sheep to the slaughterhouse. many people didnt know about the murders in mississippi or the setting f fodogs on black people in birmingham, phil ochs and others brought us these stories. in brazil, caetano veloso was sent into exile for singing songs in opposition to the government and in chile, victor jara was murdered for it, i have been writing and singing prtest songs for over 50 years. my first song , written in 1966, was called we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone....but i havent been writing many protest songs this year.

thanks again everyone for yer comments and thoughts... meanwhile, had to do yet one more Smile
http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/37591

I try to make the political statement that "the system" is broken and we can create a better world- even my love songs elude this as it is my core experience. Others before have said it so beautifully in song, poems and prose- The love we take is equal to the love we make.

First, I don't think writing political songs or protest songs is ever a waste of time. I might not agree with the point of view of a song. I might even despise a song because of the politics it espouses, but it's still not a waste of time for the author. These songs are not really about changing minds (not always anyway). They're about unifying people behind a cause... which in this age of identity politics we need more of.

Second, maybe it's where I live... a short ride down river from Beacon, NY where Pete Seeger lived for so many years. There's a healthy protest folk community here. I live very nearby to where the Clearwater Folk Festival happens. I was raised on Pete Seeger, Eric Bogle, Woody Gurthrie, Joan Baez and the like. I love listening to Toshi Reagon, Tom and Harry Chapin (there's a picture of me playing didgeridoo with Tom Chapin that I adore), Rhiannon Giddens, Utah Phillips and so many more. So I think the tradition is evolving, but it's still going strong.

Third, to address what @Tim Fatchen mentioned about hate mail... I'm sorry that you're having tat experience. I think that it's not entirely new. In times of extreme political upheaval/unrest I think people pay closer attention, and they get meaner. If you have an audience that's wider than "circle of friends" then you're going to get some sort of pushback. Remember Pete Seeger and the Kingston Trio got blacklisted during the McCarthy era for expressing their political ideas. I do find the "don't offend" tendencies of western society these days deeply troubling. Makes me think of Ray Bradbury's book "Fahrenheit 451." Students used to argue with Bradbury over what his own book was about, but he made it pretty clear. It wasn't government censorship... it was self censorship. Maybe this year I'll write THAT song.

What if the folks who appear to be pushing so hard to divide and create ID politics are the Russian and Chinese and Iranian and N Korean ops folks who've been doing it for 50 years now? Some woman in some small town was funded to organise a "meeting" while the same funded the opposition to do the same Smile hahhh... like the coward who gets two people to fight; those TWO should then -- turn on "them" and beat the krappe outta them. Wink O M G... to much to hope for I guess.

So, how many folks "here" are Agents from a foreign country, hell-bent on creating violence, -- please "raise your hands" Wink Wow, even the UK was doing it! Well, we did kick their butts, so many years ago... may still be rashy there? Smile (kidding, kidding... so sensitive these days).

Again, in the 50's and after, "protest", -- it was handled "American" style (?) (as we may know it today) hmmm, what's that? That's a tricky definition, -- indeed! Who wants to take that one on, hahhh. We have a nice history map from the 18th century, through today, -- what changed, if anything?

So I remember, and I do, if even a small child among many verbose adults folks doing "love-ins", created "collective communities" (label how you like), and etc., of non-hate speech as King provided.

I was at the Hudson Clearwater Revival's when the Hudson was "actually" dirty Wink ... and don't remember, "hate" as method.

There are many cultures with many ideas, one which speaks of "lines". Make yours longer, to look longer, not mine shorter to make yours look longer, -- short is short, uh, is short no matter the "look of it"; shown by it's short-effect.

Well, one can really tell if speaking to someone, -- seeking to "Profit" from the "pile on" thing, versus someone who'd had to REALLY ever make peace IRL, ever, and not from a -- PC screen in a leather chair in AC with their bunny slippers on Smile Negotiated tolerance is what it comes back to, versus forced, "only I am correct" world where you suck, no matter what Smile 'cause, well, ID Politics says so. Let's see, who uses "only I am correct" paradigms with strict conformity to "protocols"? And, all you, the rest, suck lemons Wink indeed.

So, how did, -- the Civil Rights act of 1964, finally get passed into law?

Who here profits by "doing", uh, "it". How often does Moscow pay, 1x a mo or weekly? Wink Who hear has had to ever IRL force "peace" upon an otherwise deadly, violent situation? Who hear looks at real-real factual data and not conflated-hyperbole of the "party" line speek? Who here actually *listens and *communicates longitudinally with whom they seek to effect? (Versus, "you suck" Wink ) How does one "unify" a group? (Maybe the incentive is not "real" enough, on one side versus the other, and so it goes prima facie?)

It's hard to tell what goes first revolutions or songs about them. They seem to be parts of the same coin, though not exactly two-sided. Talking about Russia and the Eastern block in general it was rock'n'roll that broke the wall. And there are songs to prove it. I guess every generation thinks there's a doom machine ticking and had to deal with it until the issue gets a bit old and the songs sung around start getting slightly and dementially offtopical. As protests go it's a personal decision, as politics go well, you get points for the next kali yoga.

I forgot to mention I adore the Clancey Brothers!

Here's something just written and recorded, after hearing about not one but two mass shootings in the last day or two

"Thoughts and prayers (again)'

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38620

I put this up a day or3ago, tagging it #the dystopian now. http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38437

cts's picture
Donatedwinnercts

I do try to not navigate in social/political waters regarding my songs, but I'm inclined to do so after some recent observations. It's just a matter of making the time and putting things together. I will have a few before 50/90 is over.

I wrote another verse to this song and performed it last night at a coffee house show I did. It went over well. I rarely ever get the silent room when I know absolutely that it's because they're listening intently, but that happened last night. http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/36719

I guess this one qualifies >> "Leave Me The Thrills" - http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38792

So one more political/social commentary/pride song tonight >> "DREAM" - http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38797

and gslade's song 'leave me the thrills' (as I emailed him) inspired a new song, which is now posted as a co-write of gslade and myself, called
'good people doing nothing is a death worse then fate'

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38801

I'm guess I'm just in this vein now. >> My Country - http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38852

@g2slade isnt just in the vein that song blows the whole system to pieces.

yesterday's skirmish ended up being i think one of the better things I think I've done in the genre....

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38832

Meanwhile I hardly can write anything BUT protest songs. There are so many things that I just have to get off my chest!

Wrote one last week as a skirmish (which I'm happy to report had a fair number of comments)
called 'my greatest fear' http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38832

and one just now- inspired by a recent NY Times article about America, slavery and capitalism...
http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38985

This is a sort of protest in disguise. http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38986

I have barely checked in this year and if I only get this one song for the whole of 50/90 I guess I will be happy- Even my room mate is starting to sing it around the house.
I really want to rerecord a "proper" studio version.
http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/36902

I believe the simple act of doing any kind of art is political, because there is no expression that isn't, but art specially has to do with portraying the artist's reality and this reality is inside a world, so, when expressing your world is impossible not to fall into commentary about the actual world. That being said, I sometimes deal with some topics that are close to my heart, such as vegetarianism and nature preservation, the state of the world and religion, in a way. But I always feel, that since I am a gay man every time I make a love song, or a song about a relationship it is a political statement, as these songs are obviously based on gay love and even though I feel most of them are universal, both in the sense that love is an universal experience and that I generally don't use expressions like "you boy"- so they can be interpreted in any kind of relationship, it can't be denied that the author writes from their own experiences and feelings.

Kurt Cobain was a protest singer. He didnt want to sing. There was so much money involved in his singing that he was forced to do it even when he didnt want to. . but he sang under protest, which made him a protest singer. I like to sing. Nobody is forcing me to do it. so I would not call myself a protest singer.

very good point @phoenixash - I had a song a few years ago called 'everything is political' in fact.

that all being said, just about to post a straightforward, happy, and basically non-political song called 'sing sing sing'

@mike skliar Are you going to sample the Gene Krupa solo?

I think it’s interesting to see a thread evolve and eventually touch on more core, if not more relevant granular elements, so to speak, — and possibly. Like a few posts up I read as “what is art/music...”. One can actually take several university level classes considering this — mostly for “non-artist”, so to speak, or otherwise art/music “appreciation” classes. Yet many with these majors do start with this thesis as a personal challenge.

Mind expansion is for some, their quest, within the “arts” (music, et alia).

Oh, and, I am a protest singer — I sing against the protest of many; the louder they protest the louder I sing Wink Smile I find the * “I don’t care effect” very liberating and confidence building - it’s a unusual thing/point to get to in your “art”; I hope for it for all artists.

An analogy some may get, many will not — when I start an oil painting, there is a point I can then proceed with it in front of a room full of people, and even as instructive. Yet prior to that “moment” I know to keep it to myself. Possibly it’s like tasting a meal when only 25% cooked; there is a point when, if even not “done” one knows how it’s going to “be”. Uno? iustaknow, but now, notsomuch Smile or care to.

I find that, in fact, everything is emotional, if not political or well reasoned and how we get what we get — more thought, less abstracted emotion, — effects.

But if you think about it singing was all about politics and power in the middle ages haha

Oops I did it again.. Here's what's like to be "Raised in America" ... http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39453

Thanks for listening...I appreciate your time. ..

i second the motion. http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39453 is the bt protest rap since public enemys fight the power. check it out and be amazed.

@billwhite51 - Thanks so much for the recommendation. It's not gonna be for everyone but I'm glad at least one person enjoyed it.

I just heard that song of G''s as well, and I 'third' the motion (see billwhite51's link to g slade's song, two posts or so above this one, or G's link above that one)

yes! Great work!

and here's a new lighthearted one about that process of writing a song in this age..
"silver lining for the orange disaster'

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39518

mike

This one is 'slightly' political, mainly for the last line, tho the urban change/decay in the rest of the song might be construed as political to some extent, too?

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39606

enjoy!

and this one is kind of a riff on the more famous song with a similar title (with the word 'wind' in there)-- done as a skirmish as the title suggested was 'whispering in the wind'

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/40015

Even with the ongoing Brexit related political insanity in the UK, I've mostly managed to keep away from politics this year. But it wouldn't be me if there wasn't at least one climate crisis related song - http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39986 (Is This the World?).

This one is about as political as I get:

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39881

How better to commemorate this day than by taking another trip through "My Country" and "Raised In America"

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39453

http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38852

i mosty stayed out of politics this time, but my most recent song, Rattlesnake Wasteland. takes a rather interesting view on what the united states has been all about from its inception...http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/40291

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