I have railed against musicians and celebrities being given undue access to the media to vent their opinions on politics and whatever just because they are celebrities. The most effective channel for artists to convey their perspectives is through their art.
Jon Pareles tracks the anti-war movement in song:
- There is no war yet, only threats and preparations. But protest singers, like generals, revisit past battles, looking for parallels. Many are thinking about Vietnam; on March 1 at Joe's Pub in Manhattan, Pete Seeger and members of Sonic Youth were part of a concert drawing on "The Vietnam Songbook," published in 1969. They and the other songwriters denouncing war with Iraq are trying to speed up an artistic and political reaction that took years, not months, to gather momentum in the 1960's. And they want to abort a war, not rail against it. [NY Times]
As I have often repeated: Iraq is not Vietnam, this is the biggest mistake of the "general" anti-war element: as in "Vietnam was a war and look how bad it was - all war is like Vietnam - all war is bad." There is also nostalgia from those who miss what they perceive as the power, unity, and righteousness of the Vietnam anti-war movement. This is not Vietnam.
- ....Contrary to some memories of the Vietnam era, there was no unanimity among musicians or listeners. For every "Eve of Destruction" (by Barry McGuire) or "Fortunate Son" (Creedence Clearwater Revival), there was also "Ballad of the Green Berets" (Sgt. Barry Sadler) and "Okie From Muskogee" (Merle Haggard). Often, politically tinged songs like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" or Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" were laments and observations that stayed carefully nonpartisan.
The political pressures that created the 1960's protest-song movement have dissipated. There's no military draft to pull together a constituency and force life-or-death choices on every male teenager. And for the punk and hip-hop generation, there is no recent memory of a long, enervating war. Since Vietnam, the United States has waged only brief and overpowering military campaigns: wars that last days or weeks rather than years and that leave comparatively few American casualties. Most of the news coverage looks like fireworks and video games, not carnage.
Is explicit protest in song effective?
- It's impossible to say. A precisely aimed topical song, like Bob Dylan's "Hurricane," can focus public attention on a specific cause. Conceivably John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" made some people think twice. But genuine, partisan protest songs usually reach people who already agree with them. Their job is less to persuade than to provide slogans and jingles to rally the converted and convince them that they're not alone.