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“What’s Going On”: The Stupidest Protest Song Ever

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Seeing What’s Going On listed as classic protest music, please note that the title song in particular has perhaps the most ignorant, trite excuse for a lyric of any major pop song.

Marvin Gaye was no war protester, or civil rights activist. He gave not a rat’s ass about politics. I don’t recall him marching in Selma. This is not a criticism; there are other things in life than social protest.

In 1970, however, he apparently felt the need to be “socially relevant” as the wind was blowing in those days. So, he got some words expressing a broad liberal position, and VOILA! He’s a protest singer.

Now, the tune is great, the production and performance are spot on. He was a singin’, songwritin’ SOB. You really can’t argue against the record. Marvin was a talented musician. I’ve spent a good many hours listening to Marvin, and I’m glad of it.

Father, father, we don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate

However, “only love can conquer hate” constitutes a really stupid, cheap SENTIMENT, just as trite and deleterious to your ability to deal effectively with reality as the mushy love songs Frank Zappa bitched about. It’s absolutely, objectively factually not true. Often the only thing that can conquer hate is getting a big gun and shooting the hater. Why, if we would just get together with Hussein and Bin Laden, hold hands and sing Kum-ba-frickin’-ya, it’d all be fine.

Then, consider such lyrics as “Who are they to judge us just because our hair is long?” Really. When did Marvin have long hair? He was just sucking up to the hippie establishment, trying to be cool.

Then consider the cheap supposedly “progressive” laundry list that gets pasted in for lyrics in the rest of the album. Particularly egregious to any proper sense of decency and geometry, “Let’s save the children. Let’s save all the children.” Oh, HELL no. I’m against that. I say we feed ‘em to the whales- then we EAT the whales!

Truly, it’s generally asking too much to make any kind of specific political arguments in a song. Music is about emotional expression, not logical argumentation. If you want to make a serious political statement, write a book or a newspaper column or something.

Smooth grooves, though.

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  • http://gratefuldread.net/fando/ natalie davis

    No disrespect, Al, and you may have accurately divined Marvin Gaye’s motivations for recording this protest song (legend has it the late singer was coked up when he did the chilling vocal for “What’s Going On?”)… but guns don’t conquer hate. Guns are tools that help violent people express hatred. Guns don’t end hate — they help it multiply through the rest of the world. Think about the hate that flourished after bad guys used airplanes as guns (BIG guns) on 9/11/01. The truth is, Al, love is the only thing that can conquer conquer hate. Now, you may consider that a trite, cheap sentiment, but many people believe it to be true and we work to live our lives accordingly. Gandhi himself once said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won out. There have been tyrants and murderers and they always seem invincible, but they always fall, always.” That eventually includes the shlub wielding the big gun you mention.

    So, despite your premise, Gaye’s tune *is* a protest song, and a classic, and a relevant song for these unduly troubled times. But you did get this right: The grooves are certainly smooth.

    Pax vobiscum.

  • http://what'sanurl? Knud Sandbæk Nielsen

    There is a lot of hate in the sentence: “However, “only love can conquer hate” constitutes a really stupid, cheap SENTIMENT, just as trite and deleterious to your ability to deal effectively with reality as the mushy love songs Frank Zappa bitched about. It’s absolutely, objectively factually not true. Often the only thing that can conquer hate is getting a big gun and shooting the hater.”
    So, maybe the person writing it never really conquered his own hate.
    I maintain, that it is a fact obvious to all who are even just a little bit spiritually committed, that the hate you meet is equal to the hate you have in your own heart. Jesus would have pittied the hateful, but the author above shows enough hate to want to shoot the people who are hateful. An act which in the end might come bach to you, my friend! As you show hate, and then recommend the shooting of hateful people….
    In fact, Saddam Hussein is one of the most pittyful men walking the earth these days! And I would prefer him tried in a court of justice, so that he might be brought to realize, that other people have a different view on his actions, than he has himself! When dead, who knows what his spirit can understand? If there is in fact such a thing as a soul, maybe his will be too confused to even try to understand! And as for his supporters, they too would learn more from a trial than from his possible martyrdom.
    These are thoughts from a person who has defeated quite a lot of his own hate. Not just for the love of God, but also by the light of love, the wisdom that comes from loving someone for better or worse – as a friend! No sex involved, no gratification of my own, just love for the sake of the loved one.
    Try it, and learn!!
    Best wishes and bless you!

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    I maintain, that it is a fact obvious to all who are even just a little bit spiritually committed, that the hate you meet is equal to the hate you have in your own heart.

    Yeah, tell that to the Jews at Auschwitz, or poor schmucks working at the WTC on 9/11.

    It is in fact appropriate to have a useful hate for evil. We didn’t need to learn how to “pity” the Nazis. They had to be killed off. They were too evil and vicious to live amongst the rest of us. You may call that “hatred” if you wish.

    I, on the other hand, call it love for life, and love for the lives of my family and friends. I speak not from an emotional turmoil, but from a calm and reasoned judgment that I support the protection of our lives above pretty nearly any other value. Certainly it rates more important than currying the favor of peace weenies.

    Plus you should understand that I don’t particularly have any strong feelings against people mouthing worthless hippie pseudo philosophy. It’s just that reality intruded on your fantasy world a couple of years ago, and the big folks have to fix things.

    “Hatred” is far too emotionally strong a word, really. It’s more like the profound Martian hatred of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, an emotional state that might best be described as “mild distaste.”

    Again, GREAT song. Best thing Marvin ever did. Nicely executed lyric and very convincingly expressed, but rationally stupid.

  • toy

    Actually Al, you just made your ass sound like a stupid SOB because Marvin wasn’t even the one who actually wrote the song. He mainly just performed. If you would do a little research you would know that Renaldo Benson was the one who came up with the lyrics you dumb ass. so if you want to talk about somebody and their lyrics, talk about Renaldo.

  • http://mcfrank.blogspot.com Chris Arabia

    toy, where does this post say that marvin gaye wrote that song? it only says that he “got” some words, which implies that he “got” them from somewhere, like from that benson guy. the post commends gaye’s songwriting as part of a generic endorsement of his musical skills, which might cut the other way. so, at worst the poster was a little sloppy.

    nat, would love have conquered the nazis? gandhi only works if the opponent displays basic humanity on some level. the nazis would have shot gandhi and all of his people.

  • Tolu

    Does this song need to be rationalised? Music is personal, if someone sees it as a protest song then leave them to it, it makes them feel good. After all the debates over who wrote what and who meant what and who was cashing into any movement at a time… you/me/anyone likes a song because you feel it. It makes you feel good.

    For some people that album is everything, for others its not worth anything. But if it inspires the first group in anyway then it must have something to it. If he has cashed in on a movement, then he’s done it well. I’m not myself sure whether Marvin Gaye intended to write a ‘protest song’ but I dont think thats the point.

    For me, the words ‘only love can conquer hate’ is true because only when people co-operate in the hope of something that is against what they see as hate, i.e. in the hope of love, is hate conquered. Only when people make that distinction between something being wrong, unjust, unfair and then envision a way out of it – do they act against it.

    The phrase is loose because the techniques and results of acting against hate can be anything and everythng. But I do think that people only act in the hope of a way forward if they see another (positive) option. Thats what it means to me. I thought it was obvious.

  • http://www.deadjournal.com/users/rhabdophobid/ PEOPLEsuck!

    the beginning of the song says, “mother, there’s too many of you crying. brother, there’s too many of you dying.” so, i guess if you have no taste fro volunteering, extending a kind and caring heart out to those who are suffering and watching their families suffer beyond any shadow of a doubt anything you’ve ever been faced with, then of course you wouldn’t understand. one day, maybe it will be your kids, overtaken by terrorists, enslaved, raped and maimed, so i’d think twice about your reaction (and action) to it if i were you!

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    PEOPLEsuck- Yes, you’ve got me figured out. I’m a cold, heartless bastard who doesn’t care about the poor people. Cause otherwise, I’d just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Bin Laden et al, and the power of LOVE would melt their cold hearts. Then we’d sing “Kum-Bi-Frickin’-Ya” while giving one another handjobs. And then we’d have world peace.

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    that’s right, obviously your snide arse couldn’t give 2 hoots, about anything, now, could it? because i bet i couldn’t find evidence of it if i gave you a once and second over. i bet you couldn’t make me turn even after i’m in my grave! so, what’s it gonna be? anyway…..!

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    you bore me. is that the best you’ve got? go back to school!

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    how boring! this just isn’t getting anywhere, good OR bad! oh well!

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    well of course! that i just, like, SO obvious! right on, dude! so totally groovy man!! shucks.

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    wow! you must be psychic or something! sneer

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    whoops~ stupid site kept giving me post errors- oughtta get that cleared up, fella’s! ROFLMAO!!

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    in this case, then, i would be inclined to rub YOU out, in the clear understanding, it would be for the love and benefit of my friends and family as you are clearly very complacent and ignorant in our terms of what peace of mind means to US. as you have no concept of mercy, forgiveness, or compromise- and likely that you wouldn’t even be able to concede to what compromise would consist of!!

  • http://www.my-virtual-income.com Christopher Rose

    It’s actually literally true that only love can conquer hate, the problem is that people haven’t yet come to terms with expressing love without the kind of bogus bullshit that tore down the hippie movement.

  • Silver Surfer

    Yep, you are dead right Rosey … and a Happy New Year from Down Under (Jan 1, 2008). Hope it’s a good one for everyone. Oops. Lunatics have just let off illegal fireworks up the street. My house feels like it’s coming down ….

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    like, killing your own parents with axes and stuff? LOL, i don’t think it’s us that can’t deal with feelings of love, i think it’s other people that can’t deal with our ultimatums for achieving love, instead of hate!! lol, bad joke! ( maybe )

  • http://www.my-virtual-income.com Christopher Rose

    Happy New Year to you too Stan. And you, PEOPLEsuck!

  • PEOPLEsuck!

    happy new year to you all! stan, and rosey posey, and everyone in between!!!! God bless you. <:-D

  • yoni-baloney

    Once you figure out what the REALITY is and only then can you make the decision whether or not to
    take action or let go.

    We are only a culmination of our thoughts, perceptions of reality, choices and actions.

  • Kristine

    Shut the fuck up and just enjoy the music.

  • WakeUp

    So, you say you love life… But only those of your friends and family? Do you not agree that if everyone would abandon their hate, there would be no need for this sort of violent, vengeful thinking? Consider that…

  • winds

    Imagine yourself in another’s position before you cast jugdement, at least try, know that you will never fully succed in comprehending, you may never even get past the tip of their iceberg because every single person has a life as vastly diverse as yours, filled with the uncountable choices and events that have lead up to this moment in time, but this is why you must try, so you can at least begin to understand that we are all human and the person across from you is you, just born in a different circumstance.

  • http://www.colaverde.com Laurent

    “Yeah, tell that to the Jews at Auschwitz, or poor schmucks working at the WTC on 9/11.

    It is in fact appropriate to have a useful hate for evil. We didn’t need to learn how to “pity” the Nazis. They had to be killed off. They were too evil and vicious to live amongst the rest of us. You may call that “hatred” if you wish.””

    Yeah!!!! Godwin point (huhu)

    Al, don’t you know that Satan is god’s servant as mentioned in Islam and pre-manicheist religions.
    So…if you meet Satan you have to deal with him….with a gun ??? zit enough ???

    In the other hand you can say : “I’m a children of paradise, I live in paradise and nothing can bother me, nothing can touch my soul” so 9/11 or any war is no big deal for you

  • http://www.gurbetcafe.net Gurbet Sohbet

    It is in fact appropriate to have a useful hate for evil. We didn’t need to learn how to “pity” the Nazis. They had to be killed off. They were too evil and vicious to live amongst the rest of us. You may call that “hatred” if you wish.??

  • Kerry

    Wow. Can you do a little something called research before you attack Marvin himself? He didn’t write the song.

  • Paul Caporino

    No, Marvin Gaye was right. Only love can conquer hate.

  • Paul Caporino

    I think “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley was closer to being stupid. Also “Banned In The USA” by 2LiveCrew.

  • Snapper

    You speak as though you knew Marvin personally. In my view, the sentiment behind the lyric “Only love can conquer hate” is that if EVERYONE practicced love then there would be no hate … we would have no reason to have to hold hands and sing “Kum-ba-frickin’-ya” with the Bin Ladin’s of the world because there would be no Bin Ladin’s in a world of peace and love. yes, it’s a Utopian idea but in John Lennon’s words, just “Imagine”

  • Snapper

    Wow, I don’t think you have the right to call yourself the high priest of love if you do not believe that only love can conquer hate.

    In the words of the great Dr King:
    “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

  • Charles

    It’s disingenuous of you to claim that this is not a criticism. Of course it is. It’s not wrong to be critical. Have the nuts to piss people off. Have the nuts to state your opinion without apologizing for it. Trying to hide being politically correct and not offend anyone is way more insulting than your odd, hateful thoughts.

  • http://www.morethings.com/wordpress Al Barger

    Charles, read closer. I’m NOT in fact criticizing Marvin Gaye for generally being apolitical-which is what I’m saying. I would prefer that more pop singers were apolitical. We get an awful lot of foolishness from perfectly good pop songwriters trying to prove that they’re deep with cheesy political posturing.

    “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was a much more profound statement on the human condition than anything from this nonetheless excellent album.

  • Tree Hugger.

    This is an old post and still causing emotional reactions….
    For the record, I dont do “posts” – usualy but I cant ignore this…
    War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate…originaly credited to Confucious, Marvin Gaye sang the line to inspire Peace – he may not be credited as a protest singer but he certainly was… the song was part of the peace/ antiwar movement, the lyrics refering to mothers crying over “brothers” dying in the Vietnam war… a time (and a cause) with which a young black American could easily identify …. if you need a history lesson to persuade you try googling Rosa Parkes, Mohamed Ali and the draft, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, black G.Is, black civil rights etc.
    The song title – Whats going on is the key – “talk to me, so you can see – whats going on” – Hands up who’s not sick of war and suffering – it is’nt about throwing flowers at natzis and terroists in the hope hitler or bin laden will “rush to the love in” it simply states that only love can conquer hate …..(meaning, because QUITE CLEARLY the point is being missed by many) – if ALL parties in a dispute can see eye to eye, resolve their differences and treat each other with respect, they will form a friendship and learn to love each other.
    Big guns dont teach respect, if they did Vietnam would be remembered as a triumph and your heroes and veterans would not have come home and joined peace protests.
    I cry tears of despair for the crimes against ALL humanity that were commited on 9/11 or in the invasion of Iraq – at some point someone (anyone, everyone?) MUST turn the other cheek and stop the slaughter of innocents.
    I understand the desire to protect your family and home against aggressors, as human beings we need to protect to survive but invading other peoples countries is not “protecting” – its aggression against people who are as justified in protecting their families, as any citizen of the U.S.A.
    Its an old song but 40 years on the points still being missed – if we fight only in defence, we rarely need to fight – if we love and respect our fellow man (as in mankind) and do not wish to possess that which he has, or force our values upon him, its unlikely that he will wish us harm (or vice versa)- if he (or we) break that trust, defence is perfectly justifiable – as a last resort.
    Its also worth considering that: –
    “An eye for an eye can make the whole world blind”
    and
    “No nations flag is big enough to cover the shame of innocent lives lost.”
    Peace – Love and Respect to all that stand for true justice,equality and tolerance to all the citizens of this world.
    We are legion and Love WILL conquer hate.

  • http://www.morethings.com/wordpress Al Barger

    Really now Tree Hugger, you say “it is’nt about throwing flowers at natzis and terroists in the hope hitler or bin laden will ‘rush to the love in'” But then the entire rest of your statement is basically saying exactly that. Going into other countries is where the bad guys most often are. That’s where their lairs generally are.

    You say that if we fight only in defense, we will rarely need to fight. In reality, that’s just not the truth. It’s not about forcing our values on Muslims, other than to the extent that it is simply not acceptable to come kill us.

    Now, I can accept that love will conquer hate. By this I mean of course Navy Seals with big guns who love their country and are williing to drop into Pakistan and blow a hole in Bin Laden’s head to protect their beloved country and families.

    Marvin had a good point there.

  • Tree Hugger

    “Going into other countries is where the bad guys most often are. That’s where their lairs generally are.”
    “It’s not about forcing our values…., other than to the extent that it is simply not acceptable to come kill us.”
    Pardon me but could these words (conversely) be those of the terrorists?
    Are they not shouting “our leader is dead – long live our leader?”
    Are your Navy Seals going to “blow a hole” in all their heads?
    (Assuming, of course that the “bad guys” are holed up in a “friendly” country – for friendly read “savvy” – you didnt really think that Rambo was back and they were not invited did you?)
    By your rules, will the rest of them (the terrorists) not be justified in retaliating when next they kill and maim innocents?
    It has to stop somewhere, the USA has eliminated sadam,bin laden and gaddafi – are the troops going home now?
    I dont want or expect you (or the Navy Seals) to find love in your hearts for the likes of the above, I do not mourn their deaths – I mourn for the innocents caught up in the violence – for the children of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, for their parents who can no longer feed them because they need to be there with arms and legs to make a living.
    For every terrorist killed, how many innocents die or are seriously maimed? A 100 – a 1000 or more?
    Is’nt the line between good and bad guys blurring for you?
    Is war really the answer?
    Dont we need to find a way to get some loving here today?

  • Marvinfan

    Right on, Brother!

  • Cameron Lawson

    one word… “ignorant”

  • Tatiana

    You’re a sad person.

  • digJB

    I just skimmed through all of Gadfly’s 163 blog posts. You are indeed a sad imitation pretending to be a human being. You cannot possibly be old or aware enough to remember Selma or publish conclusions about Marvin Gaye’s artistic intent. Your totally idiotic statement “it’s generally asking too much to make any kind of specific political arguments in a song. Music is about emotional expression, not logical argumentation” proves conclusively you weren’t there and are never going to be aware of what’s going on then, now, or in the future. As experienced and/or enlightened persons who’ve lived long enough to know, say about the 60s – 70s; “if you say you remember what happened then, you weren’t really there.”
    I will never be returning to this or any other hate-mongering platform or website/blog, nor patronizing any entity advertised here or on the affiliated facebook. You are a perfect example of why facebook should have a *DISlike* button. I hope there is a moderator here who will delete me, but surely there’s not; otherwise this (appropriately-named) Gadfly moron’s rants would all be gone. Maybe in the future a real BC music critic could check posts like this before allowing to go live online?
    One can hope…

  • Greenradagast

    You just don’t get it, do you? A bigger gun??? Then your enemy gets an even bigger gun. Then you have war, and all the good people die.
    You fool!

  • Colton Fabricio

    You don’t get it.
    By killing “the hater” with a big gun you become the evil doer in the eyes of “the hater’s” children.
    They grow up with hate because you killed their family and their homeland.
    Hate begets hate.
    Love begets love.
    Gandhi defeated the British Empire without firing a single shot.
    MLK defeated social injustice of an entire race without firing a single shot.
    You see, people like Bin Laden only became evil because Tyrants from the US think it’s okay the exploit land in the middle east for profit because they have oil rich land.
    Hitler became evil because evil was done to him.
    Nobody is born evil.

  • Blackovski

    Funny how Black people today do exactly the same thing to White people, as White Western-European descendants did to them 400 years ago. Anything a White person does is racist nowadays, while a Black person can say anything about a White person, and it’s not racism at all – it’s a freedom of speech. haha. Funny that I come from Easterm Europe and i have freedom at my own country, and am just an observer of this whole comedy. You Blacks need to know, that if you want to be honorable, you can’t do the same thing that Western-European oppressors did to you 400 years ago in America. If you will do that, the history will turn against you. Don’t spread the hatred around. You call yourselves Christians, while you defend a criminal? Oh pleeeease.. You know he wasn’t so innocent. You know he robbed a store, not because he was hungry or in need, but because he was a damn criminal who nearly beaten the salesman. Denying it and making him a holy hero is just pathetic. I’m just sick of his innocent-looking face which’s shown by the media. They lie to you with their propaganda. They want you to provoke a racial war, so they can have a good reason to use the force against YOU. Y’all people should see how Jews treat the Palestinians – let me tell yu – Jews treat the Palestinians exactly the same way, as Jews themselves were treated by the German nazis. Don’t do the same mistakes my Black friends. Revenge is a fuel for war, and “war is not the answer, cuz only love can conquer hate” – just like Marvin used to sing. Do you know who Marvin REALLY was, young Black man? Do you know that? Or you need to be told about it by a young Polish person like me who is nowadays strugglin like your parents and grandparents used to?

  • Blackovski

    http://www.topix.com/forum/city/ferguson-mo

    ~ Blackovski:
    Funny how Black people today do exactly the same thing to White people, as White Western-European descendants did to them 400 years ago. Anything a White person does is racist nowadays, while a Black person can say anything about a White person, and it’s not racism at all – it’s a freedom of speech. haha. Funny that I come from Easterm Europe and i have freedom at my own country, and am just an observer of this whole comedy. You Blacks need to know, that if you want to be honorable, you can’t do the same thing that Western-European oppressors did to you 400 years ago in America. If you will do that, the history will turn against you. Don’t spread the hatred around. You call yourselves Christians, while you defend a criminal Michael Brown? Oh pleeeease.. You know he wasn’t so innocent. You know he robbed a store, not because he was hungry or in need, but because he was a damn criminal who nearly beaten the salesman. Denying it and making him a holy hero is just pathetic. I’m just sick of his innocent-looking face which’s shown by the media. They lie to you with their propaganda. They want you to provoke a racial war, so they can have a good reason to use the force against YOU. Y’all people should see how Jews treat the Palestinians – let me tell yu – Jews treat the Palestinians exactly the same way, as Jews themselves were treated by the German nazis. Don’t do the same mistakes my Black friends. Revenge is a fuel for war, and “war is not the answer, cuz only love can conquer hate” – just like Marvin used to sing. Do you know who Marvin was, young Black man? Do you know that? Or you need to be told about it by a young Polish person like me who is nowadays strugglin like your parents and grandparents used to?

  • Tony Gdonski

    Wow… You are an angry and misguided soul. I’ll pray for you.

    • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com/ Christopher Rose

      If you think praying will do anything, perhaps it is you that is misguided…