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Sunday Song Lyric:
The Vietnam War and civil rights movement inspired some tremendous music (for an example of the latter, see here while there is substantial and sincere opposition to the current war in Iraq, it seems to me that the conflict has not generated protest music of an equivalent caliber as that produced in the 1960s and early 1970s. Am I mistaken? Are there contemporary anti-war songs destined to become classics?

These thoughts occurred to me when I decided to choose a song by The Doors for this week's Sunday Song Lyric, and settled on "The Unknown Soldier" off of Waiting for the Sun. This was long overdue. After all, I've already written a Jim Morrison-themed article on the Supreme Court's commerce clause jurisprudence, but this song didn't make the final edit.

Wait until the war is over
And we're both a little older
The unknown soldier

Breakfast where the news is read
Television children fed
Unborn living, living, dead
Bullet strikes the helmet's head

And it's all over
For the unknown soldier
It's all over
For the unknown soldier . . .

Make a grave for the unknown soldier
Nestled in your hollow shoulder
The unknown soldier

Breakfast where the news is read
Television children fed
Bullet strikes the helmet's head

And, it's all over
The war is over
It's all over
The war is over
Well, all over, baby
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Bright Eyes' "When the President Talks to God" seems the most likely candidate for a classic of the 9/11 era, but I cannot stand anything that comes out of Conor Oberst's mouth. Plus, the R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Springsteen contributions to the protest movement are all among their worst work ever. 9/11 really did deliver a crippling blow to so many of these bands' projects.
7.16.2006 10:17am
Jonathan Adler (mail) (www):
Ship Erect --

I agree with that. One could say the same thing about many other artists, whose current political work is there worst work. But that wasn't the case in the 1960s? Any theories why? Is it important that an artist comes of age during the period of unrest so that the politics is infused with the music from the outset? (e.g. like a Midnight Oil or Rage Against the Machine, more recent bands whose protest agendas infused their work). Or is some other factor at work (e.g. are contemporary song writers are less educated than their predecessors?).

JHA
7.16.2006 11:48am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Generals gathered in their masses
Just like Witches at Black masses
Evil Minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of Deaths construction
In the Fields the bodies burning
As the War Machine keeps turning
Death and Hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave the fun to the Poor.

"War Pigs" Black Sabbath
7.16.2006 11:57am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
"Bullet the Blue Sky" by U2 is pretty good for a contemporary song.
7.16.2006 12:00pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):
I think The New Pornographers' "The Laws Have Changed" is a good example of politically inspired pop music, but the lyrics are not the most readily accessible. And it's only indirectly anti-war...it's really more anti-Bush.

I don't think it's education...it's sensibility. It's a far more effective strategy to write 'bullet strikes the helmet's head' than 'Lyndon Johnson sucks.' Compare, for example, Neil Young's "Ohio" with "Powderfinger." "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming..." just doesn't do it for me. It's puerile. However, "Powderfinger" is wonderful. It's particularized like a ballad, and he lets the creepy details speak for themselves without cramming down my throat a political screed.
7.16.2006 12:03pm
AppSocRes (mail):
During the Vietnam era, the war was fought with a conscripted army, drawn from the biggest and most culturally influential generation in US history, the post-WW II Baby Boom cohorts. I was one of them. My fellow students in college dreaded giving up their hedonistic civilian lives just as much as they did being sent to a war and place in the world wgose horrors were magnified by television. Is it any wonder there was a massive anti-war movement?

Today's conscription-aged Americans are protected from war by a professional, volunteer army. They are a relatively smaller and absolutely less culturally significant proportion of the population than my generation was and is. It's hardly an inexplicable accident that the anti-war movement is fairly insignificant.

If such a movement does develop it will come from the middle Americans in the National Guards, who are being siphoned into Iraq at an alarming rate. Their relative maturity and lack of cultural access suggests that such a movement, should it arise, will be low-keyed and inchoate, just as was the massive public support for the Vietnam War in my generation.
7.16.2006 12:21pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
After I posted I remembered Belle &Sebastian's "Me and the Major," a wonderful youth protest song for any era. And Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out."

The problem with protest songs of both Vietnam and now is summed up right in the title to that Bright Eyes garbage and "Ohio": they're all too obvious. The best protest songs are those that advocate something very obscure--forcing you to do something, but it's up to you to decide what it is. Songs that describe the daily news seem forced and whiny by comparison.

By this measure, R.E.M.'s "Stand" is one of the greatest, and the fact that it's silly and childlike (with an even sillier wah-wah solo) makes me love it even more.
7.16.2006 12:26pm
JosephSlater (mail):
First, it's not like anti-war songs dominated the charts in the 1960s. Second, it's worth noting that of the anti-war songs from that era we remember, most didn't come out in the first couple of years of our engagement in Vietnam. Third, there are a ton of anti-Bush songs out there; although not many were big hits, they aren't hard to find. {see the "Rock Against Bush" CD put out by Fat Wrck Chords, for example).

And some of these songs have made it big. "Mosh" by Eminem, for example, has lines like "let him strap an AK, fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way" (and the even more direct "fuck Bush"). That was a radio hit and was performed on Saturday night live. Green Day's "American Idiot" is an even better known song/CD; it's less specific but still gets the message across. And Neil Young's new CD is pretty explicit about what he thinks of Bush.

My personal favorite is the first and only political song by the brilliant James McMurty: "We Can't Make it Here Anymore" on his new album "Childish Things." Best political song in decades.

Finally, as to the claim that anti-war stuff by Pearl Jam isn't their best work, while it's a cover and not an original, I love their version of "Masters of War."
7.16.2006 12:39pm
wood turtle (mail):
As pointed out by AppSocRes, the Vietnam war had a draft and the present war does not. There was a commonality of experience even if relatively few actually served. I remember the days when the guys got their draft numbers, and afterwards some of the guys with low numbers just dropped out of school to enlist in something to try and avoid Vietnam. We all felt their loss. There was a huge mentality and market for the antiwar songs that doesn't really exist today.
7.16.2006 1:13pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
I don't think the music industry (at least the mainstream music industry, not the indie movement facilitated by the Internet) is as conducive to originality as the wild-n-woolly days of Vietnam.
7.16.2006 1:57pm
Richard A. (mail):
I hate to deflate all this wonderful political sentiment, but at the time Morrison himself said the song had nothing to do with the war. He said it was about contraception, specifically condoms. The helmeted head is, one would assume, covered in latex, not metal.
7.16.2006 2:02pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
"The Doors" was a great movie,its not everyday you get to see Meg Ryan dressed in Hippie garb vomiting all over Val Kilmer. Jim Morrison never struck me as much of a touchy feely liberal though. I never understood the problem with the Draft. If Jim Morrison HAD been drafted wouldn't his fairly extensive history of drug use disqualified him? No need to get a criminal record by littering ala Arlo Guthries "Alices Restaurant" story.
7.16.2006 2:16pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
I hate to deflate all this wonderful political sentiment, but at the time Morrison himself said the song had nothing to do with the war.

What's up with the video he directed for it, then? In it, he's tied up to a post and shot by a firing line, even spitting blood. (As a side note, if it took fame and fortune as a rock star for him to make that, I can't imagine how bad his D-graded film at UCLA is.)
7.16.2006 2:17pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):

I hate to deflate all this wonderful political sentiment, but at the time Morrison himself said the song had nothing to do with the war.

Is it The War or the war? LOL
7.16.2006 2:27pm
Hattio (mail):
"Ohio" isn't about the Vietnam war directly. Its about students getting shot at Kent State (albeit in a war protest). That's why Tin Soldiers and Nixon's coming, not Ho Chi Minh. And frankly, I disagree that its not one of CSNY's great songs. The fact that they wrote it about ten minutes before recording it, just underlines their talent in my opinion (but I guess if you don't like the song, you wouldn't agree).
7.16.2006 3:22pm
Glenn W Bowen (mail):
I believe this was the only song Morrison sang where he didn't commence immediately with incoherent lyrics, and screaming as if he had his penis stuck in a light socket.
7.16.2006 4:06pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
Frank -- if memory serves, Morrison did report for his draft physical and was disqualified on health grounds, in large part due to the copious amount of drugs he had ingested immediately prior to reporting for that physical.

It's easy to look through the lens of four decades and identify the great protest songs of the Viet Nam era (Hattio's right, by the way -- CSN&Y's Ohio is one of the greats). But look at what was charting in 1968 when Waiting for the Sun was released -- songs like "Judy in Disguise" and "Dock of the Bay." The only mainstream success the Doors had from that album was "Hello, I Love You" -- not exactly biting political controversy. Glenn Bowen notwithstanding, most people today would rather listen to the Doors sing "5 to 1" than listen to Archie Bell and the Drells sing "Tighten Up" (two weeks at number 1). But the mainstream has always been more fluff than substance -- the genuine stuff shows through over time.
7.16.2006 6:40pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
The Killer awoke before dawn, put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery and walked on down the hall, "Father" "Yes Son?" "I want to Kill You"
"Mother" I want to (sound of penis in light socket)
7.16.2006 9:24pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
Should it trouble me that the two of you know what sound a man makes when he has his penis stuck in a light socket?
7.16.2006 9:55pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Not any more than it troubles me that you know what sound a man makes when he has a penis stuck in his mouth.
7.16.2006 10:20pm
Richard A. (mail):
By the way, I once worked with a guy who had served in the Army in Germany with Archie Bell. It seems that right after the song became a hit, poor Archie was drafted. Luckily enough, he got sent to Germany, not Vietnam.
7.16.2006 10:52pm
UMNlawstudent (mail):
I kinda like "16 Military Wives" by the Decemberists, but it's probably too goofy to ever be a classic.
7.17.2006 12:54am
JohnO (mail):
I agree that 5 to 1 is a better wartime song by The Doors than Unknown Soldier, but it isn't really an anti-war protest song in my view, and Morrison is quoted as saying he didn't view it that way either.

Walk across the floor with a flower in your hand,
Try to tell me no one understands,
Trade in your hours for a handful of dimes,
Gonna make it, in our prime.
7.17.2006 10:00am
JosephSlater (mail):
A hearty second for "16 Military Wives" by the Decembrists; I was kicking myself for leaving that off my first post.
7.17.2006 12:13pm
Cityduck (mail):
John Fogerty wrote two of the best protest songs ever:

Fortunate Son against the Vietnam War and Deja Vu against the Iraq War.
7.18.2006 1:23pm
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
Nerina Pallot's "Everybody's Gone to War" hit #14 on the UK charts two months ago and got a lot of play on pop radio.

Agreed that CCR's "Fortunate Son" is one of the great anti-draft songs. I thought Springsteen's single "The Rising" was a pretty good anthem for New York City after 9/11.
7.18.2006 3:39pm