The last full decade.
How are we holding up?
I hope you're doing better than I am.
You probably really want to hear about my physics test.
Look at you, taking an interest in me.
9.5 out of 39.
This is something of a protest song, I guess.
Let's talk about that a bit, but let's use 60s protest rock as our starting point.
It is both the solution and the problem. It is the solution because it is the purest and most innocent form of protest music that exists in our collective memory. It is the problem because it provides the context for nearly every piece of popular protest music that has followed it, and that context is now mind-numbing.*
*If you can't follow the above paragraph, please don't bother reading any further, because I do not plan to make my argument any more intelligible than the above. Save editing for senior theses.
The EMF/New Alliance complex that houses my studio is sort of the stoner rock nexus of Boston. I spend a good amount of downtime in the lounge next door to my room listening to records and trying to pretend that my self-imposed deadlines don't exist. A good majority of the music I listen to in that room is 60s guitar rock. Some of this is protest rock. I was listening to something the other day - I don't recall just what it is, but it's irrelevant to the discussion, really - and I remember thinking this music cannot happen again and being really impressed with myself for discovering such a pseudo-intellectual West Indies. My main points were:
1. Recording has changed. No matter how throwback your production methods are, you can't throw them back far enough.
The simple fact of digital recording alters the recording as a means to preserve a song for posterity. For instance, I can do a few vocal takes and then search through my playlist for little glitches in my vocal delivery that I think make my songs more interesting, more human, or just plain weird. I often do this. Bands who went straight to tape lived with flubs, too, but in a fundamentally different way. I can search for mistakes that humanize my pieces, but I can choose to exclude them. It's a stylistic choice based on an outdated mode of recording.
1a. You could always do like Jack White and record everything to tape, and then note explicitly in your liner notes that you recorded everything to tape, but do you see what you would be doing? It would still be a stylistic choice, and you would seem kind of pompous.
2. The innocence. Rock was still pretty new then. Rage against the government for an unjust war was either new or obscured by two horrific World Wars. Above-ground drug culture was new. LSD was brand-fucking new. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procul Harum is a sincere account of a mirror actually talking to a chair in someone's mind. Nowadays, anyone with a guitar and a sense of rock history can write songs that evoke a generic drug experience. The LSD trip is an instantly recallable trope. It's a maiden trapped in a tower, guarded by a dragon. It's a buddy cop flick featuring racially mismatched protagonists. Same goes for the left-leaning imagery that has long accompanied protest music. Che Guevara is less an historic icon of the Latin American left and more a concise way to describe a specific photo treatment that makes efficient use of negative space.
I'm going to stop here.
The short way to put this is to say "postmodernism happened," and I think I'm a pretty postmodern guy.
I guess the real question to ask is: how do you express political discontent while addressing a public that is numbed to the language of protest? How do you do it in a medium that is tired of carrying that message? What do you say when everyone knows what you're going to say already?
These questions are especially vexing as the lovefest for Woodstock and 1968 continues to be shoved up our asses by our parents,* most of whom it just so happens went on to wage a whole crap of a lot of war in our name. Now we're on the cusp of getting control of the country and turning into the fucker-uppers ourselves, and I for one still cannot get a grasp for any new language of protest.
* And it's not over. Not by a longshot. Just wait until 2019, when the 50th anniversary of Woodstock rolls around. By that time it will have reached "Greatest Generation" fever pitch.
I don't have any answers to these questions, but they make me hesitant to attempt to write songs that would go in the "political" pile. This song, especially, while stubbornly competent, owes too much to early-90s underground rap to stand out in any huge way. I like my dumb head-bangers better, anyway.
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Song Details: Mixed by Phil Gorey. Mastered by Rob Gonella at New Alliance East, Cambridge MA.