Just after America decided that war was the answer to terrorism, Thurston sent me a tiny little jpeg–a thick black outline on aged, cream-colored newsprint surrounding a single word set in Gil Sans–“PROTEST.” He wanted to start a record label that sold nothing and acted solely as a curated platform to support dissent in the form of song. He put the word out that we were looking for tracks with which to build our downloadable mixes. The call exploded with molotov urgency in the pre-blogosphere web.
We bought the domain for protest-records.com. I drew a bunch of stencils that we would link to and I built up a quick and simple site. Thurston sifted through the submissions and together we made playlists. The site was a hit. People were writing protest music, listening to protest music, playing previously unknown artists’ work on the radio–it was nuts. All of the voices were congregating in these playlists and speaking to individual concerns with unique, personal vernaculars. For at least the total duration of the tracks available on the site, it felt like you could suspend your disbelief just long enough to garner a glimpse of hope just off of the crest of the shitstorm that would come breaking down upon us, in seemingly endless slow-motion, to this very second.
The problem with reviving dormant phenomena is that you soon come to realize why so many forms of expression are cyclical. Someone sent me a pretty simple email with a few questions about protest-records and dissent the other day. I wrote an honest, meandering reply.
Basically, this country deserves neither democracy nor freedom, cos we’re all just a bunch of agenda-driven whiners with no interest in bridging divides or sacrificing for the greater good. We’re hardly even interested in examining what exactly “the greater good” means. My reply to the email is below. I guess I put it out there as a sort of challenge. Who’s got what it takes to really bring America together to collectively tell our government what they’d damn-well better give us? Who’s got that Fred Hampton desire to walk on up to the front door of the Whitehouse and announce herself with, “This is a stick-up, motherfucker! We come fo’ what’s ours.” My guess is… nobody.
It’s hard to say. It’s obvious that people are angry–I’m just not sure they really know why anymore. As attention spans wane and the number of potential social, political and economic irritants multiply, it’s difficult to say–with any degree of confidence–that people aren’t just jumping on the first annoyance they educate themselves about.
I stopped updating the site a while ago because of that. It just felt like people were boarding another genre bandwagon–the lyrics were all getting samey. The music was multigenerationally xeroxed and beginning to lose the definition that artists like the fugs, Pete Seger, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, crass, the Dead Kennedys, Bodycount, Rage Against the Machine, fugazi, Bikini Kill, Kimya Dawson and so many others had brought to the table.
I have a hard drive full of submissions. It’s just difficult for me to decide how to shape any sort of context from them. I need to make some playlists to share with Thurston and instigate some sort of dialogue about it. I’ve been meaning to for a while.
Though hardly a musician, my fundamental gripe is that what this country is selling as democracy–is not democracy. The system needs to be scrapped and re-built as it was envisioned during the American Revolution. We need a new revolutionary democracy. It’s easy to say that, but damn near impossible to do anything about it. The systems that exist to counter any sort of revolution have metastasized, mutated and bulked up to the degree where overthrowing them is more or less a pipe dream without the most remote of opportunities for success. The leadership, organization, focus and determination simply do not exist to do much of any consequence beyond the partisan, trite, laughable, polarizing and stereotypical “dissent” that United for Peace and Justice, ANSWER, moveon.org and worldcantwait have taken to endorsing.
Change is, and has always been, only possible through unity.
I’m not really getting any songs about that. Obama, Hillary, McCain–none of them will notably change a thing, yet I’m mailed advertune after advertune praising the empty rhetoric of someone or another. Politicians don’t want to end plutocracy and empower Americans with direct democracy–it’s simply not in their interests. War? OK. Go for it. Write another anti-war song. Maybe you’ll explore a concept that’s not yet been euthanized on that beltway track. Hegemony? Sing that tune. Maybe you’ll find an as of yet unplucked key. These songs have all been sung before. Dissent is healthy, but there’s a point at which the choir tires of the reverberation and wants to see a fucking miracle or burn the damn church down.
Or, as is the case in contemporary America, they just angrily acquiesce and watch as the preachers stand there, conducting in some imaginary and illegitimate semaphore–status quo in hand–dragging, shoving and shuffling the lot around but keeping it always on a tight leash, never out of reach. That pseudo-active state of stagnation has been the bureaucratic disaster that America buys and sells as democracy for as long as Americans have provided a market for it.