Need a Revolution


By the time you read this – barring a miracle; trust me, I am praying for one – Donald Trump will soon be sworn in as president. John F. Kennedy popularized the quote: “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” But at this juncture I wish to flip that around.

There are many to blame for this nation electing a fascistic psychopath to the highest office in the land (myself included). But in a time that follows what had been in years earlier my annual year-end overview of political music, now suspended for a few years due to no notable content to offer, I must take issue with how the music community failed America in the 2016 election year and those that preceded it.

Yeah, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi showed up at a Clinton rally the night before the election. Must give props to the latter for putting his money where hungry mouths are and starting two food kitchens for those in need in his home state of New Jersey. The former has always championed the dispossessed in song.

Beyonce also came on in the final weeks of the election for Clinton, as did Lady Gaga. But it was all way too little way too late. And the problem has been there for years.

Back in the 1960s, political and social commentary were part and parcel of musical entertainment, commenting on and contributing to the zeitgeist. The Rolling Stones gave us “Street Fighting Man” as the protests against the war in Vietnam were raging. The Beatles recorded “Revolution,” on which John Lennon famously sang, “When you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out ... in,” capturing the pressing issue of the day: whether to rebel of not.

The Jefferson Airplane offered “Volunteers,” singing, “Look what’s happening out in the streets/Got a revolution (got to revolution).” When four students at a Kent State University demonstration were shot by National Guardsmen in May of 1970, Neil Young quickly wrote the song “Ohio.” He gathered together his bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash some three weeks later to record it. The song was rush released and even reached #14 on the pop charts. Hard to ever imagine that happening today.

Rockers were at the vanguard of topical music back then, but soul and folk artists were also part of the movement. Where were they all last year?

One can identify many possible reasons why political music has all but died, as I have written about here for years now. The times and society have changed. We live in a far more self-involved era. The decline of the record industry has meant that musical artists have far less of position of financial security from which they can comfortably comment.

And just as those who may blame the media for Trump’s election must accept the fact that the public and what they read and consume is a tail that wags the dog, combined with TV news shifting from being a loss-leader that serves the public good to a profit-oriented endeavor, the musical audience must share some blame for the lack of artistry that effectively addresses the state of the nation and the world.

Quite a few music fans simply don’t want political content in their entertainment. And take a listen to today’s pop music that does sell – if you can stand it, for the most part – and what you hear is indulgent and escapist.

Will the now pressing matter of what comedian and “Real Time” host Bill Maher rightly identified as a long-term right-wing coup in his last show before Election Day kickstart a new political musical movement? I don’t see much hope for that, but I can certainly wish that the music community becomes part of a movement of resistance against Trumpism. Only time will tell.

Populist Picks

CD: Fingers Crossed by Ian Hunter & The Rant Band – The classic rock artists of the 1960s and ‘70s have nearly all passed their creative prime. But the wonderful exception to the rule is former Mott the Hoople lead singer Hunter, who has now made five new albums over the last 15 years that are all excellent. If you value superb songwriting fleshed out by a rocking band, look no further.

TV Documentary: Tesla – The inventor of alternating current that made the electronic revolution possible was a famed public figure in his day whose innovations enabled radio and more. His life story is one that goes from triumph and renown to failure and obscurity. He’s been rediscovered in recent years – witness the electric car company that bears his name – and Sean Penn has been trying to make a movie about the eccentric genius. If you aren’t yet acquainted with Tesla, this American Experience episode is a good place to start.

Web Publication: Music – I’m proud to be writing for what’s the best rock music site on the Internet where some of the finest rock music journalists offer smart and incisive long-form looks at musical artists from the famed to obscure and overlooked. If you enjoy England’s Mojo magazine, the best print music publication today, dive into this site.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2017

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