Remember Open Mic? It’s a feature we sometimes do at Pigeons & Planes, and it’s back. The idea is what it sounds like: we hand over the reigns to readers and let them speak up. Our latest contribution comes from Genevieve Parker, a 22-year-old who seems like a bit of a hippie and admits that she’s a little old fashioned. She’s got a BA in English literature and 170 gigabytes of music on her external hard drive.
Songs to Mount a Revolution
I’m Gen. I must explain, briefly, that besides being a writer, I also intern at an environmental nonprofit organization and a yoga center; and between the three endeavors—oh, and gardening in the back yard, and playing with my corn snake—I’m living my dream. This is a scary thing for me to admit, just because it seems so unlikely. Never mind that I haven’t acquired a single cent since graduating from college, you know?
Looming student debt aside, I’m feeling like the system’s really served and prepared me pretty well, because I might be poor, but I’m stoked on life! However, not everyone in the world, or America, or even from my community, has enjoyed the same good fortune. Understandably, some of them are pretty pissed off.
And so right now, there are people in dozens of cities camping, marching, and protesting under the call to “Occupy Wall Street.” It’s the latest in what has seemed to be a worldwide itch to unite and stand up against something, whatever it may be. It’s all part of the most rapidly rising trend of grassroots political organization since the 1960s. You may align yourself with one, some, or none of these groups, but I don’t think anyone would disagree: there is something irresistibly exciting and interesting about acts of rebellion.
Music has played an important role in social and political movements through the ages. The oldest known protest song is supposed to be from the British Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Protest songs have also been well-documented in various historical movements like abolition, women’s suffrage, labor, civil rights, anti-war, feminist, animal rights, vegetarianism and veganism, and environmentalism. In such a big, loud world, it’s hard to be heard as an individual, or even a group, without some kind of rallying call to get behind. As MLK once said, songs “invigorate the movement in a most significant way […] freedom songs serve to give unity to a movement.”
During this time of widespread social and political self-evaluation, it seems only right to also take some time to explore some contemporary (and a few throwback) melodies, beats, and lyrics that have the power to stir us up when we are feeling like rattling the cages and emancipating ourselves from the tyranny of the Man.
Bob Marley – “War”
Let us start, as many revolutions start, with a call for the awareness of injustices. I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than the words of Haile Selassie I, put to tune by Bob. There are so many good protest songs by Bob Marley, but “War” spells out every demand for equality in such a potent way. I doubt this is the song American topical singer Phil Ochs had in mind when he said, “a protest song is […] so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit,” but it’s what immediately came to my mind after reading that quote.
John Lennon – “Working Class Hero”
I am, I suppose, a Beatles purist, and don’t fuck much with John Lennon’s work outside of the group (besides, of course, “Give Peace a Chance”). Yes, “Revolution 1” is the obvious example to pull from Lennon & Co.’s body of work; it sounds so confident and it’s an excellent sing-along, but then there’s the uncertainty inherent in the line “count me out…in”.
“Working Class Hero,” on the other hand, was written in 1970, only a year after the Prague Spring was violently crushed, and the Unites States’ Summer of Love events had peaked and already begun to decline. This Dylanesque song will tug at the heartstrings, and I think it’s as relevant a vocalization of the grievances of protesters today as it was forty years ago.
Fugees – “The Mask”
This song makes me think of the Occupy crowd, as well. A lot of people talk about how they don’t have any specific demands or a plan of action, and that’s seen as a weakness. But I get a similar feeling from Wyclef, Lauryn, and Pras as they detail trials and abuses of working class blacks, hinting at an inevitable paradigm shift: “yeah, everybody wear the mask, but how long will it last?” Since vision is only 20/20 in hindsight, who can really say what is coming or what it will look like? Their delivery is oblique, but effective.
King Fantastic – “Why? Where? What?”
Some days, I’m fuckin’ mad, and there’s no specific reason. Then, I pipe King Fantastic through my headphones and go walking around town like I own the place until I feel better. It works every time, although I have to be honest and admit: I live in the suburbs, and so for every bonafide gangster I come across, I’ll see, like, twenty old ladies first. I wouldn’t play this at my rally, and I’m actually very much a pacifist, but what the hell? Unharnessed rage has its place, somewhere and sometimes.
Chemical Brothers ft. Q-Tip – “Galvanize”
This song is a real crowd-pleaser, which is always a good thing if you’re trying to organize and get folks involved. I really enjoy “Galvanize” because every single aspect of the song embodies its own message of release. It’s confident, risky, uninhibited, and, as it suggests, hard to hold back from. I know that “push the button” can easily be taken as a reference to launching a bomb, but I prefer to interpret that line metaphorically; that the possibility of our deaths should only encourage us to live more fully.
Kid Cudi – “REVOFEV”
Coming, as it does, off such a deeply introspective album (Man On the Moon II), “REVOFEV”—short for “Revolution of Evolution—without a doubt has to do with a personal awakening as much as a social movement. Actually, it’s a little creepy when Cudi repeatedly intones, “I’m your big brother.” Is he an altruistic paternal figure, or the more threatening Orwellian figure? Or is the omnipotent Big Brother about to be brought into “your” service as a result of this “solution?” Shit, Cudi, you got me. ”Still—“Wake up! I heard they found the solution. Where will you be for the revolution?”—that line alone gets this song a spot.
Cypress Hill – “Rise Up” (featuring Tom Morello)
I struggled picking just one song involving Rage Against the Machine, but I settled on this one because it leads with a newscast clip (classic), it’s got slick guitar licks and heavy drums that would sound sick played over some good-ass speakers in a large, open space, and also because it’s mothafucking Tom Morello and Cypress Hill! Teamwork results in the most fantastic of creations.
Groove Armada – “Suntoucher”
Don’t you feel empowered just grooving to this? Some say freedom is a state of mind; I quote the French writer, Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” I guess you might call it escapism, but reality is what you make it, and I guarantee, “Suntoucher” will make it alright.
YACHT – “Shangri-la”
And on that note, here’s my last offering. This number probably won’t fire you up in the same way as the others here, but it’s got a great message that it’s up to us to create our own Utopia. The hippy-dippy “Shangri-la-la-la-la-la” chorus makes me want to sit in a circle with some homies and just give our love to the universe. Oh, the power of love—you should never underestimate it! It’s what Jesus, Jimi, and Che were all about, and of all the good examples of rebels, some of the most effective were the great lovers.
It was really hard for me to narrow down ten revolutionary tunes; there are so many excellent jams to get pumped to! But in truth, the movement belongs rightfully to the people. And so, people, what’s the tune you’d turn on right as you start fixing to change the world? Today, the comment box doubles as a soapbox!