Protest Tunes They Are a Changin’

    This upsets me, especially because I’ve spent a lot of time listening to protest songs completely inapplicable to the issues of my generation. Take Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin’,” an anthem for the anti-establishment of the 1960s. Or “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke’s contribution to the civil rights movement. Or “London Calling,” Joe Strummer’s vision of an apocalyptic future, spurred by the paranoia of the Cold War.

    Sure, everyone can relate to issues of race, poverty and war. But these songs were also written out of a specific time that our generation can never replicate. We have no Vietnam, no civil rights movement, no Berlin Wall.

    Our generation is, as they say, “Generation Me.” We’re angry that our parents’ promises that we can be anything we want to be cannot, and will not, come true. We once thought we had total control of our destinies, and now we know only a small percent (the 1 percent, to be exact) hold the power. Our struggle is an entirely different kind of struggle from the kind that’s been seen before — and it’s a struggle that desperately needs its own soundtrack.

    So when I went to Occupy San Diego last month, I listened for the protest song that might come out of the movement that is definitively ours.

    But I heard nothing.

    There were drums as we walked through the Gaslamp chanting, “We are the 99 percent!” I heard a few guitars strumming in the camp. And I’m sure some people were grumbling the words to “Fuck Tha Police” as the threat of arrest grew.

    But I didn’t hear a real song until the clock drew close to midnight — the time the police had threatened to arrest people if they didn’t move their tents from Civic Center Plaza. The protestors made a circle of tents and filled them with those who were willing to be arrested for the cause. Another circle of people linking arms surrounded them, followed by a mixed crowd of dubious folk (me) who wanted
    to have an easy escape if the police did in fact show up. (They didn’t until the following morning.)

    In the midst of this tent cluster, there was one dirty hipster clumsily strumming his guitar and repeating the chorus — and only the chorus — to “Let It Be.” I kept waiting for him to pick it up and sing,
    “And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree/there will be an answer/let it be.” But instead he’d pause, inhale some more marijuana and then start all over again with “Let it be, let it be, let it be, oh let it be.”

    Which is, ironically, exactly what the Occupy movement doesn’t want, making it all the more obvious that we need some songs of our own.

    Musicians have visited the protests — Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine dropped by, and David Crosby and Graham Nash (sans Stills and Young) played for Occupy Wall Street — but as relics from previous decades, none have encapsulated the unique frustration at the core of the movement.

    See, there’s a thing all those classic protest songs have in common: The artists who wrote them were the young people in the frontlines — not the figures of a generation past.

    Unfortunately for us, we’ve heard our parents’ music our entire lives, making it hard to follow up the passion they sang about. So, cheesy as it sounds, I guess now it’s our turn to write our own songs.

    I don’t want something rooted in a specific anger (the Bush-bashing of Green Day’s “American Idiot,” for example), or clouded by oversized personas (Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “Made In America”). I want
    something transcendent. Something that’d make Bob Dylan proud.

    So I’m looking at you Bon Iver, Arcade Fire — hell, even Lady Gaga. Let’s one-up the hippies.

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