With the ten year anniversary of the Iraq War coming up this month, I’ve been thinking some about the war’s legacy and specifically asking one question: Given the sizable opposition to the war, why were there no real notable protest songs about Iraq?
Of course, there were some protest songs, mainly from the traditionally political acts you’d expect to release antiwar songs: Neil Young, Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys, etc. But all these acts were long passed the peak of their relevance, and the songs were so predictable that they were greeted with little more than a shrug. There were some attempts by mainstream acts, like “Mosh” by Eminem, but nothing commensurate with controversy the war generated. Sadly, the most substantial political moment of the last decade in pop music probably involved the Dixie Chicks…
There are certainly a lot of reasons for this: the political apathy of the post-Baby Boomer generations, the corporatization of the music industry, the blandness of pop music in general, etc. But it’s also worth pointing out a simpler explanation: It’s hard to write a good protest song. Continue reading »
Grandma Simpson: How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?
Lisa: No, Dad, it’s a rhetorical question.
Homer: Rhetorical, eh? Eight!
—“Mother Simpson,” 1995
Like so many great lines of literature before it (“To be or not to be?” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” etc.), the refrain of Bob Dylan’s most famous song has become a cliché. The line—“How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?”—has become so commonplace and simple after nearly 50 years in the public consciousness that it is easy to laugh at the plainness of the sentiment.
Even at the time of its release, though, people were laughing at “Blowin’ in the Wind.” According to Bob Spitz, Dave Von Ronk, one of Dylan’s early mentors, had a pretty dismissive reaction to the song: “Jesus, Bobby—what an incredibly dumb song! I mean, what the hell is ‘blowing in the wind’?…I figured Bobby could grind out a tune like that on the worst day he ever had in his life.” Even Dylan himself would occasionally sound modest about the song, saying in 1966, “I was never satisfied with ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’ I wrote that in ten minutes. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ was a lucky classic song…but it was one-dimensional.”
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