Protest Music pt. 1

With recent events where Fascists are making their presence more known in the United States, I’ve decided to push forward part one of two about protest songs. This will not be a comprehensive history by any means, but will focus on some artists and songs that have made an impact on me. I’ve listened to protest music for my entire life. I grew up with a mother who was active in the civil rights and anti-poverty movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s so protest music was never “protest music” it was just “music”. As I got older and started to determine my own music preferences, I gravitated towards socially aware music (primarily from the UK). As an adult I spend a lot of time listening to this type of music, both new and old.

In the United States, protest music can easily be traced back to the time of the Revolutionary War. Later, it was prominent during the Civil War, in regards to both the military fight, but it also was present in the “spirituals” or songs sung by the African slaves. In the early 20th Century many protest songs were born from the labor movement (e.g. “The Preacher and the Slave” by Joe Hill)

In the 1930’s and 1940’s songs dealt with labor issues, but also addressed the dark past of the United States (“Strange Fruit” as performed by Billie Holiday)

and “Joe Hill” as sung by Paul Robeson (who was also persecuted for his left-leaning political beliefs)

Another prominent singer who addressed both racial injustice and economic inequality was Lead Belly. One of his more well-known songs is the very catchy “Bourgeois Blues”

While there were many protest singers in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, there are two who are arguably the most prolific and still currently widely recognized. These two individuals, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, carried the folk protest flag from the 1930’s all the way until the 2000’s with the passing of Seeger. There songs, like those before them, often dealt with labor issues and economic inequality, but also were directly aimed at issues of their time. One such song, “All You Fascists Bound To Lose” was directed at the rise of Fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

 

Guthrie is most well known for a song that is now (ironically enough) often sung as a very patriotic song, “This Land is Your Land”

Pete Seeger will figure more in the next edition, along with many of the singers from the 1960’s.

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My City, My Heart

 

I have lived in Las Vegas for more than a decade. I was not born here, but I fell in love with this place shortly after I moved here. This is my home. I choose to live here, and I am not sure I will ever leave. The last few days have been such a surreal experience that is tough to put into words. I want to have words for it, but I just cannot get there…yet. I know I’ve been sharing some sad songs, and while the sentiment I want to share now may seem sad, its more of a love for my home. When I say Home Means Nevada, I mean it. This post is an ode to my home.

“Home Means Nevada” as performed by The Killers

 

“Viva Las Vegas” as performed by The Killers

“Vegas Lights” by Panic! At The Disco

“A Shot at The Night” by The Killers

 

“Its Time” (and more) by Imagine Dragons

“I don’t ever want to let you down, I don’t ever want to leave this town, cuz after all the city never sleeps at night”

I Hear You Like Sad Songs…

Ok, maybe you do not, but I do. As mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been listening to a lot of melancholy or “sad” music lately. Its not quite dark or emo, but its not “happy”. The exceptions have been for those bands who I’ve seen over the last few weeks.

There has been some amazing sad music come out in the last few months. One of the albums I was most looking forward to is the first release from Phoebe Bridgers, a singer-songwriter based in LA. I first heard her through a Spotify list. The song that hooked me, “Georgia” is haunting, simple and beautiful. After the release of her first album Stranger in the Alps I was able to experience more of the emotion that filled her songs. The song that first struck me (and still continues to) is “Funeral”. I quite appreciate this very understated live performance.

I’ve listened to Seattle based singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen on and off for the last few years. I first heard him as a recommendation from Spotify based upon my listening to his friend and fellow emotional singer David Ramirez. While not from his most recent release, White Noise, “First Defeat” has been a constant the last few weeks. It is another raw and heartbreaking song.

We are going to go way back with this last song. As a teenager I loved Radiohead. I loved all things BritRock. Other than electronic music and gangster rap, I was not a fan of the American drivel (my how the times have changed). Radiohead had a lot of sad songs early on and one of my favorites was “Fake Plastic Trees” from The Bends which in my opinion is the 2nd best Radiohead album. Second only to Ok Computer which defined much of my late teen years. Here is “Fake Plastic Trees”:

David Ramirez: An Introduction

While I’ve been listening to him for a couple years now, this week I’ve really been getting acquainted with the work of Texas bred singer/songwriter David Ramirez over the last couple of weeks.  As I’ve been reading more about him, it is clear that the reasons I enjoy him are pretty widely shared by his fan base. He writes and sings about real life. Plain and simple. Each and every one of us who has lived any part of life can relate intimately to his lyrics. I’ve found many comments online about his work, but the one I keep going back to is an article published last week by Vivian Nunez, “I want the love that’s found in ‘Bad Days’  . While this specific article goes a bit deeper into the love that Ramirez discusses in “The Bad Days” it clearly illustrates the connection that a listener has to his music.

When I was thinking about writing this post, it became really difficult to choose just a few songs to feature. It changed about every day or so as I was thinking of this. So I am go with those that I am feeling today.

As referenced above, “The Bad Days”, is a song about real life love. This isn’t a fairytale love that exists in pop songs and movies:

“There are gonna be days when the love is so thin

The days are a game that we just can’t win

There are gonna be days you might want to be free

There are gonna be days that you hate me

But hold on strong

Don’t let go

We’ll carry on I know we can find a way

Cause you’re still my girl in the bad days”

These words hit me every single time I listen to this song. This is the real love. I’ve been fortunate to see this type of love in both my parents and grandparents. It’s not easy. But the good days outweigh the bad days.  I think this is why Ramirez speaks to me. He sings songs about real life.

In a similar vein, “Shoeboxes” describes finding items from a past love. There is no doubt in my mind that Ramirez has experienced this situation in order to have written these types of lyrics:  

“So I suppose you’ll be in every song I sing

If not written in my words, you’ll be hidden in these strings

Cuz how could I ever forget my first love

My first woman, first truth, first child from above

But why do I hang onto your pictures

Why have I not just thrown out that dress

Cuz it kills me to see you, but it kills me not to

It kills me to remember, oh and it kills me to forget”

I am sure there are hundreds of thousands of people who can relate to  this, but listening to this song it is like he wrote it just for me as it speaks directly to experiences I’ve also had. Ramirez writes songs that are not just his…they are also the songs of the listener.

The song “An Introduction” has the same autobiographical stance, but is different both topically and musically from the previous two songs. In this song, Ramirez is found having a spiritual crisis, which is something I would believe most of us can relate to.

“My biggest fear in the world

Is introducing myself in the grave

After all my years living free

I don’t have much to say

Oh the longer I live the more I know I’m gonna die

And the more questions I have the less I want to try

Time was winning so many times I stopped keeping score

Tell me where to find the Lord”

I’ve never been one to listen to to music and not listen to the lyrics. So perhaps that is where my mind has been it over the last couple weeks that Ramirez has been on constant rotation.

Lyrics and Music

I am a sucker for lyrics. I love the music in a song, don’t get me wrong. The melody, the structure, unique instrumentation…but lyrics are what I come back to. Like anything in life, it is not universal, but I pay attention to what the song  is saying, and often will fall in love with a song just based upon lyrics alone. For this entry into the Sandy Beats, I am going to highlight a few songs with lyrics that have particularly struck me.

First up is a new song. I don’t have the confidence that @Begt has listened to this song as she  tends to avoid the subject when I bring it up…Folk Trio The Lumineers hit it big a few years back with “Ho Hey”. The song was everywhere. Just this year they released their first two singles from their forthcoming Cleopatra. The first single released “Ophelia” made me forget that we had been waiting almost 4 years for a new song. Their second single, the namesake for the album, “Cleopatra” has made it clear to me that the 4 years was worth it.

The lyrics that are particularly impactful for me are near the end of the song:

“But I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time

And the only gifts from my Lord were a birth and a divorce
But I’ve read this script and the costume fits, so I’ll play my part”

I am not one to interpret lyrics as I think they mean something different to the listener, so there you have it.

As you may have noticed from my first post of the year, the band I am listening to the most so far in 2016 is The Strumbellas . Their lyrics just hit me. Their second single off of the forthcoming Hope is no different. In “Shovels and Dirt” the Strumbellas once again address mortality with the lyrics:

” Well it ain’t worth living if you don’t get hurt

I got a head full of darkness and darkness is good

cuz’ if we all die young and the we don’t get hurt”

Finally, NYC based Sharon Van Etten has proven to be a good soundtrack for me for the last few years. One of the songs from Tramp called “We Are Fine” has been one of my favorites since I first heard it.

“It’s okay to feel
Everything is real
Nothing left to steal
‘Cause we’re alright, we’re alright”

I’ve listened to a few live versions as well as the recorded version many times. Her emotion seems to come out each and every time.

What are some of your favorite lyrics?

The Feels

Music is my outlet. It has been that way for a while. There are emotions that are much better felt with music accompanying them. I had thought about titling this post “Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness” but lets be real, I am nowhere near emo enough to use a Smashing Pumpkins title for this post. I mean, I love the Pumpkins as much as the next guy who was in high school in the 1990’s, but I am a grown ass man now, so I won’t use such titles.

However, I don’t want to let you believe that there isn’t some “emo” in the post…but I’ll let the music speak for itself.

In listening to artists for the upcoming LouFest 2015 I found myself gravitating to Strand of Oaks. His music is a bit more “rock-ish” than I often listen to…but his lyrics drew me in. His lyrics on his newest record HEAL are very introspective and relate back to his personal struggles over the past few years that this amazing article from Spin outline. After spending some time with Strand of Oaks and the record HEAL, this went from a “I’ll see SOO if the timing works out at LouFest” to “Unless he’s up against Brandon Flowers I am seeing this man perform”.

I love the entire record HEAL, so it is hard to figure out what song to play, but “Shut In” wins.

I greatly slowed down my show going over the last few months. I needed to take more time for life. I had a list of shows I was considering, and knew that I wouldn’t make some. However, there was one show I couldn’t miss. After years (literally) of @begt raving about the John Butler Trio, I had to go see this band when they came through Las Vegas. I don’t know if they had ever performed here, so I didn’t want to miss out. The crowd was spectacular. Each time I go to a show that caters to a more hippy crowd, I am surprised to see the people come out of the wood work in Las Vegas. I am sure many came in for the show, but it is always good to see these people are around. I loved the entire show, each song was great and John Butler is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen. There was one song in particular which took me to another world. I think @begt texted me during the show saying that this song can change your life. I will say that I’ve divided my concert going life into two parts. Before I heard “Ocean” performed live, and after.

Here is “Ocean” from the Live at Red Rocks DVD (seeing him and Red Rocks would be amazing).

I am not sure how I stumbled upon AURORA, a Norwegian singer. Her songs are all very haunting as her voice is very ethereal. Her songs also tell a heck of a story. Here is “Awakening” from Running with The Wolves”. 

My favorite album of 2015 (so far) is Of Monsters and Men’s Beneath the Skin. It is my opinion that this record is leaps and bounds better than their first (which I also quite enjoyed). The lyrics have matured significantly and the music has become a bit more complex (while still maintaining the OMAM sound). I enjoy each song from the record, but my favorite is “Hunger”. They lyrics are devastatingly real.

Here is “Hunger”:

There is enough of the feelings for one post. Stay tuned for LouFest previews coming soon.