What would Phil Ochs do?: an open letter to today’s musicians
Posted On February 21, 2011
There has been a lot of talk here on No Depression on occasion discussing modern-day protest music. There are those who feel that there are many artists who are still giving back to society as a whole and still making relevant topical music, while others feel like the younger generation of musicians, and the younger generation in general, are apathetic towards all social and political issues. Regardless of your stance on this issue, some simple math settles it for good.
Tom Morello is in Wisconsin to support the protesters. Morello is one of my favorite musicians and anybody who has followed his career would expect him to be there. My question to all of the young musicians is this: why aren’t you with him? Let’s face the facts: Tom Morello is 46 years old. In two or three years his most popular work will be a staple of classic rock stations.
Chuck D, another artist who is rightfully hailed as one of the best contemporary political songwriters is 50. Billy Bragg? 53. Steve Earle? 56. Bruce Springsteen? 61, and too busy hanging out with Obama at the White House these days to care about the people who buy his records.
In 1985, at the age of 34, John Mellencamp wrote “Rain on the Scarecrow,” arguably his greatest song, and co-founded Farm Aid. He’s now 59 and still fighting on the side of working class Americans, but who’s going to fill his shoes? The other chairmen of Farm Aid range in age from 44 to 77. One of them is a 65-year-old Canadian who penned the best song about America’s war with Iraq. I love you, Neil, but that’s just a sad demonstration of how bad things have gotten.
For a while it looked like Obama might be the cure for this nation’s political apathy, but then he actually took office and proved himself to be the most disappointing politician in U.S. history (not the worst, but by far the most disappointing.)
“But wait,” you say, “isn’t Pete Seeger still making relevant music at 91?” Yes, he is, but that’s the exception that proves the rule. Woody Guthrie was unable to make music after the age of 44. Phil Ochs was dead at 35. Dylan wrote “Masters of War” at 22.
And what have you done? Made money off of the backs of working class people who buy your records, then refuse to give back to the community when they really need you. Workers in Wisconsin and Ohio are fighting for their rights, their jobs, and their families. Will The Black Keys, the famed duo from Akron, be showing up in Columbus tomorrow to help out or will they be playing to a roomful of hipsters in a club somewhere? That’s the big question to all of the artists out there: are you willing to lose a few fans to help the common good? Will you take a stand now or just wait until 2012 rolls around and appear in some sterile, meaningless Rock the Vote ad telling kids that all they have to do is turn off the XBox one day a year and go vote for somebody. The choice is yours, but as Bob Dylan said, “your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand.”
Hope to see you in Madison or Columbus.