It is amusing to hear the rancor of aged, irrelevant right wing pundits critical of the Super Bowl performance of Beyonce! It is as though they grew up without a clue about how the world changed as their generation lent their voices.
Some of the most touching and inspirational moments that unfolded in my generation were prompted by protests as we cried through the turmoil of the Vietnam War, lived through the fallacy of the War on Drugs, consoled countless veterans returning from two mideast wars, and now watch our children suffer through gun violence and police shootings.
Every generation gets stronger in how they voice their protests simply because change is slow and new ways of prompting change is part of social evolution. Sam Cooke in 1963 sang, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” but if you look back to 1963, issues that were present then are still present today. Racism, foreign wars, income inequality and struggles with police in the streets…still here!
In 1970 when Gil Scott Heron sang, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and 19 years later when Public Enemy chanted, “Fight The Power,” these songs were the expressions of two generations, voices protesting the lack of social progress weighing heavily on the American psyche. Meanwhile Marvin Gaye was set to release his suite of timeless protest melodies, “What’s Going On?”
Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” was first sung in 1939 as racial lynchings in the South reached their peak and re-recorded by Nina Simone in 1965. Throughout the civil rights movement the artistry of Nina Simone was iconic of the struggles in the streets and Billie Holiday even now, represents the suffering of the black experience in America.
Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” was a protest song written and performed in 1975 in support of Rubin Hurricane Carter, the New Jersey boxer believed to be convicted of triple homicide based on racism and profiling. Many Dylan fans consider Hurricane to be one of his greatest songs, let alone a protest song.
The shooting on the Kent State Campus in 1970, where 4 students were killed and nine others wounded by national guardsmen, prompted Crosby Stills, Nash and Young to write and perform the powerful protest song, “Ohio.”
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong was up front in telling the music world that “Holiday” was a sharp stick in the eye of the U.S. conservative establishment that put us in an Iraq war and pit poor people against poor people.
In the wake of the failures of grand juries to produce a “true bill” in the police deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, Questlove took to Instagram to call for more protest music.
“We need new Dylans. New Public Enemys. New Simones. New De La Roachas. New ideas!” he wrote. “I mean real stories. Real narratives. Songs with spirit in them. Songs with solutions. Songs with questions. Protest songs don’t have to be boring or non danceable or ready-made for the next Olympics. They just have to speak truth.”
Art is the most compelling way to affect change non-violently. Art moves us to think, to reflect. Art moves us to tears, moves us to action. So in this 24 hour spin cycle world if the conservative right has to make up issues such as Beyonce “attacking the police” and glorifying Malcolm X or The Black Panthers, reflect on the fears borne out of a failure to effect real change. Think about the issues that gave rise to that performance and the consequences of dismissing the message. Beyonce’s performance is not what should be feared. America’s headlong social retreat down a callously conservative rabbit hole the real issue here.
“Fight the power” single by Public Enemy from the album ‘Do the Right Thing and Fear of a Black Planet’