Video: All the news that’s fit to sing
irishtimes.com features the first of a series of online ‘musical columns’. Temper-Mental MissElayneous, Doctor Millar and other songwriters will sing about Ireland and its crises, to rekindle the social fire at the heart of music
“I think that people have slipped into feeling that music is fun but that it doesn’t represent something bigger,” says Lynskey. “It’s no longer seen as a gateway into a different understanding of culture in the way that so many bands used to be for young people. I can’t imagine anyone watching Kings of Leon or Arctic Monkeys or Mumford and Sons and thinking, Oh my God, life is bigger and stranger than I imagined it to be.”
Jeffrey Lewis, who peppers his set with polemics from the anarchist band Crass and musical histories of communism, the French Revolution and the life of Barack Obama, still believes in the power of politically informed songwriting. “Songs ask the least of an audience. To read something or watch a film requires time, but a song is three minutes long. You can wash the dishes and listen. It slots into your day very easily. We’re listening to music right now while having this conversation,” he says, referring to the fact that we’re in a noisy cafe.
“If everyone here was experiencing this music as a written essay they’d have to concentrate and focus and not engage in conversation. Music can communicate a world view. People can use a song to internalise that world view. A good song can shift people’s perception . . . The sad thing is that those with the cultural power, the really talented high-level artists, don’t infuse their work with a social message. I mean, imagine if Eminem made a great song about Planned Parenthood.”
Dorian Lynskey uses his 33 Revolutions blog to document the work of socially engaged musicians who come to his attention – most recently the jailed Tunisian rapper Weld El 15 – and he is a little more optimistic about the future of the protest song than he was a few years ago. He points towards the imprisoned Russian punk band Pussy Riot. “It’s interesting they chose that form of protest,” he says. “In a way the songs are almost the least of their appeal, but they could have done something else. Instead they choose to be a band. With all these other options they thought that the song was the best form to get across their ideas.”
Rebels with a cause: a protest songbook
This Land Is Your Land: a left-wing riposte to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America, Woody Guthrie’s often-excised third verse goes: “Was a high wall there that tried stop me, a sign was painted said Private Property, but on the back side it didn’t say nothing – this land was made for you and me.”