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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Protest and change flow through mainstream music

    The times, they’re changing.

    It began with Sen. Barack Obama’s “”change we can believe in”” slogan, and later Sen. John McCain followed suit. The Republican presidential nominee told the Republican National Convention on Sept. 4 that “”change is coming”” and “”you can count on it.””

    Carlos Arzate begged for it.

    The lead singer of Tucson band American Android, Arzate cited the fascination with celebrity, the effects of popular culture, the sagging economy, the military-industrial complex, the war in Iraq and more as his gripes with America.

    Listen to Arzate sing and the urgency in his voice is amplified. In “”Take My Place,”” his rich voice leaps over notes while the rest of American Android’s sound is as tumultuous as the current state of affairs.

    “”When the walls come crashing down, we’ll stand tall upon this Earth! Forging our way through the muck and the mire we won’t fail!””

    In American Android’s songs, Arzate deals with many of the issues he listed on the patio at Zachary’s Pizza: abortion, apathy and, of course, change.

    American Android is part of the new landscape of online music and the resurgence of music with political messages, music ranging from grassroots to mainstream.

    “”The Internet is completely changing the way we listen to music,”” said Brian Moon, an adjunct assistant professor at the School of Music. He teaches Music 109, Rock and American Popular Music.

    “”It used to be the big artist got the most promotion and backing,”” Moon said. “”But now, because of the Internet, people are aware of music nobody else really knows.””

    Amy Chizmeshya, a pre-business freshman, learned this when she stumbled on Brendan James’ MySpace music page. “”Hero’s Song”” is one of five songs on his page and has over 2.2 million listens. The song is a tribute to the American soldiers serving in Iraq and a cry against leaders sending people to fight. Chizmeshya friended James immediately.

    No one will ever understand why thousands of beautiful, healthy, young statues must fall.

    “”The lyrics were moving and so was the message,”” Chizmeshya said.

    Arzate and American Android also carved a niche through MySpace. The social networking Web site partnered with Rock the Vote this summer for a music contest called “”DemROCKracy”” that required participating bands to register voters. The grand prize was a performance at the Democratic National Convention. That didn’t happen. Rock the Vote switched the venue to Ballot Bash ’08 – and it doesn’t appear a grand-prize winner was ever announced.

    American Android finished the first round in the top four after registering 76 voters, Arzate said. But the second round was the band’s end. Even with the early exit, American Android beat out more than 3,000 other bands and bolstered their profile while tacking up more views to their MySpace page. More than 24,000 people have viewed the band’s page since 2006 and 802 MySpace members have friended the band.

    “”The cool thing about our crowd right now is that the really honest people who are tired of BS . . . you can have an actual conversation with,”” Arzate said.

    This demand for a new reality isn’t limited to a band on the fringe. Political music is back at the forefront of consciousness, popping up along the entire spectrum of celebrity. Even Coldplay, a band with 26 million more MySpace views than American Android, is voicing its concerns – or at least lead singer Chris Martin is.

    “”It’s like when are we going to learn?”” Martin asked Rolling Stone in the June 26 issue.

    Martin also spoke of the hope Obama provides and the bleak future if we don’t change our ways, a view he injected into Coldplay’s recent album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends.

    Martin’s attacks were subtle. He concocted symbols: a fox for Fox News and “”Death and All His Friends”” for the Bush Administration. He then painted a picture of a desolate world where false idols are erected and the only chance for freedom is escapism.

    And I discovered that my castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.

    Next, enter Ludacris and his song “”Politics (Obama is Here).””

    You can’t stop what’s ’bout to happen; we ’bout to make history.

    Ludacris then turns the commander-in-chief’s chair into a wheelchair for a paraplegic McCain and calls President George W. Bush “”mentally handicapped.””

    Jarvis Cocker dedicated a song to the Bush administration at this summer’s Pitchfork Music Festival. The song was “”Cunts Are Still Running the World.””

    Not everyone is listening to the messages, no matter the language used.

    “”It’s more about the beat, for me,”” said Breeynn Johnson, a communications senior.

    Johnson said The Format and The Hush Sound are on heavy rotation in her car.

    “”I want to listen to something that makes me want to dance,”” Johnson said. “”I dance a lot in my car.””

    There is an audience willing to listen, though, and music with a message is finding more reasons to exist than the impending presidential election.

    The idea that a larger consumer market, seen in the higher registration of voters between ages 18 and 25, allows for more politically-motivated music and artists is one possibility, Moon said. People in their late-teens to mid-20s purchase the second-greatest amount of music, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

    “”I could see how a label would promote a song (with a political message) now, rather than bury it on an album or not release it at all,”” Moon said.

    But both Moon and Arzate agree on the overriding reason for political music – it’s the economy, stupid.

    Although artists have put out songs with illustrative and abrasive moments, none compare to the call for death that is in the last stanza of Bob Dylan’s “”Masters of War.””

    And I hope that you die. And your death’ll come soon.

    Dylan put the song on his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan that came on the heels of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s coinage of the “”military-industrial complex”” and the Vietnam War.

    The song also appeared in a decade defined by folk music’s ability to embody the counterculture – a decade that is considered the peak of message-driven music.

    Moon traced protest music back to the hymnals sung by slaves in early American fields to the folk revival in the ’50s with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. A decade later, Bob Dylan took the folk reins. And even when Dylan found religion, and the folk movement and counterculture passed away, politically charged music stayed, Moon said.

    Protest tunes crept through the late ’70s and into the ’80s with Marvin Gaye’s “”What’s Goin’ On”” and Billy Joel’s “”Allentown.”” Hip-hop directed much of the public discourse through the ’90s. And protest music is here again, coming from a mix of genres and a mix of notorieties.

    “”There’s always a cycle of protest songs,”” Moon said. “”It’s whether or not you’re paying attention.””

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