Music Notes September 2017

Waters defends BDS on “US-Them” tour


English rock-star Roger Waters is a longtime supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the government of Israel. His latest intervention was in mid-July, when he denounced the decision of U.K. band Radiohead to perform in Tel Aviv. Waters’s resolute pro-BDS stance has prompted some Israel supporters to threaten legal action against New York’s Nassau Coliseum, which has booked him for two September shows. The co-founder of Pink Floyd is in the midst of a five-month North American tour, dubbed “Us-Them”. It includes a series of Canadian dates: Toronto (October 2-3), Quebec (October 6), Ottawa (October 10), Montreal (October 16), Edmonton (October 24), and Vancouver (October 28). The “Us-Them” show features animated images of Donald Trump during the performance of Pink Floyd’s 1977 song “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”. The cartoon image vomits and transforms into Adolf Hitler giving a Nazi salute, beneath which projections of Trump’s misogynist and racist statements appear. Elsewhere in the show, a 20-foot-long, graffiti-covered helium pig, displaying the President’s face on its side, floats slowly through the crowd. Check out the video from Waters’s recent outdoor concert in Mexico City.


Mulligan’s quest for “protest songs”


There are lots of protest songs being written in Canada these days, but how many are being recorded and disseminated through mass media? West Coast radio personality Terry David Mulligan asked questions about protest music to a mostly-Canadian group of musicians on his July 8 show,”Mulligan Stew” (accessible on Soundcloud). Canadian musicians interviewed included Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, Joel Plaskett, and Ron Sexsmith. Several of their recordings were played. Fearing’s single, “Blowhard Nation”, is inspired by his outrage over the election of Trump. Likewise, Plaskett’s song, “Blank Cheque”, from the album Solidarity, was inspired by watching U.S. election results last November. But, in contrast to Fearing’s song, “Blank Cheque” is grounded in everyday images of resistance in Halifax. Sexsmith, a fine songwriter, confesses that he finds it hard to write political songs, but he’s hoping for a resistance that’s “beyond liberal and conservative”. Fearing and Linden then advise listeners that the job of musicians is to inspire people to realize that they have “the power to love”. Mulligan, taking their cue, plays “Let’s Frolic”, a good-time song they recorded with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. These are excellent songs, however thin they stretch one’s definition of protest. The problem is that Mulligan focuses exclusively on Trump, to the exclusion of the reactionary two-party plutocracy that governs the U.S. And he’s silent about conditions in Canada that might provoke people to write protest songs.


Save Bristol Bay songwriting contest


Undaunted by the wave of corporate greed and ignorance emanating from Washington, Alaska’s “Save Bristol Bay” coalition fights on. It’s more determined than ever to protect the region’s salmon, wildlife, and people from the threat of the proposed Pebble gold and copper mine, whose owners seek to lift environmental protections in a highly ecologically sensitive area. An important part of that struggle is Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay (MUPBB), foundedĀ in 2014 , and inspired by the outstanding activist musician and educator Si Kahn. Last month, MUPBB announced the winners of its international songwriting contest. Friends of Bristol Bay are invited to visit MUPBB’s website and explore the 90 original songs that were submitted. Recordings are available for purchase, including songs by contest winners Bonnie Nichols (“Little Pebbles”) and Susan Shann (“Price on Heaven”). There’s lots more, including songs by artists whose names readers may have noticed in this column over the years, like Si Kahn, Tret Fure, Tom Chapin, and David Rovics. Singer-activists can help the struggle by picking a favorite and including it in their repertoire. Visit:


Neil Young’s Fourth of July


Canadian rocker Neil Young chose the Fourth of July to release “Children of Destiny”, an alternative song for the U.S. Independence Day, recorded with rock band Promise of the Real plus a 56-piece orchestra. As of early August, it had reached a million views on YouTube. “Children of Destiny” calls upon Americans to resist the anti-democratic winds blowing across the country. The video’s mixed bag of images includes: patriotic scenes (4th of July barbecues and children waving the Stars and Stripes); a black and white flag that combines the well-known peace emblem with indigenous symbols; majestic mountains; video clips of peace, climate, and women’s rights demonstrations; images of refugees and child victims of bombing campaigns; waving wheat fields; and finally, schools of fish. Ya gotta love it! In a Fourth of July message accompanying the video Young writes: “Resist those who lash out against our positive message with violence, name-calling and negativity. We are concerned for our democracy, environment, and freedom. Nothing will ever stop us from standing up.” Check it out on YouTube, as well as a fascinating video of the recording session.


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