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Sage Francis
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Anti-War songs face criticism from the LA Times. check this  Reply with quote  

With tough acts to follow, musicians tackle the war
Artists like the Beastie Boys, R.E.M. and more have come up short with their Iraqi war-inspired songs.

By Robert Hilburn, Times Staff Writer

"War ... what is it good for?" the late Edwin Starr asked in his 1970 hit single.

The famous answer: Absolutely nothing!

You could say the same about most of the Iraqi war-inspired songs that are circling us with the speed of the troops around Baghdad.

There was just a ripple of musical commentary after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, partly because the experience was so new for Americans that it was hard to know just what to say.

But war we know -- and musicians are responding.

The 24-hour cable watch had barely begun when pop-rock figures including the Beastie Boys, R.E.M. and Lenny Kravitz checked in on their Web sites with their views. The best that can be said about most of these songs is they remind us of how difficult it is to express political feelings effectively in pop music.

The new tunes take stands, but they lack the thoughtfulness and grace to be anything more than predictable sloganeering. Lacking the craft that made these artists successful in the first place, they sound like political speeches from campaigns past.

The most memorable protest music, from John Lennon's "Imagine" (a Top 10 single in 1971) to Starr's hit, steps beyond rhetoric to touch us in some special way.

With "Imagine" as with Bob Dylan's earlier "Blowin' in the Wind," there was the caress of the melody and the idealism of the words. Though they were political statements, both songs looked beyond headlines and politics to dream of a better world.

By contrast, "War," written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, invited us to dance. The lyrics were pointed -- "It ain't nothing but a heartbreaker / War / Friend only to the undertaker" -- and some embraced them. But the relentless beat and Starr's explosive vocal would have made the song a hit even if the lyrics went, "Peace, what is it good for?"

The song has enough lingering punch that grunge rockers Pearl Jam used it last week in concert to express their opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Trust me, there's little on the Internet that will make you either think or dance -- at least not the songs by the most high-profile artists.

Here's a survey of their offerings:

The Beastie Boys' "In a World

Gone Mad." This New York hip-hop/rock outfit showed social conscience in the '90s by sponsoring the inspired Tibetan Freedom Concert series, but this is a lazy mix of politics and playfulness. Sample line: "Now don't get us wrong 'cause we love America / But that's no reason to get hysterical / They're layin' on the syrup thick / We ain't waffles, we ain't havin' it."

If the goal is simply to go on record about the war, the Beasties and other artists could simply put a statement on the Web and then refer fans to truly memorable music. The referral here could have been to John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."

R.E.M.'s "The Final Straw." Even fans of this great band know Michael Stipe can sometimes be oblique, and he's never been more so than here. The song is a plea for forgiveness rather than revenge, but it seems adrift in space.

Better referral: the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."

Zack de la Rocha's "March of Death." With Rage Against the Machine, De La Rocha made some of the most politically charged music of the modern pop era, but his sense of outrage sometimes outdistances his artistry. The only thing promising here is the power of the music itself, a collaboration with DJ Shadow.

Referral: Dylan's "Masters of War."

Lenny Kravitz's "We Want

Peace." The inspiration here was in Kravitz's teaming with Kazem Al Sahir, a major pop figure in Iraq. Their song, however, is limp.

Better referral: Cat Stevens' "Peace Train."

John Mellencamp's "To Washington." This tale of political disillusion is a major step up, but it is so tied to the Woody Guthrie folk tradition that it ends up a bit anonymous.

Referral: Steve Earle's "Christmas in Washington."

The pro-invasion contingent comes chiefly from the country side of pop.

Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?" You don't have to search the Web for this tune because it's already a pop and country hit -- a companion piece, in a way, to Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." It's heavy on the corn: "Have you forgotten how it felt that day? To see your homeland under fire / And her people blown away."

Referral: Merle Haggard's "The Fightin' Side of Me."

Clint Black's "I Raq and I Roll."

The veteran country star certainly gets the nod for cleverest song title, but the tune itself (co-written by Hayden Nicholas) is full of macho bluster. "It might be a smart bomb / They find stupid people, too / And if you stand with the likes of Saddam / One just might find you."

Referral: again, Haggard's "The Fightin' Side of Me."

Not all Iraq commentary sounds tired. The seriousness of the issue is encouraging lots of singer-songwriters to share their feelings, and there is likely much of value to come from that.

Sage Francis' "Makeshift Patriot" is one sign that artists can step beyond the obvious. Francis is a Rhode Island rapper who has been building a wider underground following, thanks in part to songs with the freshness and insight of "Patriot."

Written shortly after Sept. 11, the song is finally surfacing outside clubs and the Internet. It will be released commercially on a "Punk-O-Rama" sampler by Los Angeles' Epitaph Records.

In "Makeshift Patriot," Francis (who released an album last year on the independent anticon label) expresses sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks, but also warns about the nation's response. In a provocative line, Francis declares, "There's a desperate need for blood for what's been uncovered under the rubble / Some of them dug for answers in the mess . . . but the rest were looking for trouble."

You also feel a creative spark in the socially conscious music of Stephen Smith, a New York singer-songwriter whose "New World Order" album has just been released by Smith's Universal Hobo label. Smith, whose father is Iraqi, wrote the album before the conflict in Iraq, but he is wrestling with issues that define the times.

Given the flood of social commentary on the Internet and elsewhere, Francis and Smith are not isolated voices. Once we are past the flood of quick, celebrity responses, we may have music strong enough to stand up to the protest music of the past, not simply pale alongside it.
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 10:45 am
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Congratulations on getting respect from the LA Times, and I'm glad they're addressing the issue of anti-war music. At this point though, I'll take about whatever I can get, the more dissent is in peoples' faces the better. Congrats though.
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 10:56 am
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this seems like it was on point..well to some degree...i skimmed over alot of it..and "makeshift patriot" gets some shine that should make you feel got props over here!
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 10:59 am
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good deal, sage you may not be able to stOP the ball once it gets rolling, if the right media people get ahold of it,, you might be on a panel on CNN with Chuck D one of these days

Last edited by PHIL LACIO AKA P DAWG on Tue Apr 08, 2003 1:37 pm; edited 1 time in total
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 11:19 am
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at first i thought this writer was some pro-war asshole (which i doubt he/she actually is) but the article was pretty accurate, i thought. i agree that what is lacking these days is that emotion and conceptualism that was so much more abundant 30 years ago (that beasties track is really horrible).

i'm shocked and glad that you got mention sage. that was totally unexpected. this person did some homework at least. i wish they would've mentioned "hey bobby" which could even be considered more relevant to this article. im starting to believe more and more each day that the only reason you're not a mainstream success is simply the result of minimal exposure/distribution (i used to think it was just that very few people relate to such intense lyricism and emotion). but it seems like those who get the chance to hear your material almost always like it. i think you're on your way to some pretty heavy popularity, if thats the road you choose anyway.
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 11:35 am
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Sage, with all those references to classics tracks I was wondering what Albums you are listening to that are pre-1980s?
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 11:41 am
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Congrats, you deserve all the praise for that track.
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 12:27 pm
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Nice, suprised to see Sage getting some respect, the article was fairly well written and accurate I thought.
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 1:15 pm
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that is excellent
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 1:59 pm
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Honestly, I have been a little surprised at the dearth of musician commentary on U.S. policy, 9/11, and the war with Iraq. I suppose it doesn't stand to reason that music and politics need to be intertwined...but I suspect that I hoped there would be.
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 2:35 pm
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HAHA YES!!!! I think we owe this at least partially to Epitaph, the compilation bit couldnt be better timed. Congrats
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 2:40 pm
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Sage Francis
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With Epitaph comes certain perks.

I am appreciative.,0,1716189.story

Bobby is back!!!
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 3:38 pm
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"Misguided Patriot"


Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 3:50 pm
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Whoa, I didn't see that coming. I agree with the article on all points. Unless they're gonna do something in a creative way or with actual reasoning and logic in the songs, I'd rather not hear music pro or anti the war in Iraq. The anti-war stuff (majority of it anyway) comes off as quickly assembled slogans that have been spouted off thousands of times, which I'm sick of. And the pro-war really, "I Raq and I Roll" WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?! That stuff is as corny as the anti stuff is cliched.

The cream of the crop songs are the ones that you're able to apply to more than one situation. Imagine and Blowin In The Wind are examples of this. And I really think that Makeshift Patriot will be put in that category by most people, once it gets more exposure.

P.S. That Beasties song REALLY sucks lol.
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 4:17 pm
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I'm glad Sage got a nice portion of an article in the LA Times. That's straight and all, but I think the writer kind of missed the point of Makeshift Patriot, or at the very least didn't shed any light to those not in the know.
Post Tue Apr 08, 2003 4:25 pm
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