Aug 17, 2023, 06:28AM

Protest Music in 2023

I’m not a fan of Oliver Anthony, but at least he’s more honest than Bruce Springsteen is now.

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Who knew that if you were upset about grinding poverty or outraged by child trafficking you were standing against American liberalism? Fortunately, music critics have performed a service by explaining what are and aren’t acceptable song topics. Perhaps if Oliver Anthony had instead set his sights on someone like Martin Shkreli instead of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein the results would’ve been more enthusiastic.

The other aspect to this, beyond the tight rein on approved subject matter is the tacit agreement on who’s doing the singing. When Bruce Springsteen’s lauded peon to the workin' man, Born in The USA, was released in 1984, he’d achieved a level of mainstream success and fortune. This was also true of the Springsteen knockoff known as John Cougar Mellencamp, whose Scarecrow album (released a year after Born In The USA) also panders to the heartland working class from the comfort of a five-star suite.

It’s okay to write about the poor, as long as you aren’t poor. But if a poor person shows up to the microphone with their unwashed heads and tobacky-stained mouths our great modern thinkers see it as an affront.

Contrast Anthony’s wide-eyed howl to John Lydon who’s an old hat at pissing people off. The track that’s so alarming in audacity it might have been manufactured for sheer outrage is “Being stupid again.” It skewers higher education and facile slogans that don’t change anything. “You're being sponges again/You’re being minges again/Full to the brim/All Marx and Lenin again.”

No reviews of PiL’s newest album come without a mention of Lydon’s “support” of Donald Trump based on some vague offhand comments he made six or eight years ago. This non-sequitur comes in the first three paragraphs without fail, as a warning to the reader they should quickly discount the music without taking it on its own merit. But hate-click journalism brings in the bucks and who better to write hate-click journalism than a self-hating journalist?

I hope the publicity will provoke people to listen to either of these artists, whether out of curiosity or spite. I’m not a fan of Anthony’s beardy yelp and oversimplified lyrics, but at least he’s more honest than Springsteen, who’s said he’s never had a job, blue-collar or otherwise, and was selling VIP tickets on his last tour for $5000. But he’s for the workin’ man, all right.

It’s hard to see Lydon’s newest effort heaped with the same praise as the Sex Pistols (or the first few PiL albums) yet it’s as vital and provocative as anything he’s ever done, a major feat for someone who’s 67.

Anthony is too new to say if he’ll have staying power. But if he’s smart he’ll take a page from Lydon, who’s never given one inch, as raw an unforgiving now as Woody Guthrie was then. Ever the folk hero. Just maybe not your kind.


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