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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where Have All The Hippies Gone? by Bridget Burns

I remember studying the Vietnam War in high school and being so jealous of my parents for living through that time. It wasn’t the fighting I wanted, it was being part of a passionate generation. While the kids of the sixties and seventies spent hours rallying and organizing, my generation is so lazy that desperate politicians have actually made it possible to register to vote through a text message.

I mean, COME ON.

But then we went to war and I realized that even with a cause, the majority of my generation is just too lazy to become impassioned.

During Vietnam, about twenty GI Coffeehouses sprung up around the country, serving as a place for off-duty soldiers to hang out, listen to music, and become politically active. This past weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a show at the Iraq-era’s first GI Coffeehouse in Watertown, NY, home of the Fort Drum Army Base.

The event was a send-off party for a group of soldiers about to deploy, including “Andy.” Andy is an unassuming punk kid who you might bump into at Higher Ground and not give a second thought to. He wears chucks, studded belts, and Fat Wreck T-shirts. He smokes Camel Lights and drinks whatever you’ll buy for him. After all, he’s underage.

He’s also a medic responsible for the wellbeing of twenty men in Iraq.

Andy is a soldier about to serve his duty, but he still cheered louder than anyone else in the room when Baltimore-based folk singer Ryan Harvey sang “Cuz in year one Bush declared victory / In two and three the casualties increased / In year number four it grew into a civil war / In year five I will make sure we leave / In year five I'll make sure we leave.”

The whole event got me thinking: Why isn’t my generation more passionate? Why aren’t there more singers like Ryan, pouring their hearts into songs inspired by the war stories of young men like Andy? I mean sure, we rock against Bush and all, but lyrics like Ryan’s — which can all be read here — are a throwback to a time when anti-war lyrics were the only lyrics. When protesting wasn’t just some screamo band setting one track aside to say that “war sucks.” When musicians literally dedicated their careers to making change through music.

Working hand in hand with Ryan on a recent project has granted me the opportunity to hear the full range of his incredible Phil Ochs-style protest songs. Knowing him has also exposed me to several other anarcho and activist musicians to whom I had never previously listened.  And I gotta say, we need more like them in Vermont. And I don’t just mean any guy with a guitar who occasionally throws in a hateful word towards Bush while playing RíRá. I mean a full-out, crunchy political organizer, scribbling lyrics on napkins at Langdon Street Cafe while on breaks from volunteering at Black Sheep Books.

Are you out there?

Email me. Let’s start a musical movement.

Comments

Tim

Hey Bridge. Good piece.
Know what the biggest difference is between then and now? Unlike four decades ago, there is no chance today that anyone would be sent overseas with a rifle, without volunteering first. The all volunteer force instead of the draft means that there is no self-interest for anyone to get involved in a protest movement. Why go to a rally, when I can stay home and just listen to my ipod?
Sad, really, that it takes a measure of self-interest to get a significant portion of the population involved.
-Tim

the le duo

the lack of draft makes a big difference, i agree- but i think the biggest reason why the same effort isn't being made in the same way as during the vietnam war is...it didnt work! all the rallying and organizing and festivals of life and exorcisms of the pentagon didnt bring anyone home sooner or stop the bombing of cambodia or prevent nixon from being elected.

jb

casey

Music cannot change human nature, plain and simple. And its power to inspire is ultimately limited. Self-interest is a prime motivational force, but ultimately knows no morality.

bridgetb

The lack of draft is a good point as far as motivating the common citizen to action... unfortunately, while those serving did volunteer to do so, many originally volunteered before the war actually started. Obviously joining the military is not a "but only if we're not at war" kind of contract, but I still feel for those that joined up right before 9/11, not realizing how drastically things were about to change. I guess I'm especially aware of this as someone who graduated high school in 2001. All the kids in my class who joined up instead of going to college did so a mere three months before 9/11, an event that may or may not have affected their decision to enlist.

And while music may not change human nature, I still believe in its ability to voice a message to the masses.

Herb

The lack of a draft is probably a factor.

I also think the fact that subversive culture has been co-opted by the mainstream, one of modern-life's terrifying little ironies, renders old-school protest fairly ineffectual.

And since the Vietnam War the establishment has had forty-years to develop strategies for countering the kind of dissent that cropped up at the time.

People that are complacent, the people who need to be reached, have also adjusted to that particular protest paradigm. In the 60's people were terrified of swarms of hippies with signs. That's certainly not the case anymore.

And do we really need a strong voice of protest within Vermont? I don't think this is really any kind of battleground in the struggle to effect social change. That'd be like basing your army in Alaska during a war against a European country.

Being passionate is great, and music is a wonderful form of expression and an excellent source of comfort. Keep in mind, you were struck by something that spoke to your sensibilities.

The lyrics you quoted and the other lyrics on the website's merit are not really relevant. They'll be dismissed by people who disagree, leaving their scribes preaching to the converted. Your optimism is enviable, but realistically we don't live in an age where people can be reached with a song. It's a masturbatory exercise in self-agrrandization.

This isn't meant to be hostile. It's just my take on this extremely complicated topic.

dan

Hmmm . . . I think the issue runs a bit deeper than music's ability to change human nature or inspire change. The real problem is America's apathy towards the war(s) and towards our leadership's tragic approach to foreign policy in general.

The protesters of the Vietnam era created a culture that questioned our government's decisions and the music followed suit. In other words, the "revolution" sparked the music, not the other way around. Whether it was effective in ending the war is hardly the point; At least it brought the conflict to the forefront of public consciousness. To be fair, The Vietnam War, while similar in many respects, was a completely different beast — largely due to the draft and exponentially higher levels of casualties.

The problem today is that very few leaders/groups have shown the ability to mobilize a disenfranchised and socially fragmented public. The majority of us agree that the war was/is a mistake but few public figures have challenged the establishment effectively or formed a unified front to do so. Those who do are quickly brushed aside as tactless, unpatriotic, leftist fringe radicals — i.e. Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, etc. And maybe they are.

When MoveOn.org takes out a full page ad in the NY Times with the headline "General Betray-us," they do more harm than good and merely provide fuel to the fire. Borrowing pages from Rupert Murdoch's play-book only brings the fight down to Fox's gutter. To be effective, the level of discourse needs to be raised above the hollow, bumper-sticker rhetoric it's been reduced to on both sides of the issue. When people starting yelling, I tune out every time.

To borrow a line from the fourth greatest baseball movie of all-time, "If you build it, they will come." Meaning that if someone can actually stir up enough up enough outrage and face the issue with just a little bit of integrity and intelligence, the action and the music will follow. Just don't involve Bono. Or Sting. Or Madonna, anyone but Madonna.

Tanner

I have to agree with everything everyone above said - i wish i had gotten to this post earlier so i could have made one of those excellent points. It's an interesting question though... what's the point then of protesting the war if no real change is being made, or if it's assimilation into the mainstream has rendered it impotent? - it makes me wonder about what herb calls "a masturbatory exercise in self-agrrandization." is this, ultimately what much if not all of life consists of? It seems to me that the point then, is that it gives you purpose, or more so - makes you feel good.

But that answer doesn't really make me feel so good.

Chris

Where have all the hippies gone you say? They all got Beamers, government jobs and helped get us into this shit. Its a fallacy the baby boomers love to throw around -- that they stopped Vietnam, or that they even learned from it. Hell, all they learned is to not draft white kids, becuase their parents would tsk, tsk at their representative at the country club. (OK, that was a little paranoid.)
The point is the peace movement of the 60's (in regard to the war) was a failure. As noble as those people's ideals and motivations were, all that it resulted in was that the CIA kept better tabs of those that spoke out. I mean, there are marches all over the country, vigils, protests, you name it. I was in DC with thousands of thousands of my generation and all we warranted was some jackass from MTV asking if we listened to Green Day when we thought about the President. I'm serious. These methods don't work, especially when it is just (or mostly) younger people, because it is that much easier for our elders to shake it off as naive youth. There are tons and tons of protests songs, from Tool to NOFX to the effin' Dixie Chicks! And I'm sure Bush is checking his i-pod and weeping, just like Nixon was sweating out CSN&Y.
Look, I totally get where you are coming from. We are lazy and self-centered quite a bit of the time. But I think we're on to something the boomers weren't quite up to doing... revamping the system, particularly the electoral college, the polling and primaries, building up third and even fourth parties and trying to return the government to pre-WWII transparancy. It's going to take a while (AARP just released figures that said only now are the baby boomers really coming into their full influence as policy makers) and we'll all be old and fat when it happens, but its better than tuning in, dropping out, marching for a few years, than saying "eh, screw it". It takes a lifetime to change stuff like this, probably more. Course, if we keep marching maybe we won't be fat.

casey

Herb and Chris are equally right.

But we still need a new evolutionary paradigm whcih will render the old homosapien model of territorial aggression obsolete. 'Til then, it's all for naught.

smeghead

Man, I thought I was in Freyne Land for a moment...That just goes to show that music does make you think or ponder life. It sparks internal dialog and with that fire being lit, people can be compelled to do positive things. Ultimately we are our own masters (sort of like the hypnotist having an effect or not) and as such we probably would only do what we were going to do anyways at some point in all likelyhood. The thing to note is if you could make that pace accelerate, giving you a shorter list when you are on the front porch in a rocking chair mulling over what you wished you did when you had the energy. I dont know how much I will have, but I will probably be the only one on the block still listening to trance. I doubt like hell I'll be rocking it 4/4, maybe once every two bars, yet still quantised like Master Control Program.If you skip all the BS and focus on just the music I am convinced it is the fountain of youth.

ben

"exponentially higher casualties". . . 58,000 u.s. dead in vietnam 2000 u.s. dead in iraq
less than 1% of the u.s. population has any direct involvement with the war in iraq.

Tanner

it's actually about double that; 3700 or so... but, yeah the numbers aren't comparable.

the le duo

but, cant americans also protest the loss of iraqi life, or can we only cry for dead americans? if thats the case the numbers may even up- although i cant fucking imagine how many vietnamese civilians were killed.

jay

But we still need a new evolutionary paradigm whcih will render the old homosapien model of territorial aggression obsolete. 'Til then, it's all for naught.

Very good point, and it's kind of sad that we are at a point in human history that we can create a pill that will keep a 70-year old's dick hard and find a way to inject toxins into rich womens' faces to give them perma-smile but we still haven't developed alternative fuel sources or ways to live without depleting other natural resources at a ridiculous rate. It will be interesting to see what makes us do the latter--mass enlightenment or mass extinction.

As for music and social change, I think there is a good reason why most of the 60's social singers either quit their careers and focused on direct politics, watched their careers fade away (Baez), got disillusioned by their lack of impact/fame (Ochs) or just realized early on that music doesn't change immediate world events and when its timeless and not topical it is less dogma and more effective in changing its audiences' life philosophies (Dylan).

Plain and simple, anti-war songs are no better than an episode of the O'Reiley Factor--just because someone is speaking to your sensibilities in a passionate, black-and-white way doesn't mean that its propaganda any less.

Topical "protest" songs are just another example of American laziness--playing a song to change to world is like giving your house a paint job when the foundation is crumbling. It might make things look a bit brighter for a few minutes, but it really doesn't get to the root of the problem (which, in this case, is closer to Casey's idea than blaming Bush, Karl Rove or Petraeus).

chris

Man, it would be funny, though. Can you imagine? A shitload of celebs... let's say, Eminem, Bono, Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews, uh... Foo Fighters... I don't know... they all get together and cut "America loves life" or "Let's Love The World" or something, and it actually works. War, bad foreign policy, neo-cons... it all comes crashing down because of a three minute all-star sing along. I submit that it actually might be worse. I mean, can you imagine if people actually did take them seriously? Their heads would be the size of Cheney's prostate.
(They better get Quincy Jones to write it!)

Thirtyseven

Unlike the author of this peice, the "Hippies" have learned from the previous generations mistakes.

Figureheads and leaders get killed.

Organized movements get infiltrated and subverted.

Public protest is an increasingly meaningless act of performance art.

Voting has been a bad joke for over a century.

The next movement is decentralized, autonomous, apolitical, self-educated, and most of all, it's already been underway for 20 years.

You can complain publicly and wonder where everyone is, or you can get to work personally -- and very shortly you'll see how many of us are already out there. Start doing The Work and they really will find you.

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