Sunday, January 11, 2015

Song Spot: Protest Songs / The Eve of Destruction, Part 1



Protest songs have existed since at least the 18th century. “Rights of Woman” was published in 1795 as a feminist song, to the tune of God Save The King. Even Beethoven’s Ode to Joy has been regarded as a protest song supporting universal brotherhood.

Songs of social change remain with us to the present day.

According to a Rolling Stone poll, the top 10 protest songs of all time are:

10. Country Joe and the Fish: I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag.

9. Bob Dylan: Hurricane

8. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Fortunate Son

7. Bob Dylan: Blowin’ in the Wind

6. Rage Against the Machine: Killing in the Name

5. Barry McGuire: Eve of Destruction

4. Bob Dylan: The Times They are A—Changin’

3. Buffalo Springfield: For What It’s Worth

2. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: Ohio

1. Bob Dylan: Masters of War

I won’t work out an alternative Top 10 but feel that the following should have been considered:

John Lennon: So This is Christmas/War is Over

Woody Guthrie: This Land is Your Land

Pete Seeger: We Shall Overcome

John Lennon: Imagine

John Lennon: Give Peace a Chance

Edwin Starr: War

Eric Bogle: And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle: Fields of France

Redgum: A Walk in the Light Green/I Was Only Nineteen

Lisa Simpson: Union Strike folk song:

Pink Floyd: Another Brick in the Wall


Whereas the 1960’s was the heyday of protest songs, they have diminished up to the present.    My wife, Kate, suggests that protest songs have given way to social media and that people have stopped singing about things in favour of doing something about them. Also that social media is much more immediate and that being known is no longer a requisite for disseminating protest.

Which brings me to a 1960's protest song that killed the careers of the songwriter and the artist who performed it: Eve of Destruction.


I was thinking about the state of the world as I prepared yesterday's post on cartoons reacting to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy and the words of the above song started going through my head.

Released in 1965, it presented a sombre view of the world at that time. The Vietnam war was happening, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs had happened, Kennedy had been assassinated and the world was being told that the dominoes of democracy were falling. The world was seen to be close to nuclear war, the nuclear arms race was escalating and the Cold War was ongoing.  Was the outlook and pessimism worse then the outlook today? Probably, but that is a discussion that has no final answer,

The song itself has  interesting background and reflections of its era:

Video clip:

Hear the song at:

Lyrics:

Eve of Destruction
    - P F Sloan

The eastern world it is explodin', violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill but not for votin'
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'
And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin'

But you tell me over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction

Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say?
Can't you see the fear that I'm feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there's no running away
There'll be none to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy

But you tell me over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction

Yeah, my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin'
I'm sittin' here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation
Handful of Senators don't pass legislation

And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

And you tell me over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
Ah, you may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it's the same old place

The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don't leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don't forget to say grace

And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction

Some references:

· "You're old enough to kill but not for votin'":

Although the conscription age in the US at the time of the Vietnam war was 18 years, the age to vote in all but 4 states was 21.


· “Even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’”:

A reference to the War over Water, also known as the Battle over Water, a series of confrontations between Israel and its Arab neighbours from November 1964 to May 1967 over control of available water sources in the Jordan River drainage basin.


· “If the button is pushed”

A popular image and expression for the launch of nuclear missiles in the event of nuclear war.


· “Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama”:

The reference to Selma, Alabama is to:

## "Bloody Sunday”, the shooting of an unarmed civil rights protestor, Jimmie Lee Jackson, by an Alabama State trooper, James Fowler, inspiring the Selma to Montgomery marches. A grand jury declined to indict Fowler in September 1965. On May 10, 2007, 42 years after the crime, Fowler was charged with first degree and second degree murder for Jackson's death, and surrendered to authorities. On November 15, 2010, Fowler pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to six months in jail, but served only five months due to health problems which required medical surgery. Perry County commissioner Albert Turner, Jr., called the agreement "a slap in the face of the people of this county".


## The three 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches which led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark achievement of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. All three protest marches were promoted as attempts to walk the 54-mile highway from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery in defiance of segregationist repression.



· “. . . you may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it's the same old place”

The June 1965 mission of Gemini 4 lasted just over four days. It circled the Earth 66 times in four days, making it the first US flight to approach the five-day flight of the Soviet Vostok 5, and featured the first space walk by an American. Both of these accomplishments helped the United States overcome the Soviet Union's early lead in the Space race.


· “The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace”:

The funeral procession of President John F Kennedy on 22 November 1963 on its way to Arlington National Cemetery was accompanied by muffled drumming.


Part 2 next week.
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