The Musical Battle Along the Campaign Trail
There is a long history of political campaigns utilizing music in an effort to refine and shape a message. Music has a powerful ability to convey a message and communicate with an audience on a more emotional and personal level than many other forms of political messaging. For example, in 1952, the Eisenhower campaign commissioned the creation of the jingle “I Like Ike” in an effort to gain voter support. The jingle contained catchy lyrics, and was basically an advertisement that promoted Eisenhower for president. This jingle was effective because it was unique to Eisenhower, and the catchy tune had an “ear worm” effect on the listener. This jingle marked the beginning of political campaigns using musical messaging to communicate with voters and reinforce campaign efforts.
However, as time has passed, the way musical messaging is integrated into political campaigns has evolved from the use of jingles into the use of popular music. With this evolution, a long history of political candidates and politicians using music for their campaigns without proper permission from the artist themselves has developed. The improper use of music has led to a great deal of controversy between the music industry and politicians. In some cases, these controversies have even led to lawsuits. The most controversial modern day example of this is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. During Donald Trump’s campaign trail, many artists refused to allow him to use their music during his events, and most would even refuse to perform at his rallies or inauguration because they did not want to be associated with Trump’s controversial platform and reputation. Music is well-known for being a powerful medium that has the ability to convey a message or belief, which has made it a popular form of political messaging in campaigns. Political candidates are known for using music in their campaigns and rallies in an effort to reinforce their beliefs, or further state their position on a particular cause. However, musical artists have been known to object to this use and have enforced legal charges or even lawsuits against candidates that use their music without proper permission.
Integration of Music into Political Campaigns
Music has the ability to convey powerful messages and sentiments to its listener, which has made it an effective way to communicate and reinforce the central beliefs of a political campaigns. In order to effectively accomplish this, artists will often use various musical and extramusical tools that make their music a good medium for people, such as politicians, to use to support or reinforce their beliefs on a particular cause. Politicians will also use well-known artists’ music and live performances in an attempt to assert that the artists themselves are endorsing or supporting the candidate and their platform in order to influence voters. For example, Hilary Clinton was able to arrange for performances from numerous artists, such as Jay Z and Beyoncé, to perform at one of her campaign concerts, during which the artists expressed their support for her and her campaign.
In addition, music has a way of uniting people and making the country feel “whole.” For example, the “Star-Spangled Banner” continuously unites the general public at many different kinds of events, and often evokes feelings of pride and unity among the audience. Music also has the ability to provide the listener with a unique perspective of a way to view social life, which is an important aspect of the United States’ democracy. Justin Patch provides his own view on the use of music in political campaigns in his article “Notes on Deconstructing the Populism: Music on the Campaign Trail, 2012 and 2016.” In this article, Patch explores how music has been used in the presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, and how it was important to both elections. In addition, he also investigates which specific genres are a good fit for use in a political campaign: “In electoral politics, popular music is powerful for contradictory reasons. Pop is as politically significant for its characteristics of broad appeal, vapid, predictable lyrics, repetitive structures, and normative sentimentality as it is for its double entendre, coding, subversion, locality, and liberatory politics” (Patch 370). Patch then supports this assertion by reflecting on how Pop music is received at the consumer level, and how this reception contributes to the genre’s effectiveness within a political campaign. This assertion is also evidenced by the fact that many candidates have used music from the Pop genre within their political campaigns to appeal to a large portion of voters.
How Artists' Rights Fit into Campaigns
Although many political candidates use music to reinforce their platform, not all of them take the proper steps to secure the rights for using the music in their campaigns. The use of various artists’ music in political campaigns without permission has been a controversial and ongoing battle. In 1984, Bruce Springsteen denied Ronald Reagan the right to using his song “Born in the U.S.A.” in Reagan’s campaign. However, this did not stop Reagan, which caused backlash from Springsteen himself: “Springsteen began to speak out against Reagan, questioning during a show whether Reagan actually listened to his music” (Chao 1). Therefore, these battles have caused problems for both the artists and the candidates themselves. Many attribute this issue to the fact that artists feel that by performing or allowing their music to be played at a campaign event or rally it will signal to the audience that the artist is endorsing that particular candidate and their views. In “The Campaign Tour: Pop Musicians Get on the Bus (Mostly Clinton's),” Joe Coscarelli outlines the battles between artists and candidates during the 2016 presidential election. Coscarelli asserts that more artists were taking Clinton’s side and opting to perform at her events versus Trump’s: “Scooter Braun, a manager for influential acts including Mr. West and Justin Bieber, has been outspoken about his support for Mrs. Clinton. But he acknowledged that some of his clients had opted not to use their platforms for risk of ‘alienating part of their fan base who disagrees with them’” (Coscarelli 1). This perspective from Scooter Braun is important because it outlines one of the primary concerns that many artists have about allowing their music to be used in political campaigns. It is possible that this concern has been the basis of the controversy that has led to the battle about political campaigns’ use of artists’ music without permission. In addition, artists assert that they have property rights to their music, which has historically led to controversy, and even lawsuits, between the artist and the candidate.
Artists Take Action
Artists have often been so angry about their music being used at political events without permission that some of them have pursued lawsuits against the candidates they feel are guilty of this. Many of these lawsuits have been based on the fact that artists view their music as their own ‘property’ and that they have the right to dictate when and where it is performed. For example, the group, “The Heavy,” opposed the use of their song “How You Like Me Now?” in Newt Gingrich’s campaign so much that they pursued legal action: “Gingrich was served with a cease-and-desist notice by Montreal-based music publisher Third Side Music on behalf of the Heavy, for playing their song at a rally in Florida” (Chao 1). Although this seems extreme, the battle between Gingrich and The Heavy shows how far artists are willing to go to protect their music. An additional example is the battle between Don Henley and Chuck DeVore. This battle was based on the fact that DeVore had created a parody of one of Henley’s songs for use in his political campaign: “By 2010, musicians had taken politicians to trial over non-approved use of their music, but when Henley sued DeVore, it marked the first time that such a court case involved a parody. The California Republican senatorial candidate had turned Henley's song "The Boys of Summer" into a takedown of Obama and liberalism called "The Hope of November" (Chao 1). Chao further asserts that much of the anger that led to this controversy was due to the fact that Henley was an Obama supporter, and he was bothered that DeVore was attempting to use his song to bad-mouth Obama. This is an example of an artist not wanting their music or character to be associated with the values or platform that a candidate represents. Therefore, although not all artists have taken legal action against candidates using their songs without permission, the possibility of lawsuit and legal action has altered the campaign environment. As a result, candidates must proceed with caution when using musical messaging within their campaigns.
Modern Day Campaign Struggles
In 2016-2017, one of the most controversial candidates in United States’ history, Donald Trump, had issues with various music artists. Many artists were so against Donald Trump’s controversial campaign that they would refuse Trump the right to use their music in his campaign events or rallies. In addition, many artists even refused the opportunity for a live performance at his rallies as well. As in many other examples of artists’ refusal to perform, many artists felt that by performing at, or allowing their music to be played at one of Trump’s events would lead to the general public’s assumption that the artist themselves endorsed Trump and his controversial character. In addition to concerns about public backlash, many artists felt that by performing at one of his events, they would violate their own moral character since they did not approve of his campaign platform. For example, after withdrawing from performing at a Trump event, Jennifer Holliday announced: “’Regretfully, I did not take into consideration that my performing for the concert would actually instead be taken as a political act against my own personal beliefs and be mistaken for support of Donald Trump and Mike Pence’” (Holub 1). This opposition even extended to Trump’s inauguration after his election, for which he struggled to find performers. The list of artists who refused to perform at Donald Trump’s election is detailed in an article written by Christian Holub: “Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration will take place Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C., but so far, the president-elect has had some difficulty assembling a star-powered lineup for the ceremony. Over the last month or so, more and more musicians have publicly declined to perform — even those who Trump has praised or have a previous relationship with the president-elect” (Holub 1). The list of artists who refused to perform at the inauguration included over 15 artists, which is notable given the level of publicity the artists would have received for the performance.
alliefox25. “1952 Eisenhower Political Ad - I Like Ike - Presidential Campaign Ad.” YouTube, YouTube, 14 Feb. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmCDaXeDRI4.
CBSNewsOnline. “Jay Z, Beyoncé, Big Sean, Chance the Rapper & More Perform at Clinton Concert.” YouTube, YouTube, 4 Nov. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyYBtqj7Yks.
Chao, Eveline. “35 Musicians Who Told Politicians to Stop Using Their Songs.” Rolling Stone, 8 July 2015, www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/stop-using-my-song-34-artists-who-fought-politicians-over-their-music-20150708/bruce-springsteen-vs-ronald-reagan-bob-dole-and-pat-buchanan-20150629.
Coscarelli, Joe. “The Campaign Tour: Pop Musicians Get on the Bus (Mostly Clinton's).” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Nov. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/arts/music/election-concerts-jay-z-voter-registration.html.
Holub, Christian. “All the Artists Who Won't Perform at Donald Trump's Inauguration.” EW.com, 10 Jan. 2017, ew.com/music/2017/01/10/donald-trump-inauguration-artists-who-wont-perform/.
Patch, Justin. “Notes on Deconstructing the Populism: Music on the Campaign Trail, 2012 and 2016.” American Music, vol. 34, no. 3, 2016, p. 365., doi:10.5406/americanmusic.34.3.0365.
by Meagan DobbinsRead more
Racial Tourism: White Privilege in Rap Music
Imagine a scenario in which you are about to run a footrace, for which the prize is a running-themed Grammy. Running is in your blood and you are, arguably, the most talented runner on the track. Your opponent, who happens to be white, just recently started racing and does not understand how much hard work you’ve put into your craft. Before the race begins, the officials let your opponent take a ten-step head start, just because he’s white. The race takes place, and even though the white challenger is not as talented as you, he wins because of his advantage. This scenario may seem unfair, which it is, but it is the harsh reality for people of color across many aspects of life, including the music industry. Through commodification and cultural appropriation, white artists have used their white privilege to surpass their African American counterparts in genres that have historically belonged to black culture.
What is privilege?
In Webster’s Dictionary, privilege is defined as “the right or immunity enjoyed by a person or persons beyond the common advantages of others.” In the context of white privilege, it means that from the beginning of American history, white people have had an invisible, systematic advantage over their black counterparts. These disadvantages were integrated in society with slavery and Jim Crow laws, which trickled down into the cultural world as well (Neville 261-269). Even when the African American community laid the groundwork for their own cultural genres like blues and rock ‘n roll, with hits like “Rocket 88” by Ike Turner, white artists like Elvis were instead credited as pioneers of the genre (Farley n.p.). It was not until hip-hop music hit the scene in the 1980’s that black artists finally able to own a unique, non-appropriated black voice.
What does white privilege have to do with rap music?
Rap is a genre that stems from historically black genres like soul, funk, and jazz. It was not too popular in the ‘80s in mainstream media, but it was very popular with resistance movements like the black power movement, which create a bond among members of the protest groups. The rap genre itself has roots as a voice for excluded, socioeconomic minority groups, specifically African Americans in the 1980’s. Rap music in the 1980’s connected the people of the projects with an empowering voice to stand up to the “man”, to their systematic oppressors. At the time, it was music used as a social expression for black pride as well as a tool used to discuss injustices like police brutality. The politicians at the time had no real regard for the struggles that African Americans faced, so this music provided a sense of escape. It was the perfect form of protest because the style allows for the delivery of a concentrated verbal stream in little time. Many of the influential rap pieces at the time were narratives, so it allowed rappers like Grandmaster Flash to spin tales of struggle while encouraging his listeners to take action against these injustices (Turino 93-121, Reeves 3-19).
As rap music’s popularity swelled and began to reach mainstream culture, it began to become commodified, lose its political meaning, and become nothing more than a ploy to make profit (Reeves 86). Enter: white people. As America’s racial majority, white artists seemed more relatable to a general audience. However, the country’s comfort level with white artists is evident because, as Spin explains, “a black artist has won Album of the Year only three times in this millennium.” This disproportionality has led ultra-talented black artists like Beyoncé to lose non-genre Grammy’s to arguably less talented white artists. Artists like Taylor Swift, Beck, and Adele have all taken the Album of the Year award over Beyoncé, but at the 2017 Grammy Awards, Adele seemed almost angry that she beat Sasha Fierce. “All of us artists here adore you,” Adele added to her acceptance speech. “What the f*ck does [Beyoncé] have to do to win album of the year?” (Josephs n.p.). A similar situation happened at the 2014 Grammy Awards, when white newcomer Macklemore took home best rap album for “The Heist”, beating out Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City”, his story of escaping the “influence” of urban life. Apologetically, Macklemore texted Lamar, saying “You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you.” (Derschowitz n.p.).
Macklemore takes a stand, unlike other white artists.
After “robbing” Kendrick Lamar and later marching in the Ferguson protests, Macklemore released the 9-minute single “White Privilege II (featuring Jamila Woods)”, a follow up to his 2005 song by the same name. He ponders in the song if it was his place to be there, chanting “Black Lives Matter”, when he is not part of the group being marginalized. This sentiment parallels his career, where he puts a “pop” spin on a genre that has been a voice for discriminated-against black people, which some may see as diluting the message. Musically, the piece features saxophones and other brass instruments, which is indexical for jazz music like John Coltrane. At the beginning of the song, there is a chanting chorus in the background, which creates a sense of group unity. However, that chanting and group mentality ends when Macklemore questions if he is really part of the group, saying “We are not we... Is it my place to give my two cents?” The rest of the song features a soft piano and hip-hop beat. Because this song is not a danceable, party rap song, it forces the audience to really listen to the words and testimony of the featured speakers (Haggard n.p.).
Through different points-of-view from interviewed people, he explores what it means to be white in the face of a post-racial society. Jamila Woods’s featured vocals note that “silence is a luxury...hip-hop is not a luxury.” While it's easy to be silent in the face of racism and bigotry, Macklemore notes that he needs to use his white privilege to better the world, even if the problems he is fixing do not directly affect him. Although Macklemore shows a sense of awareness in his rap music, many other white artists do not have to. Post Malone, for example, said in an interview, “If you’re looking for lyrics, if you’re looking to cry, if you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to hip-hop.” Malone’s ignorance to the history of rap music makes him what Vice author Douglas Greenwood would describe as a racial tourist, which is someone who do a disservice to “the [artists] who use the medium as a way of making sure black voices are still heard and respected in 2017” (Greenwood n.p.). It’s a tough topic to discuss, but majority groups, like white people, cannot stand in silence as racial tourists while fellow rappers face inequalities right in front of them.
Derschowitz, Jessica. “Grammys 2014: Macklemore Apologizes to Kendrick Lamar after Best Rap Album Win.” CBS News, 28 Jan. 2014. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.
Farley, Christopher John. “Elvis Rocks, but He’s Not the First.” TIME, 6 July 2004. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.
Greenwood, Douglas. “Post Malone, White Privilege & Why We Need to Stop Racial Tourism in Rap.” High’s Nobiety, 27 Nov. 2017. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.
Haggard, Ben, et al. “White Privilege II.” Recorded 21 Jan. 2016. This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, MP3 file, 2016.
Jospehs, Brian. “Reevaluating Every Time Beyoncé Lost in a Major Category at the Grammys.” Spin, 13 Feb. 2017. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.
Neville, Helen, et al. “Race, Power, and Multicultural Counseling Psychology.” Research Gate, 4 May 2014. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.
Reeves, Marcus. Somebody Scream!: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.
Turino, Thomas. Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. U of Chicago P, 2008.
Zambelich, Ariel. Ben Haggerty, A.K.A. Macklemore, and Jamila Woods Collaborated on the Song “White Privilege II.” Digital file, 29 Jan. 2016.
Cameron DobbsRead more
“This is not just a rock and roll show. To our murderers, this is revenge.”
Though many classrooms and textbooks in recent years have acknowledged the Jewish Holocaust as a key part of history around World War II, another genocide that often does not find its way into current curricula, despite being widely held as the first modern and sophisticated “ethnic cleansing” of the 20th century, occurred in the Ottoman Empire (now known as the Republic of Turkey). The Armenian Genocide, which has a disputed death toll that reached at least 1.5 million Armenians, has had trouble gaining recognition due to a multitude of factors.
Predating the official start of the genocide itself were a series of massacres of Armenians in the eastern portion of the Ottoman Empire (modern day western Armenia) by both Turkish and Kurdish peoples. From 1894 to 1896, thousands of people were murdered and communities and families were left in shambles, the worst occurring in 1895 during the Hamidian Massacres. These killings were triggered by the Armenian protests against the empire’s leader, Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The sultan was more in favor of wanting to discredit and undermine Armenian nationalism, instead wishing to promote people’s total assimilation to the empire through forcing them to turn away from their past heritages. On October 1st, Armenians gathered in the capital of Constantinople and petitioned seeking reform, but were attacked by Ottoman police. The death toll is believed to range anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000, since the killings would go on to also be carried out across the many provinces which they inhabited. Even after the Young Turk Revolution that occurred in 1908, overthrowing Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Armenians faced problems due to Christian religious persecution and the perception that they had supported the government’s overhaul and return to constitutional rule, and thus were often caught in between the war between the powers vying for control of the government. In the province of Adana in 1909, more massacres and settlement pillages by the Ottoman Army’s troops left between 15,000 and 30,000 more Armenian civilians dead.
Once the Ottoman Empire had entered into World War I, the world’s focus on the conflict made for a great distraction from the deportation of Armenian families and the seizure of their properties and valuables. Officially beginning April 24, 1915, men, women, and children were subjected to unimaginable atrocities. Able-bodied men who had enlisted in the army were used in labor camps and eventually murdered, and community leaders and intellectuals were taken from their homes to be killed away from the general populace. The Ottomans used various methods of cruelty on the Armenian peoples, including drownings and burnings, and even direct disease injection and death marches into the Syrian desert. This was all made possible due to the government’s strict control over information reporting with total control over the telegraph lines, and through the initial removal of the people from their homes with the intent to kill them in secrecy. People were aware of the deportations, but not of the imminent killings. To this day, Turkey does not recognize the reality of the genocide. This, on top of an uncertain death toll and the lack of general discussion in education has not helped the Armenians gain the recognition and retribution they deserve (Adalian).
System of a Down is a band that has been able to connect with and understand the Armenian Genocide since its formation. All four members of the band are Armenian-American descendants of survivors of the genocide, so before the band existed they had all been exposed to the history of the genocide. Growing up, they were told stories by family members of the struggles they and others had to endure. Serj Tankian, the singer, recalls in an interview with Arun Rath, an NPR journalist, that his maternal grandfather survived by moving to and from multiple different orphanages in various countries. Furthermore, his maternal grandmother survived due to a Turkish mayor protecting her and her grandmother, and his other grandparents survived by working on a railway connecting Turkey and Baghdad (Rath). Stories like these served as inspiration for the band members to inform others about the genocide, as their Armenian heritage held great importance for them.
Throughout the lifetime of the band, System of a Down has ensured that the genocide is a focal point of their political stances and actions. They are not afraid to openly state how they feel about the perception of the genocide by the Turkish government, and even the American government. In an interview with TIME, Serj Tankian states that Obama promising to recognize the genocide during his run for president means that if he avoided using the term "genocide," it would be offensive to the memory of the victims. From this statement it's obvious that the genocide is such a significant topic to them that they care even about the specific word used to identify it. In the same interview, Serj speaks about the problem of genocide as a whole with "That's what people need to realize: It's not an ancient problem. It’s a modern one that still seems to persist because we’re using genocide as political capital in our geopolitics and not really paying attention to humanitarian loss and the damage that we’re doing to each other. Today there is still no effective mechanism for genocide prevention around the world irrespective of the UN genocide convention and multiple organizations dealing with it." These statements showcase how Serj and the band feel about the concept of genocide, along with how they recognize the overarching problem of preventing genocide. They've applied what they learned about the Armenian Genocide while growing up and their current understanding of it to the bigger picture, and realized that the lack of effective prevention is to blame for similar atrocities.
One specific instance of System of a Down physically acting upon a situation they deemed politically unacceptable was their refusal to perform in Turkey. While touring Europe with Slayer, the band intended on performing in Turkey as well. A problem arose when the Turkish government informed the band that they were not guaranteed the right to speak their minds on stage. Shavo Odadjian, the bassist, informed a reporter that the band wanted to say what they felt and what the truth was, and they refused to play anywhere they weren't allowed to speak their minds. The strength of the band's will to hold true to their beliefs is encapsulated by this action alone. And by refusing to perform a concert over being disallowed even to speak about the genocide, the band made a significant statement about sticking to their views (Tamar Nazarian).
The music created by System of a Down is nothing short of brain-melting progressive metal, and as Rick Rubin describes it, "Armenian folk-dancing with heavy metal riffs." And although other genres of music are more common choices to deliver messages, the band still effectively communicates about the Armenian Genocide through songs. One song, titled "P.L.U.C.K. (Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers)," is undoubtedly solely about the genocide and was also released on their debut album "System of a Down." The song's ominous guitar leading into all-out chaos is in classic System of a Down style, and the chaos actually serves an important role in this song. Accompanied by the lyrics "Elimination, elimination, elimination" and a drawn-out, screamed "Die, why, walk down, walk down," the band creates an atmosphere similar to Armenians experiencing the terror and death of the genocide. After this introduction, the lyrics "A whole race: genocide, taken away: all of our pride" make direct reference to the genocide and the Armenians' feelings. The end of the chorus hints at the desire of the band for the Turkish government to compensate for their actions, and then the next verse lists the exact steps the band wants the government to take: "Recognition, restoration, reparation." First, the government must recognize that the genocide happened, then restore their pride and the boundaries from before the genocide, and finally repair the damages they caused. After repeating the chorus, the relatively calm bridge plays with a slow, distorted guitar dominating the instruments and the lyrics "Your plan was the mess we call genocide, you took all the children and they died, the few that remained were never found." These lines accompanied by Daron Malakian, the lead guitarist and secondary vocalist, singing "Never want to see you around" over Serj Tankian leads to a beautiful harmony between the two, as both of them speak directly to the Turkish government. All of these lyrics sung by the two talented vocalists combined with the thrashing guitar, distorted bass, and rapid drumming lead to an intensely informative metal song about the Armenian Genocide.
Another example of a song by the band about the Armenian Genocide would be “Holy Mountains” from the album “Hypnotize.” Stylistically, the opening for this song is similar to “P.L.U.C.K.” in that it begins calm but quickly becomes much more intense. The first few lines of the song, “Can you feel their haunting presence,” refers to the souls of Armenians killed in the genocide, and Serj’s drawn-out delivery adds a haunting feel to the words. The chorus then plays, beginning with Daron and Serj screaming out “Liar, killer, demon” towards the genocide initiator. “Back to the River Aras” immediately following the yells refers to the remaining Armenians being forced back to the Aras River to rebuild their losses, and “Someone’s blank stare deemed it warfare” tells of the mindless command issued to begin the genocide. Also, the freedom Serj speaks of is what the survivors experienced after being forced back to the river. Then, in the same haunting style of the first lines, Serj asks “Can you hear the Holy Mountains?” The “Holy Mountains” he references are the two mountains that comprise Mount Ararat, the supposed location of the landing of Noah’s Ark (“Mount Ararat”). The chorus is repeated again but with a new line: “Someone’s mouth said paint them all red.” This once again refers to the leader who commanded the genocide. The structure of the song beginning at the first lyric is undeniably interesting, with the questions being asked in the verses and the chorus repeating so quickly with a different line. The instrumentals are also played twice almost identically, so this entire phrase gains more importance through the repetition. Immediately following the second chorus, though, the volume and speed of the guitar and drums lowers and quickly builds, releasing in an explosion of rapid sound. “They have all returned, resting on the mountain side” is the first line Serj re-enters with, and with it he claims that all the Armenian souls have returned and are now resting on Mount Ararat. He then speaks of learning that the perpetrators of the genocide have no honor, and the chorus plays once again, but shortened this time. The outro is essentially the song’s introduction but reversed, along with the tempo gradually decreasing. By mirroring the beginning of the song, System of a Down has created a cyclical feeling and a sense of completion to wrap up another detailed piece about the Armenian Genocide.
Though the band has had many instances of political outspokenness, easily the most influential was their most recent tour starting in 2015 after a long hiatus from putting out new music and playing live shows regularly. Titled “Wake Up The Souls,” the mostly European-based show schedule was put together as a way to pay homage to the Armenian Genocide’s 100 year anniversary. Though even Serj Tankian noted in an interview with KROQ-FM radio that the band “didn’t plan on being four Armenians in a band together, it just kind of turned out that way,” their ties to this central cause has really strengthened their bond as musicians with a shared message and identity. Though often artists embark on music tours to promote their recent work, it is not often that you see a tour meant to commemorate history in this way. Because all of the band members have familial ties right back to genocide survivors and have grown up being exposed to their stories of survival, Serj Tankian said in an NPR interview before the tour that the cause has “many political aspects to it. But because all four members of the band are Armenian-American, its personal.”
Though the tour would go on to be extended, the original last show was set for April 23, 2015, in the capital of Armenia in Yerevan, almost 100 years to the day of the first mass deportation of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire. With a set list of thirty seven songs set to span the time of over two hours, this was not to be a typical performance. It would not only be free for those who could attend live, but it would also be freely streamed on the internet for the world to see. This would be the very first show the band would ever hold in their homeland, which on such a momentous occasion really speaks to the band’s focus on the dedication to their cause through having this sort of “homecoming” during such a historic time. Though the band obviously has a special connection to the events in the Ottoman Empire that came to coin the term “genocide” when later used as a reference to Hitler’s actions in World War II, they stand for the greater cause of genocide acceptance and acknowledgement as well as the recognition of the reality that many more genocides have been and are being committed that simply are not receiving the attention they deserve. Quite simply, System of a Down just does not want what happened to their people over a century ago to happen ever again.
The endeavors of a critically acclaimed music group like System of a Down to do more than get radio play and turn a profit through their political activism and adherence to purpose are not commonplace in the modern music industry, despite how powerful and impactful they have been to people across the world. They serve as a beacon of hope to many who have had their lives forever changed by the genocide, to those who have suffered other such atrocities that have yet to have their voices heard, and to those who without the band would never have even heard of the Armenian Genocide. The efforts of Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, Shavo Odadjian, and John Dolmayan have been a great testament to the power of music to go farther than just entertaining. Music has the power to inform the world about itself and to provide solidarity to those who have been wronged by it, and it has the power to advocate for reforms and provide its listeners with a sense of identity and unification like no other medium. This all, of course, is heightened when the cause is as near and dear to the musicians as the Armenian Genocide is to System of a Down.
Adalian, Rouben Paul. “The Armenian Genocide: Context and Legacy.” First appeared in Social Education: The Official Journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, February 1991. http://www.armenian-genocide.org/Education.56/current_category.117/resourceguide_detail.htm
MauEatURmusic. “Rick Rubin talks about System Of A Down.” Youtube. June 22, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hByRgNaneTU&feature=youtu.be
MauEatURmusic. “System Of A Down - Interview (Kevin & Bean) The World Famous KROQ 2014.” Youtube. December 15, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm8_TYPLE3k&feature=youtu.be
“Mount Ararat.” Edited by Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., February 27, 2017. www.britannica.com/place/Mount-Ararat
Rath, Arun (interviewer). “System Of A Down, Armenia's Favorite Sons, On Facing History.” Broadcast on All Things Considered. NPR. April 19, 2015. https://www.npr.org/2015/04/19/400395629/system-of-a-down-armenias-favorite-sons-on-facing-history
Tamar Nazarian. “Shavo Odadjian From System Of A Down Talks About The Armenian Genocide.” Youtube. February 14, 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmghuAQvXSs
Tankian, Serj. “System Of A Down Singer on Armenian Genocide: 'We’re Still Here, We’re Still Alive.” Time. April 25, 2015. http://time.com/3834792/serj-tankian-armenian-genocide/
Chakelian, Anoosh. “System of a Down's Serj Tankian on his tour for recognition of the Armenian genocide.” NewStatesman. April 17, 2015. https://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2015/04/system-downs-serj-tankian-his-tour-recognition-armenian-genocide
Grow, Kory. “Genocide and Kim Kardashian: The Bloody History Behind System of a Down's Tour.” Rolling Stone. January 8, 2015.
By John Tyler Morgan and Kyatt SpessertRead more
"Talking Union" and the Almanac Singers
First Impressions of the Primary Source
The item we chose for our primary source was the book Songs of Work and Freedom, by Edith Fowke and Jo Glazer. The book is a compilation of “100 favorite songs of American Workers”. The book includes notes on each song from a musical and historical perspective. The book itself was printed by Dolphin Books in 1961. The book is in fairly good shape, with slight wearing around the edges, but nothing too severe. It was made for people sympathetic to the union protests as a way to play the songs of the movement
It’s difficult to say exactly when the Almanac Singers were founded or disbanded. As one former member of the group said, “there are as many versions and interpretations as tere were members” and there were over a dozen former members. But the original members of the group, consisting of Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Millard Campbell, John Peter Hawes, and later Woody Guthrie, were together by February of 1941. Originally, Pete Seeger used the name Pete Bowers because his father was then working for the US Government and his father could have potentially lost his job due to Seeger’s politically charged music. Their first gig was performing at a lunch at the Jade Mountain Restaurant in New York in December 1940. They were paid two dollars and fifty cents for their performance. They performed for the national meeting of the American Youth Congress from February 7th to 9th, 1941. This date is often considered to be the “official” start of the Almanac Singers. They wrote politically charged songs to make statements and further the left-wing movement. In fact, the Almanac Singers were part of the Popular Front, a movement of pro-communist artists and musicians. They sang about war, the draft, and even president Franklin Roosevelt himself. They attacked Roosevelt relentlessly, to such an extent that it later caused them some embarrassment when the country took on a pro-administration stance during the war. They later began writing pro-union songs, including “Talking Union". Then in June of 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. With World War II in full swing, the Almanac Singers had little choice but to cease singing their staunchly anti-war and anti-Roosevelt songs, switching to morepatriotic and pro-union music. In the spring of 1942, they stopped making new music amid sinking popularity, due to their previous anti-war songs. They couldn’t land very many gigs and by March of 1943, they were officially disbanded.
Analysis of the Lyrics
The lyrics of the song, “Talking Union,” are straightforward. “In verse after verse, “Talking Union” described how to start a union: pass out leaflets, call meetings, resist the attempts of the boss to derail those efforts, for ‘he’s a bastard-unfair-slave driver-Bet he beats his own wife.’” (Fowke and Glazer) The song is upbeat and in a major key, so that it does not sound hopeless or sad, rather the union workers can rally behind the song. It is obvious that the Almanac Singers were on the side of the workers, and were in favor of workers’ rights. And due to Talking Union catchy nature and easy to understand moral, it quickly gained popularity and was heard across the country. It is simple and straightforward such that two thirds of the song were written within an hour, and the rest of the song was finished by Pete Seeger that night. This song was the reason that the Congress of Industrial Organizations agreed to sponsor the Almanac Singer’s national tour.
The song, “Talking Union,” is a very typical Talking Blues style song. Talking Blues is a combination of folk music and country music. It is characterized by rhythmic speech or near-speech where the melody is free but the actual rhythm of the song is very strict. This means that there are a wide array of notes and pitches used, but the tempo and beat pattern are locked and do not change throughout the song. This song uses a banjo, with repetitive guitar lines utilizing a three-chord progression, this means that while it is called a “blues,” it is not officially a blues style. It is also like the typical Talking Blues style due to its rhyming couplets. And it fits the theme of dry humor, adding a wry commentary of the subject. The Almanac Singers are attributed to turning the Talking Blues into a common political protest song style.
Purpose of the Song "Talking Union"
The Almanac Singers wrote about many issues close to the hearts of the left wing, including unions. The song is intended to advocate for labor rights. It was released as part of an album of the same name in the spring of 1941. They often performed the song for labor union gatherings and they were very well-received by the unions. In May of that year they performed in front of twenty thousand striking transport workers at Madison Square Garden. “Talking Union” was written while the Almanac Singers were organizing the Congress of Industrial Organizations unions and the song was partially meant to help inspire workers to organize and form labor unions. The talking blues style encouraged the audience (often laborers) to sing along, feel a sense of togetherness, and feel like they belong with the union. It provided a sense of solidarity.
Impact of "Talking Union"
When the song “Talking Union” and the album of the same name were released in the spring of 1941, it was an instant hit. In fact, the album was their most successful one. They were playing for labor groups across the country. Some days, they played up to five or six performances in a single day. For a while, the song was very popular and impacted many laborers across the country. In June of that year, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and it was apparent that war was imminent. At that point, they stopped singing their anti-war songs and focused on unions and other topics not related to war. They sang for laborer-filled audiences in major cities such as Chicago, Denver, and Pittsburgh. But after Pearl Harbor, the Almanac Singers switched to almost exclusively anti-fascist music to help with the war effort. In total, they were performing Talking Union for less than a year. As such, it didn’t have much of an impact, in part because they didn’t perform it for long but also in part because during the war, the goals of unions took a backseat to manufacturing for the war effort.
Although the intentions of the Almanac Singers were good, there was a great amount of controversy surrounding the song and the protests that it was accompanied by. They supported some very controversial political viewpoints and were a major part of the pro-labor movement. Many in America identified them as communists, and their controversial opinions certainly weren’t helping their case. A September 1941 Time article accused them of being communists. This association caused the Almanac Singers to be rejected by many Americans, their songs written off as communist propaganda in the years following World War II. The controversy took a toll on their influence and may have slowed them from making any progress in the pro-labor movement.
Songs of Work and Freedom is a piece of history, depicting songs from the pro-labor movement. It brings us tunes from various groups, including the Almanac Singers. The Almanac Singers were at the forefront of the movement for workers’ rights. While their efforts were made in good faith, some of the viewpoints they supported were highly controversial. The controversy surrounding them may have affected their efforts, but they made an impact nonetheless. Songs of Work and Freedom provides us with the music of the past, showing us how a song can change society, for better or for worse.
Fowke, Edith and Glazer, Joe. Songs of Work and Freedom. Doubleday and Company, Inc, 1961
Reuss, Richard with Reuss, JoAnne. American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927-1957. The Scarecrow Press, 2000.
Winkler, Allan. “To Everything There is a Season” Pete Seeger and the Power of Song. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Cohen, Ronald and Capaldi, James. The Pete Seeger Reader. Oxford University Press, 2014.
Sean Kelly, Anderson Wheatley, Adam WilliamsRead more
Songs for America: Patriotism Through Music
At the beginning of World War II, young Americans relied both on patriotically-fueled hope and personal, often religious, faith to keep spirits high. American culture at that time was filled with stories and songs evoking patriotism and nationalism. During the
war, boosting morale was just as important for Americans at home as it was for soldiers on the battlefields of Europe. The United States’ morale-raising efforts included tracts, songbooks, sheet music and recordings of patriotic songs by popular singers, to name a few. “Songs For America”, a songbook published in 1941, offered a considerable array of songs that portrayed America’s greatness in terms both of nationalism and cultural diversity. This songbook intended to kindle patriotism high during wartime to help the American people remain positive during the tough times to come. “Songs For America” includes a wide variety of songs that gives an insight into attitudes and occurrences on the home front at the time the book was published.
The publisher of “Songs For America”, Robbins Music Corporation in New York, selected a variety of songs from their own archives, past and contemporary, composed by a wide variety of people of different styles. It was created to portray the greatness of America through patriotic songs while portraying various American folk traditions. These books were intended for “schools, assemblies, music groups, homes, and social groups” as the publisher described inside the front cover. This dedication was critical to include because it, along with the other mass-produced books published by the same company, was meant for mass sale and intended for various crowds. While “Songs for America” was meant for mass sale, we believe this one in particular is a personal copy because of the notes and small annotations throughout it. Seeming to be in good condition, the book appears to have been preserved well as it survived over the years. It totaled up to contain 103 pages within, discounting the page that had been ripped out at the very beginning. Each page was wrinkled from apparent water damage, showing the wear and tear it had experienced over the years.
Printed on the inside front cover was a collection of ads for songbooks that were also published by Robbins Music Corporation. This once again showed how the publishing company was typically in mass production. The most simplistic versions of the hymns appear in the book because it allowed those who lacked a strong musical background to still be able to participate and enjoy, ultimately explaining why the book was aimed at young school children and “the living room pianist.” Having a younger target audience helped to spread support of the war because these children and adolescents tended to be less educated about world problems, furthermore helping young Americans gain a strong sense of nationalism during World War II.
Patriotism Through Music
Throughout “Songs for America,” the songs were placed throughout so that the readers would have no trouble seeing its ultimate message - patriotism. It is no secret today that “The Star Spangled Banner” is an overwhelming symbol of support and patriotism for America, which is why it was printed on the second page of the book. The song contains four verses, but only three are included in “Songs for America.” The editor of the book ensured that the first and final verses would be included because of their sheer popularity and meaning. The first and most well-known verse automatically sprouts feelings of support for the country right off the bat. It uses words like “perilous fight” and “bombs bursting in air” to signify the war against the British and how America ultimately won. This is important to include within a songbook aimed at creating support for World War II because it allows the reader to think back to a similar time of war and how it ended positively for the Americans. Furthermore, the theme of the last verse is that of pride and patriotism, more so lyrically than any of the other verses. It is dense with words such as “freeman,” “home,” “blest,” and “victory,” signifying America’s triumph. In the final words of the song, Francis Scott Key includes the phrase “in God is our trust,” which ultimately led to America’s motto “in God we trust.” This combined aspects of religion and patriotism into one phrase, and reflected how Francis Scott Key thought that God sided with America. Overall, “The Star Spangled Banner” radiated support and positivity for America in the hopes of altering the minds of the public to support the war at hand.
Another song that appeared to be strongly influential in the aspect of war support was “An American Hymn” which was composed by Matthias Keller shortly after the Civil War had ended. At the time, the federal government offered a prize to whoever could create the best original hymn for America. Although Keller’s hymn was received poorly at first, changes were made to it to where it was so prominent that is was featured at the Peace Jubilee where 50,000 people gathered to listen. We believe that this song was added into the compilation of “Songs for America” because it is a guiding principle for how Americans would like their country to be. Thus, after World War II was in action, Americans needed that “light at the end of the tunnel” to move forward from the anguish of war and focus on keeping America great.
On a different note, “The American’s Creed” is not as much of a song as it is a pledge.
Written by William Tyler Page, these chauvinistic words were included in “Songs for America” for patriotic reasons as it reminded the readers of America’s ultimate vision. It is the first piece included in this songbook because Robbins Music Corporation wanted to set a dramatic yet nationalistic tone for the rest of the book. One of the lines in “The American’s Creed” reads “I therefore believe it is my duty to my Country to love it; to support its constitution; to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.” The entire statement beams support and raw patriotism for America, especially through its strong call to arms in the last line. Uncle Sam needed to create a sense of positive morale for the war, and reminding the people of how great their country is did just that. Furthermore, hidden within is a subtle message about religious values being tied to the war effort. The creators of the creed wanted to make the United States seem like it can be bound to both spiritual and patriotic values, which is why the words seem to worship how great our nation is while also creating high patriotic emotions in young Americans. Songs and pieces like “The American’s Creed” were not only helpful, but also necessary during wartime.
The Music Industry During the 1940s
A nation that wants to create patriotism and nationalism during wartime had to produce a lot of records and songbooks. This desire to spread awareness and keep morale high during wartime not only helped the soldiers and their families, but also helped the music industry. The music industry, during this time, was booming. Not only had record sales soared during the years of WWII, but also patriotic music sales as well. In 1940, sales of records (number purchased) totaled to be $80 million, and by 1946, this number would jump up to $275 million, a $195 million increase (Young 86). This increase in sales was mainly due to the war, and this period marked the turning point for the music industry. Postwar era would ensue after the war, which also generated revenue and sales for the music industry. The war created market stimulation at the home front, and the music industry experienced this first hand at the time.
In order to create these great Patriotic songs that kept the music industry booming, a certain “recipe” had to be followed. Everyone was searching for that Great American War song. These songs had to follow certain guidelines including focusing on the enemy but “not [minimizing] their abilities” because this could create a sense of false strength for Americans. There was high encouragement of songs that complimented unity: “common action, common love of freedom, common consideration and esteem of one group of people for another”, and having the perfect title was important to get people’s attention as well (Smith 62). Songwriters had to follow these guidelines to get the best reaction out of listeners and to make it big in the industry.
Frey, Hugo, ed. Songs for America. New York: Robbins Music Corporation, 1941.
“Keller’s American Hymn.” Hymnary.org. Harry Plantinga, 2007. Web. 26 Mar. 2017
Smith, Kathleen E. R. God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War. Lexington, USA: UP of Kentucky, 2003. Print.
Young, William H., and Nancy K. Young. Music of the World War II Era. Westport CT: Grennwood, 2008. Print.
Bailey Slusher, McKenzie Kellar, and Matt MarinRead more
"O I'm A Good Old Rebel." A Confederate's Creed.
The Civil War started and ended in the exact same place and time, physically and culturally. While it is true that the shelling of Fort Sumter is typically considered to officially have been the first hostile actions shown between two definitive sides in the Civil War, it was not until the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Battle of First Manassas) that the men in the blue would eye musket-to-musket with those in the gray, ironically the very same location where General Lee would shake hands with Grant four years later to the very week in April in the McLean house at Appomattox. Coincidentally as well, the tension felt between the North and the South was also no less than it was four years prior, and through the use of musical parodies, both sides had often taken it upon themselves to turn gallantry and national pride into mockery. Music certainly played an important role during the war, and while Union pieces were typically more march-like and orchestral and Confederate more melodic and deeply cultural, both had undoubtedly the least shred of hesitation to rip one to their adversaries and claim the moral high ground embodied by populism. And that's exactly what the southern folk song "O I'm A Good Old Rebel" encompassed following its immediate release on the shelves of a Virginian drug store after the war's end. By appealing to the shortcomings of the recently defeated Southern Confederacy through Northern mockery, "O I'm A Good Old Rebel" exhibits some of this cultural resentment and pride embodied through populism that still remains even up to today as a result of such a psychologically enduring and critical event of our country's history.
With no indication of an explicit author save an identifying symbol found on the inside cover, it is difficult to trace the piece's origins to an exact time and place. Through extensive research, it is rumored to have been written by Major James Randoph, a Virginian who served under General J.E.B. Stuart, one of the Confederacy's trusted generals, though such findings cannot be confirmed as they are not officially recognized by the Library of Congress. What is known to be true, however, was that it was sold after the war in a Virginian drug store owned by a McMurren & Waddell evidenced by its multiple references of the Freedman's Bureau and Reconstruction. No other information regarding the drug store company could be found, but often during this time other satirical pieces could be sold in similar accessible in order to make money off easy and unoriginal humor at the expense of one's adversaries.
In Battle Hymns, author Christian McWhirter details examples of such political satire pieces, often parodies of earlier war hymns tied together with nationalistic and populist messages on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, such as in the case of W.H. Barnes's "Battle Cry of Freedom" (pro-South) and Joe English's "The Irish Volunteer" (pro-North) (McWhirter). However, in the case of "O I'm A Good Old Rebel," the adopted tune unlike the others aforementioned is not in of itself a parody of a previous tune but instead adopts its tune as a rite of passage so that its politically charged lyrics may essentially spiteF the "damned Yankees" in "honorable" dedication to Republican Thaddeus Stevens.
An example of a political parody from the North: a take on the Southern hymn, "The Bonnie Blue Flag."
Regarding the reasons for the piece's production, the song was most likely intended to be performed in piano parlors throughout the South at informal social gatherings. The music itself only contains two tracks, one for vocals and another for a piano accompaniment, and the lyrics themselves in fact are the only original parts to the piece as a whole, as the tune is adopted from the "wild, western chaunt, 'Joe Bowers.'" As a result, it could be said that the intent clearly is more participatory than presentational — something simply fun to sing a long to in company with fellow countrymen sharing a common hatred for the Northern man. Also because of its intuitive lyrical design and unoriginal compilation, it was concluded to have been made for mass production. Its cover, intricate with the carved image of an ambiguous country-looking man, was designed from the process of lithography, possibly at a different time from the writing of the piece's lyrical composure. Lithography, introduced by Alois Senefelder, included the carving of a design into stone and then the transferal of the design onto surfaces by ink with the intention of mass production. While it is unknown if the cover was created for the sake of this piece, we personally do not think that it was due to its title positioned off center vis a vis its cover art. Since then it most likely has been stored with other similar pieces before being brought to Hoole Special Collections Library due to its preserved outward conditions and its back page containing text rubbed off from another work.
Historical Context and Populist Spin
With an apparent contradictory dedication to Thaddeus Stevens, a prominent Republican and abolitionist, found on the inside cover of the piece ("Respectfully dedicated to the hon. Thad. Stevens") it begs the question, what was the author's intention? At first glance, the listener may have small confusion determining whether or not the piece as a whole is satire of the Southern man with his terribly out of place grammar actually dedicated to Stevens or if the piece itself is it genuinely an insult and is sent smugly to Stevens out of spite. While as a whole the piece can indeed be perceived as ambiguous, because of its historical context associated with it, we believe it to most likely be the latter, that it was a unifying call to preserve the Southern opposition to Northern politics in postbellum America. Today in fact, many avid Confederate Civil War fans (i.e. those who bear the "stars and bars" proudly and are often interested in Confederate paraphernalia and the war itself) have adopted the song themselves, thus signifying at the very least its true intentions of southern pride. Since its origins, the mysterious song has been referred to and covered by various artists including Hoyt Axton, the 2nd South Carolina String Band, and even Johnny Rebel, a prominent racist and KKK supporter. Even Edward VII, the prince of Wales, once referred to it at a reception in London as "that fine American song with the cuss words in it."Again however, since the author is to an extent unknown it certainly is difficult to determine whether his intentions were sincere. Though because it is rumored to have been a Confederate major and if such is the case, then this only confirms the nature for what it has been adopted in the present day as, a song for southern pride.
Now that the piece's ambiguity has been addressed and for the sake of argument assumed to be genuine, the question of populism and its role further will help to contextualize the piece's original intentions for production. Both the North and the South not surprisingly held deep convictions about their own raisons d'être, though certainly in different manners. Both from these convictions would often use populism as a way to claim moral high ground, either as a way of comparing the "War of Northern Aggression" similar to the "yank's" rebellion again Great Britain a century prior or as a need to immediately reconcile a divided nation of democracy in order to prove to a world of despotism that representative democracy was indeed a viable way to run a country. Civil War historian and author Larzer Ziff best addresses such populist divide in his book Civil War Humor: Songs of the Civil War:
During the war, the Loyal Publication Society had been tireless in disseminating songs and other literature throughout the North in order to preserve "the integrity of the Nation, by counteracting the efforts of the advocates of a disgraceful and disintegrating Peace. . . ." In the South, however, the songs that were sung were understandably more cherished momentoes since they were poignant remembrances of not only a great war but also of a well-loved order which would never be again.
Thus in the case of "O I'm A Good Old Rebel," there is a clear underlying message found throughout its lyrics of a wish that the Confederacy had triumphed instead and an overall glorification of Southern culture at the expense of Northern aggression, a clear example of populism taken with a Southern spin.
Now in terms of these such lyrics, the piece has several features which appear to suggest the established contrary and create a façade intended to mock the average southerner. Though upon closer inspection, it is rather instead believed to be a mockery of the North! By use of lyrics that seem to exaggerate beyond confederate idealism and the use of very poor grammar and spelling, an initial appearance of southern mockery is given when though actually it simply is encompassing of southern culture (used for its populist call to action). One example of this can be found at the beginning of the second verse when it mentions, "I hates the Constitution, This Great Republic, too, I hates the Freedman’s Bureau, In uniforms of blue." The artists's use of grammar in this way seems to be attempting to accurately depict the way the average southerners spoke at the time of the war, very similar to when writers and historians recorded the hymns and conversations of former slaves at later times.
Furthermore, another part of the song that supports the argument that this was not merely meant to satirize southern idealism is the use of a lyrical rebuttal towards the popular union war song, "We Are Coming Father Abra'am:" "Three hundred thousand yankees is stiff in southern dust; We got three hundred thousand, before they conquered us; They died of southern fever and southern steel and shot, I wish they was three million instead of what we got." There’s nothing about these lines that can be considered over exaggeration or in poor taste towards the Confederacy. They show a legitimate hatred of the North which can be merited from their point of view, after all, considering they had just fought their own equivalence of the American Revolution and were unsuccessful. Another example similar to this one which further reveals the genuine nature of this piece can be found in the final verse of the song: "I can’t take up my musket and fight 'em no more, But I ain’t going to love ‘em, now that is sarten sure; And I don’t want no pardon, for what I was and am, I won’t be reconstructed And I don’t care a damn.” This stanza is clearly free of any hyperbole or humor one would expect in the final verse of a song mocking the north. The final cry echoing the epitome of “The South will rise again,” is something that would have been a very real threat at the time it was written, which was merely months after the bloodiest conflict in American history. Most people would be unable to joke about a second civil war just after they have lost members of their family, friends, and personal property to the first civil war, thus demonstrating that the song almost certainly was actually intended to spite the North.
Between the tattered feelings of southern pride and national reconciliation in an emotionally trying time, "O I'm A Good Rebel" demonstrates the true character and attitude of a people just recently vanquished and swept under the rug of Unionist Reconstruction. Where once they had dreams and aspirations of independence, the South suddenly became a political quagmire of uncertainty, stripped during this period of their rights to hold office, their slaves to make their industries thrive, and any states' rights they hoped to achieve by means of revolution. As a result, this piece was meant to cherish memories of old southern pride and to resist change, thus giving many Southerners hope and inspiration for a second chance at independence.
English, Joe. "The Irish Volunteer." Performed by David Kincaid. Feb. 1998, Rykodisc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yavz9rzaOSY.
McWhirter, Christian. Battle Hymns : The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War. Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c2012., 2012. Civil War America. EBSCOhost. Print.
"O I'm A Good Old Rebel." 1865 Virginia: McMurren & Waddell. Print.
Ziff, Larzer. "Civil War Humor: Songs of the Civil War." Civil War History, vol. 2, no. 3, Sept. 1956, pp. 7-28. EBSCOhost, libdata.lib.ua.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=31h&AN=45974814&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Cameron Burns, Will Sprunk, William WolfRead more
Labor Union Songs Written in the 1930’s and Republished in the 1970’s
During the 1930’s workers rights were a hotly contested issue, because of the conflict between bosses and workers. The workers demanded more equality because their bosses controlled a large amount of the wealth while the workers were paid little. Men, women, and children had to work long hours with little pay in dangerous conditions for example: workers commonly lost fingers in the machinery they were working on. Strikes, protests and other actions were performed by many in hopes of wrestling rights away from the bosses. This was something of a new concept in the 1930’s. Due to the industrial boom labor conditions were extremely unhealthy, with few rights given to workers. Songs for Southern Workers: 1937 Songbook of the Kentucky Workers Alliance is a pamphlet filled with pieces to sing while protesting on the picket line. The pamphlet was initially published in 1937, but republished in 1973 because it was still relevant. The 1970’s were an era where human rights were starting to become an issue with court cases like Roe vs. Wade, and the pamphlet’s emphasis on individual rights was still a powerful message in that era. These songs were resonant for labor, as during the 1970’s anti-union groups like the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable were formed.
Labor Unions in the 1930’s
Even though labor unions have been legal in the United States since 1842, they did not have a large amount of rights until the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1935. Since the book by Don West was published originally in 1937, the purpose of the publication was to get the word out about how labor unions could advance the economic prosperity for each individual worker while also expressing the rights that labor unions gave all people.
The purpose of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was to, “prevent excessive concentrations of wealth” because individuals like Carnegie and Rockefeller previously controlled a large amount of that wealth. It was because of this large concentration of wealth that Senator Wagner said, “the maldistribution of wealth was the cause of the Great Depression” because the employees could not earn a fair wage (Keyserling). Labor unions, prior to the FLSA, were supposed to advocate for higher workers’ wages, but they could not enforce this because, “fair competition did not recognize the right of labor to bargain collectively” often times firing employees for trying to collectively bargain (Keyserling). However, the FLSA made it illegal for businesses to interfere in the activities of labor unions; strengthening labor unions and increasing the rights of workers.
The rights of workers in labor unions expanded under the FLSA by, “fighting against the limitations to man’s fulfillment of himself” (Rosenfarb). The corporations, with their massive wealth, limited the worker’s fulfillment of a fair wage by not allowing collective bargaining and organizations of labor thus passing the FLSA was necessary to, “protect against the economic absolutism” (Rosenfarb). Workers were now able to speak freely about their labor conditions while not having to fear that their opinions would get them fired. For example, Songs for Southern Workers was published after the passage of the FLSA and many other labor unions, such as the CIO, were formed because of more support for unions. Other than speaking freely and receiving the right to organize, workers also would be able to negotiate for fairer wages for everyone in the company, not just the members of their own group.
Since they advocated for higher wages and conditions for everyone, not just members of the union, the unions were seen as a progressive and inclusive group. For example, unions were mostly open to people of all races and the FLSA did not discriminate against races saying, “the extent of collective bargaining, job discrimination on the basis of race will tend to be eliminated” (Rosenfarb). The unions included everyone in their negotiations which was revolutionary at the time because the Civil Rights movement had not yet started. Often times even people who were, “anti-union frequently were racially hostile” (Rosenfarb). These people were seen labeled as racist ultimately creating a small spark that led to the civil rights movement and the reprinting of the book.
For the most part the songs are angry about conditions and steadfast in not backing down. The authors are trying to communicate that issues of unfair pay and hazardous conditions are hurting workers very badly, and that they are not going to take it anymore. For instance in the piece “Give me back my job again” the singer is proclaiming that they are not demanding anything out of line (“I don’t want your millions, mister”), but the low pay and hazardous conditions they work under are intolerable and they demand compensation. Then, for other pieces, the tone is rather sad, and laments that America has found itself in this situation. “Gone are our jobs” is a perfect example of this with phrases like “we live in want and dread”, but ultimately the song ends with an expression of how they will not be broken, that they will take what is theirs. In the song “Not going to work and starve no more” the indignation over low pay is apparent even in the title. The pamphlet not only expresses a desire for change, but also a decree of solidarity with other workers, with songs like “Hold the fort” and “Solidarity forever”.
Parody as Social Commentary
Parody is a very strong way to deliver a message. It takes something that the opposition usually thinks very highly of, and twists it to have anew meaning. Since this is the case “Ridicule and parody have a long tradition in the labor movement” (Huck, 311). In Songs for Southern Workers, there is one song in particular that is loaded with parody. The song is ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’. The original version of this song usually proclaims proudly of being an American, but the parody in Songs for Southern Workers is a biting condemnation of how the bosses get all of the power and the workers get nothing. Lines like “Land where the workers toil and the bosses reap their spoil” all set to the tune of a recognizable patriotic song hammer home the point that men’s labor is given no reward (West, 5). Parody has been used by other unions too, “For more than fifteen years the Teamsters Campaign Department has utilized parody of corporate identity as a tool against employers” (Huck, 313). Though it’s less strident in our other pieces, parody is still at play. All of our songs are set to common household tunes. This means that the workers will easily know the tune to the songs, but also mocks these household songs with the grim reality that people are being treated like animals while others profit.
Politics in the 1970’s
The pamphlet was republished in the 1970’s; this begs the question: why would they be republished after this long a lapse in time? Firstly, the views expressed in the songs achieved a lot of traction in the years preceding publication. The songs express a loathing of the upper classes who put them in slave-like near starvation conditions under the cruel yoke of their enemies. These are not men who believe in a mutually beneficial exchange of labor for compensation under a capitalist system where everyone is left better off. They see the system itself as the problem. That anti-establishment view of the world grew popular in light of the Vietnam War. John Kerry, in Congressional testimony, boldly claimed that the war was kept going in order to serve the ego of America’s leaders (Kerry). President Nixon did not want to be the first United States President to lose a war (Kerry). Other anti-war campaigners whispered darkly about the military-industrial complex and how the war was not to liberate a defenseless people from Marxist tyranny but a cynical effort to prop up the defense industry. Class tensions would have increased as the well-connected got out of the draft and the poor went into the jungles of Southeast Asia. “A rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight,” is a cliché for a reason. The Vietnam War was a shock to the country for far more fundamental reasons. John Kerry’s testimony exposed a number of atrocities and war crimes perpetrated by United States forces (Kerry). This shocked a nation that was convinced of its own moral righteousness. They were the ones with gulags. They were the ones who subjugated Eastern Europe (Sitikoff). It was in this atmosphere that the union’s message became attractive. If our capitalist leaders had gone to war on false pretenses and we behaved this badly, who was to say we were better?
Huck, Gary, and Konopacki Mike. "Art for Mobilization." Scout. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2017
West, Don, comp. Songs for Southern Workers 1937 Songbook of the Kentucky Workers Alliance. Huntington, West Virginia: Appalachian Movement, 1973. Print.
Kerry, John Forbes. "Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement by John Kerry to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations." Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement by John Kerry. University of Virginia, 23 Apr. 1971. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/VVAW_Kerry_Senate.html>.
Sitikoff, Harvard. "The Postwar Impact of Vietnam." The Postwar Impact of Vietnam. University of Illinois, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/vietnam/postwar.htm>.
Keyserling, Leon H., and Joseph Rosenfarb. The Wagner Act: After Ten Years. Thesis. University of California, 1945. Print.
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