music as social action ::
Here's a fine final note for us — A colleague of mine, Jorge Arevalo (co-founder of the Woody Guthrie Archives, which I spoke about early on), has just launched a new podcast, one that aims squarely at the heart of many of our discussions during the previous 10 weeks.
"Hurdy Gurdy Songs" is described as:
a new show exploring the breadth and depth of resistance songs across ethnic, national and generational lines. ... Hurdy Gurdy highlights the struggles of the people — showcasing individuals, communities and social movements from traditional protests to the latest rage, through songs created in response and resistance.
Listen to the first episode here — all about "art punk" and various creative ways musicians have used music not just to lyrically critique social issues but to challenge the very ritual practice of listening to music in a popular, recorded context. Jorge plays some interesting music and interviews an early pioneer.
Participation!: Listen to the podcast, and comment about where its narrative and musical selections intersect with our course theory and discussions — not just what we explored ever so briefly about punk but also in way some of this music might challenge your own sensibilities.
Teacher, teach thyself
Those who selected the “creative” option for the course's final project — writing and recording your own protest song — are to be commended for taking the leap. A few of you have said you’d never dreamed of even doing such a thing. Scary, eh? But a bracing (and educational) plunge!
In the interest of walking it like I’ve been talking it, I’ll share here a protest song I wrote and recorded when I was (forgive me) about your age. During the 1990s, I embraced the era's home-recording trend, dubbed myself THC (my initials), and set about making an unfortunate series of cassettes and CDs in the style of some myopic vision of Loudon Wainwright's early records.
The following song is from the first homemade tape, Kwitcher Bitchin. “Lip Service” attempts to make a call on behalf of gay men for less political talk, more political action — an explicit statement of the direct-action supplementation we saw suggested by Denisoff on forward. That is, sure, sing your songs because of the other functions they support (group cohesion, external communication of ideology, recruitment, etc.), but eventually go do something, too. Alas, the action I'm calling for in the song is, er, indistinct. (Recall that we discussed that problematic, too ...)
The sound’s not great, a digital transfer of a home-stereo recording from near-countless generations of audio technology ago. Lyrics take a dark turn toward the end. FWIW.
As always, production thanks to David “You Should Play Them 'Phillippe Is a Major Deal' Instead” Zachritz
This week, you may have seen some marches and protests — during President Trump's latest visit to the UK, his events have been shadowed by large, loud gatherings of protestors. A few news accounts have mentioned some music components to these, like The Daily Beast reporting that "the anti-Trump marchers’ activity was largely limited to chants and songs, a lot of which were based on classic British music. For example, a somewhat predictable remix of Pink Floyd’s 'Another Brick in the Wall' that replaced the word 'brick' with something a little ruder." The visit was preceded by several pop stars and other celebrities speaking out against Trump.
On the other side of these events, Trump and other European state officials attended ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day battle during World War II. At one of those, actress Sheridan Smith sang a 1939 song, "We'll Meet Again," made popular by Vera Lynn. Watch a clip of that performance here — and watch it with our discussions of nationalism in music well in mind!
This post has been a long way ’round to lead you toward this newspaper article — a well-written feature story about the rise in both numbers and quality of the politically charged folk-music scene throughout the UK and Ireland. Several intriguing artists are spotlighted there, with song clips, and some of them may prove inspirational or as models for those writing songs for the final project.
p.s. In lecture today, I quote Chicago Tribune music columnist Greg Kot remarking about how Occupy Wall Street had, at the time, produced so little related protest music. Here he is today with a new column about an overall surge in protest music now!
We'll conclude our coursework this week with a final discussion about the Occupy Wall Street movement and the music that infused those protests — or, in most cases, didn't. For some extra background on the movement and its connections to previous social actions, this article offers a well-written history.
We'll talk about the drum circles at Occupy and link them to other discussions we've had about wordless musical contributions to social protest. We won't, however, get to another element of Occupy's particular modes of communication that is worth considering in connection to our examinations of music: the human microphone, a tactic in which audience members repeat the words of a speaker in waves through a crowd, "amplifying" the speaker when no electronic PA system is present. It's a creative strategy that facilitates large assemblies and contributes to their mobility. See some post-Occupy examples of its use here.
Tips for final-project interviews
For those of you selecting the interview option for the final project, as mentioned, I'm happy to meet and discuss basic interview strategies before your scheduled chat. You'll want to overprepare for the interview and maximize your time in order to get as much data from the subject(s) as possible. When the time comes to sit down and start writing, it's better to have too many notes than not enough!
In the meantime, you may find this helpful: a few years ago, for another UCSD Comm course, I prepared this guide to basic interviewing skills. It covers how to research and prepare, how to plan your questions (to get more than "yes or no" answers), how to facilitate those questions and follow-up during the interview (plan ahead so that on the spot you can listen and react), some tips on note-taking vs. recording, etc. Holler if you have any questions.
Since our quick hopscotch through various musical mega-events in the 1970s and especially ’80s, several of you have asked follow-up questions about the ultimate impact (politically but also financially, which was its chief stated mission) of the Live Aid concerts in 1985.
I'll refer you to two pieces:
— This media article from The Atlantic a couple of years ago is a fair retrospective of Live Aid's cultural legacy, such as how the concerts crafted a template other fundraisers have followed.
— This scholarly article from a journal attempts to survey Ethiopians who would have been infants at the time of the famine (and, as we saw, such imagery was a prime motivational tool in the fundraiser's marketing) and gauge how their lives were impacted by the relief efforts. The short answer: not much.
We've never enough time in this survey course to cover hip-hop to the level of depth students often crave. If you're left wanting more — or needing sources for your final project — be sure to check out the optional readings and viewings suggested on the schedule page. Jeff Chang's book is frequently regarded as a seminal summation of the genre's history, and The Anthology of Rap is notable not only for being a publishing milestone but also for its controversial errors (to which one of the editors responded in an interesting, lengthy interview).
Also, check out this list of "8 Books That Define and Defy the Canon of Hip Hop Literature." Wimsatt's Bomb the Suburbs, listed there, is a bonkers book in all the right ways — really worth checking out (which you can here!).
Got other recommendations? Post in the comments!
The following post contains some technical resources available to those recording songs for the final project ...
The Media Teaching Lab in Comm
In the Communication bldg. is the campus Media Teaching Lab, a resource for audio-visual equipment and editing software. The storeroom for checking out equipment is downstairs on the first floor; the office and editing bays are upstairs. To access any of these services, you MUST adhere to their strict policies …
Before accessing anything in the Media Lab, you must register your student ID here.
(Do this immediately so that it will be processed soon!)
Checking out equipment — Once registered, any UCSD undergrad may check out a variety of multimedia gear from the lab, including video cameras, microphones, and digital audio recorders. A good option for many of you will be the Tascam DR-05, a fairly simple and intuitive digital audio recorder, from which you can easily upload files to your computer for later editing and/or final delivery. View available equipment and check it out here. (Equipment tends to be difficult to come by toward the end of the quarter, so plan and work early!)
Tim Heidecker is an actor, comedian, and musician. In addition to his comedy duo and roles in TV and film, he makes occasional recordings and tours. His music, in a variety of styles, also leans toward the comic but in a topical, social-messaging way. A year after President Trump's election, he released the album Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker's Trump Songs.
This week, he rush-released a track online in response to the escalating legislation against abortion in many states throughout the country. (Many musicians have, if not yet rushed songs out about it, weighed in through social media etc. about the issue.) A simple song featuring strummed guitar and a basic verse structure (a good model for those planning to write a song for their final project!), "To the Men" addresses lawmakers who voted for the bills by narrating details of young women in the targeted states.
Hear the song here, and lyrics are here ...
Participation! "To the Men" is about women — but not specific women. Instead Heidecker writes his characters loosely as a kind of composite. Instead of telling an individual tale that names a victim and describes a subjective situation, he broadens the narrative and rounds the characters. How does this tactic contribute to or detract from his messaging? Which of our criteria does it serve, and for whom?
Below are all the embeds (that I have) curated by the class for the annotated playlist assignment.
As a body of work, the lists show both interesting common threads (y'all love the Kendrick Lamar, that's for sure!) and intriguing detours for our context (Carrie Underwood! Imagine Dragons! a rapper actually named Propaganda!!).
Peruse them and discuss — in class or (Participation!) in comments below — any through-lines you spot: what are the commonalities to the songs students selected? Importantly, how would you suggest that these service our evolving list of social-action functions?
At the bottom of this post, I embedded a possibly related playlist of my own ...
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