LINER NOTES: #OWS
Occupy Wall Street is a no-brainer theme. The music angle has been present since Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum shared an impromptu performance mere days into the NYC occupation. Soon after musicians of all generations -- '60s icons Joan Baez and Pete Seeger on one end, contemporaries Talib Kweli and Fitz & The Tantrums on the other -- flocked. The theme writes itself.
Leave it to my roundabout way of thinking to approach this theme from the back alley. One of the main conversation points of the OWS movement has been income inequality, which brought to mind Billy Paul's post-Watergate stress-ball "Let the Dollar Circulate," (which I came to via Spacek's 2005 single "Dollar"). Lush song with a tough message. And got me thinking, who else has stepped up like this? We live in an era of pop philanthropy, there should be countless other sterling examples, right?
The few who call out the evil of greed are an unsurprising yet motley bunch. There are self-made philosopher/musicians the Minutemen and boho-icon Tracy Chapman. There are also didactic democrats Fugazi and embittered folk hero Shawn Phillips. Though the styles and tone range greatly, the overall sentiment is coherent. Each song recognizes a systemic or societal flaw, then seethes or seeks to uplift.
To be honest, I wasn't too happy with parts of this set. Fugazi has better songs than "Greed." And "Share the Wealth" and "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" sound dated and overly earnest. And closing with "This Little Light of Mine" felt both predictable and tangential. Maybe the essence of this theme was flawed?
I got my answer a couple weekends ago at, of all places, a children's Hanukkah concert. I joined my in-laws and a few of the fam's kids for a show by ShirLaLa, a veteran children's musician. Her set of interactive, holiday-themed chunes was plenty lively and engaging. However, her closer was the aforementioned spiritual standard. Never mind this was a Hanukkah concert in a synagogue in front of an audience predominantly made up of congregants. "This Little Light of Mine" speaks to the core of joyful compassion, yet has enough flexibility to be adapted to any context or time. Feeling that spirit take root in a room of kids and parents was a much-needed reaffirmation.
Expect more of these themes in '12, with or without an occupation.
(fast fwd to 6:25)