Artists should speak out

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    Two razor-thin presidential elections, a controversial war and questionable domestic policies have sent many people to either side of the political room, creating the most divisive time for the United States since the 1960s.In tumultuous times, it’s only natural for people to speak out – either for or against an issue.

    “Artists, be they painters, actors, writers or musicians, have a responsibility to reflect and interpret the world around them,” said DJ Shadow, a popular, underground, San Francisco musician, in a statement on www.zackdelarocha.com.

    Musicians, for the most part, have not been as widely outspoken, or perhaps they have not been as widely heard.

    When the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines went political in 2003, saying in London she was “ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,” the members of Dixie Chicks saw their songs removed from radio playlists and found themselves rejected by some of their fan base.

    The few examples of anti-war songs have also been ignored by mainstream radio.

    In 2003, DJ Shadow and Zack De La Rocha, former singer of Rage Against the Machine, produced “March of Death” and released it as a free MP3 download on De La Rocha’s web site, www.zackdelarocha.com.

    “March” is an explosive, anti-war rant against the president and his administration.

    “Who let the cowboy in the saddle? He don’t know a missile from a gavel,” screams De La Rocha over distorted guitars and Shadow’s infamous, heavy-hitting drums.

    The Beastie Boys also released a free MP3 download in 2003 critical of the Bush administration, “In A World Gone Mad…”

    “We need health care more than going to war, you think it’s democracy we’re fighting for?,” they rap.

    Much like DJ Shadow, Beastie Boy Mike D said it’s a citizen’s responsibility to speak for or against an issue at hand.

    “We felt it would be irresponsible not to address what’s going on in the world while the events are still current,” Mike D said in a statement on the group’s official Web site.

    But while the Beasties and Shadow have always been vocal about their beliefs, few other musicians have been motivated (or brave) enough to tackle the war in Iraq, the president or any controversial topic.

    In the 1960s, it wasn’t uncommon to hear big acts take on big issues.

    Bob Dylan wished death upon warmonger politicos in “Masters of War,” the Beatles’ George Harrison criticized mounting taxes in “Taxman” and The Doors produced the eerily vague “Five to One,” which has been interpreted by fans as both anti-war and anti-hippie.

    For the time being, I don’t see Ashlee Simpson rallying her teenage troops against the Patriot Act or hear Nelly writing anything more profound than “Let me see ya grill.”

    One could argue, however, that the culture of the 1960s was a far cry from the culture of today. In the 1960s, youth was the counter-culture and the counter-culture survived on opposing the people in power.

    Today’s unmotivated youth culture is more likely to pay attention to MTV than the BBC.

    The war in Vietnam was also a much bloodier and longer affair than Iraq has been for the United States thus far; perhaps a larger, more vocal anti-war base is in the future.

    Art, be it music, film or literature, can serve as a cultural record of our time. Let’s hope people don’t look back and think we were concerned only with American Idols, dancing celebrities and break-up anthems.

    John-Laurent Tronche is a senior news-editorial major from Fort Worth.