When you hear the words “protest song,” what do you see? Is it a folkie like Bob Dylan or Joan Baez delivering songs about injustice? Is it an earnest young thing with a guitar? Is it trapped in 1960s amber, while time has moved on to more ambiguity, more nihilism, more solipsism?
British writers--and may we add amateur folksingers--Jonathan Luxmoore and Christine Ellis made this lament over two years ago in the pages of The Guardian, in an opinion piece entitled, “Not talkin' bout a revolution: where are all the protest songs?” Here they blame the immediacy of social media, the rise of aspirational hip hop, and the decline of radical politics. They end, presciently, with a Jeremy Corbyn-shaped hope for change. Well, look where we are now. Things developed rather quickly, did they not?
(And as a side note, I would suggest the 1980s as a way more protest-filled music decade than the 1960s. Because of the self-aggrandizement of 1960s curators, they claim more than they did. But nearly every pop, rock, r’n’b, and hip hop act of the ‘80s has at least one political song in its discography.)
Enter David Byrne, whose mission apart from his day job as a musician is to bring hope to the masses with a determined optimism. He’s here to say that the protest song never went away, only our definition of it. And he’s brought the receipts, or rather the playlist above, to prove his point:
...in fact, they now come from all directions in every possible genre—country songs, giant pop hits, hip hop, classic rock, indie and folk. Yes, maybe there weren’t many songs questioning the wisdom of invading Iraq, but almost every other issue has been addressed.
Stretching over six decades, the playlist demonstrates the various forms protest can take, from describing racial violence (Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” to Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout”) to bemoaning economic injustice (The Specials’ “Ghost Town”) and railing against war and conflict (U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, Edwin Starr’s “War”). Sometimes declaring the positive and gaining a voice is enough of a protest: you could argue that James Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” did more for equality than any song about racism. Bikini Kills’ “Rebel Girl” does similar things for third-wave feminism.
But Byrne wisely gives voice to those who feel they’re swimming against any resistance tide:
I’ve even included a few songs that “protest the protests.” Buck Owens, the classic country artist from Bakersfield, for example, has two songs here. “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” is a celebration of Americans who feel they are unnoticed, left behind. One might call it a populist anthem, but I think the reference to white socks is intentionally meant to be funny—in effect, it says: “we know who we are, we know how uncool white socks are.”
Look, it’s easy to believe that songs “changed the world” when they are easily accessible to hear decades later but the boots-on-the-ground marches and revolutionary acts from which they sprang are now just photographs, film reels, and foggy memories. But who can deny the gut punch of this year’s “This Is America” from Childish Gambino, the continued excellence of Killer Mike and/or Run the Jewels, and any number of songs that document our outrage? The songs of protest continue as long as there is injustice.
And in the case of David Byrne, covering a modern protest song and adding to its list of names, is what can keep an idea, a memory, and a feeling alive for a new audience. Here he is at the encore of his current tour, covering Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout,” a memorial to all the black lives killed by law enforcement.
“Here was a protest song that doesn’t hector or preach at us,” he said in an article for the Associated Press. “It simply asks us to remember and acknowledge these lives that have been lost, lives that were taken from us through injustice, though the song leaves that for the listener to put together. I love a drum line, so that aspect of the song sucked me in immediately as well. The song musically is a celebration and lyrically a eulogy. Beautiful.”
He also wisely asked permission to cover such a recent song, especially when it’s an older white man lending his voice to it. But Monae gave her blessing:
“I thought that was so kind of him and of course I said yes. The song’s message and names mentioned need to be heard by every audience.”
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.
David Byrne Curates a Playlist of Great Protest Songs Written Over the Past 60 Years: Stream Them Online is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.
Has any Japanese woodblock print — or for that matter, any piece of Japanese art — endured as well across place and time as The Great Wave off Kanagawa? Even those of us who have never known its name, let alone those of us unsure of who made it and when, can bring it to mind it with some clarity, as sure a sign as any (along with the numerous parodies) that it taps into something deep within all of us. But though the artist behind it, 18th- and 19th-century ukiyo-e painter Katsushika Hokusai, was undoubtedly a master of his tradition, even he didn't conjure up The Great Wave off Kanagawa in the form we know it on the first try.
In fact, he'd been producing different versions of it for nearly forty years. On Twitter Tarin tkasasagi recently posted four versions of the Great Wave that Hokusai painted over that period. Here you see them arranged from top to bottom: the first from 1792, when he was 33; the second from 1803, when he was 44; the third from 1805, when he was 46; and the famous fourth from 1831, when he was 72.
Each time, Hokusai de-emphasizes the human presence and emphasizes the natural elements, bringing out drama from the water itself rather than from the people who regard or navigate it. In each version, too, the colors grow bolder and the lines stronger.
The skill level of a working artist — especially an artist working as hard as Hokusai — almost inevitably increases over time, and that must have something to do with these changes, though it also looks like the process of an artistic personality settling into its subject matter. "From the time I was six, I was in the habit of sketching things I saw around me," says Hokusai himself in a widely circulated quotation. "Around the age of 50, I began to work in earnest, producing numerous designs. It was not until my 70th year, however, that I produced anything of significance."
In the artist's telling, only at the age of 73, after the final Great Wave, did he begin to grasp "the underlying structure of birds and animals, insects and fish, and the way trees and plants grow. Thus if I keep up my efforts, I will have even a better understanding when I was 80 and by 90 will have penetrated to the heart of things. At 100, I may reach a level of divine understanding, and if I live decades beyond that, everything I paint — dot and line — will be alive." The fact that he didn't make it to 100 will forever keep enthusiasts wondering what magnificence an even older Hokusai might have achieved, but even so, the body of work he managed to produce in his 88 years contains works that, like the ultimate form of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, outlived him and will outlive all of us.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
The Evolution of The Great Wave off Kanazawa: See Four Versions That Hokusai Painted Over Nearly 40 Years is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.
At many a bookstore and art gallery gift shop, you will find copies of writer and artist Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child, a young person’s introduction to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The book has deservedly won a Caldecott Medal and the praise of adult readers who find as much or more to admire in it as their kids do. A surprisingly moving short biography, it hits many of the major notes in Basquiat’s formative years: His Brooklyn childhood and Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage; his love for his encouraging mother and heartbreak at her institutionalization in a mental hospital; his childhood spent in New York art galleries planning to be a famous artist, and his keen interest in anatomy textbooks, jazz, and black history….
But for a seriously deep immersion in the artist’s history and development, you will want to consult a new 500-page book from TASCHEN, Jean-Michel Basquiat XXL. Written by curator Eleanor Nairne and edited by Hans Werner Holzwarth, the “oversized hardcover,” notes This is Colossal,” is filled with large-scale reproductions of the artist’s drawings, paintings, and notebook pages. Several essays guide the reader year-by-year through Basquiat’s artistic career, from 1978 to his untimely death in 1988.”
The legend of Jean-Michel Basquiat is as strong as ever. Synonymous with New York in the 1980s, the artist first appeared in the late 1970s under the tag SAMO, spraying caustic comments and fragmented poems on the walls of the city. He appeared as part of a thriving underground scene of visual arts and graffiti, hip hop, post-punk, and DIY filmmaking, which met in a booming art world. As a painter with a strong personal voice, Basquiat soon broke into the established milieu, exhibiting in galleries around the world.
Basquiat is now recognized—art scholar and curator Dieter Buchhart argues—as an artist who “eternalized… the exhilarating possibilities for art, music, and social critique in New York.” But for all the high praise he has garnered after his tragic overdose at 27, in life his work was often “’explained away’ by his Afro-Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage,” writes Kristen Foland at Swamp. “Some art historians and critics, including Sharon F. Patton, categorized his work as ‘primitive’ and called him a ‘black graffiti artist,’ a term he found inherently racist.”
Basquiat recoiled at the idea of being segregated and singled out as a “black artist”; but he proudly celebrated black life and cultural forms in narrative works rich with symbolism and poetry, mourning and triumph. Asked about his subject matter, he once replied, “royalty, heroism and the streets.” Grand themes and settings were what he had in mind, and Nairne fittingly titles her essay in the TASCHEN book, “The Art of Storytelling.”
Perhaps the reason Basquiat’s life makes such a good story, for kids and grownups alike, is that he himself was such a powerful storyteller. He weaved his personal history seamlessly into the social and political fabric that enmeshed him in the legendary late-seventies/early-eighties downtown New York scene. The new large format TASCHEN book lets you get a close-up look at the fine details of his revolutionary canvases, drawings, collages, wood panel paintings, and street poetry and painting.
via This is Colossal
Take a Close Look at Basquiat’s Revolutionary Art in a New 500-Page, 14-Pound, Large Format Book by TASCHEN is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.