“Our canvas is freedom, your blood is our paint”: 8-plus unfortunate anthems of the Occupy movement
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1. Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine, “SHOCK-U-PY!”
The earnestness of the Occupy Wall Street movement, coupled with its grassroots foundation and up-with-people message, all but guaranteed a tidal wave of cringe-inducing Occupy anthems. Former Dead Kennedys frontman and longtime leftie agitator Jello Biafra has a couple under his belt now, which he just released on SHOCK-U-PY!, a mini-EP that roughly coincides with Occupy’s one-year anniversary. It features a remixed version of “We Occupy,” a not-bad-by-comparison D.O.A. song that Biafra sang on, the self-explanatory “Barackstar O’Bummer,” and the groan-inducing title track, which is an odd collision of bluesy rock and acoustic guitars that drags on for seven and a half minutes. Biafra has always embraced humor as a lyricist, even if the results were hokey, and they’re all hokey on “SHOCK-U-PY!” There’s the history lesson about FDR (“A labor leader or two said / “Yo! Frankie baby, listen up! / These are our demands”), a passage where Biafra portrays politicians as Charles Dickens’ Oliver, begging their “corporate majesties” to “pay a little bit of taxes,” and clunkers like “a prank a day keeps the dog leash away.” It all sounds like Biafra wrote and recorded “SHOCK-U-PY!” in a fit of inspiration—but a bad way.
2. Tom Morello, Serj Tankian, and Tim McIlrath, “We Are The 99 Percent”
Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down, and Rise Against are three bands that love to take aim at the powers that be. So it makes the most obvious sort of sense that the chest-beating frontmen of these bands would join forces to extol the populist virtues of shaking their fists at Wall Street. Titling their collaboration “We Are The 99 Percent,” apparently because that was the easiest thing to remember, the trio of Tom Morello, Serj Tankian, and Tim McIlrath stuff their goon-rock jam with all the expected tropes: retread platitudes, leftover RATM riffs, and a fire-hose blast of testosterone. “We were asleep before, but not anymore,” McIlrath screeches. And now that everyone’s awake, let’s mosh down the walls, bro.
3. Third Eye Blind, “If There Ever Was A Time”
As The A.V. Club noted last November, even when Third Eye Blind writes a protest song, it can’t help but sound like Third Eye Blind. That is to say, not far removed from the band’s biggest hit, “Semi-Charmed Life,” even when it closes the song with the beat from Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” and recordings of people at the protests. As frontman Stephan Jenkins sings “News Corp. says you don’t have a plan / well sit down, man / I’ll tell you again, the plan’s to stand together / up to greed,” he might as well be singing “Do ever what you wanna do, coming over you / Keep on smiling, what we go through.” But “If There Ever Was A Time” is hugely earnest, as Jenkins repeatedly beseeches “Where are the youth? We need you now” and “C’mon, meet me down in Zuccotti Park.” Occupy activists may feel less of a kinship with Jenkins, though, once they see his LuminaryLane page, where fans can pay $250 for him to post something to their Facebook wall. A portion of the proceeds go to a Bay Area charity, but nothing says “standing up to greed” like Jenkins selling one of his leather shirts for $750.
4. Ziggy Marley, Chuck D, and Linda Perry, “Can You Feel It?”
Public Enemy’s Chuck D and pop songwriter/4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry dwell at opposite ends of the pop spectrum, but leave it to reggae royalty Ziggy Marley to bring them together. Horribly. “Can You Feel It?” is the threesome’s pro-Occupy anthem, and it finds their lowest common musical denominator—then goes even lower. Over a drowsy, generic reggae track, Marley gets his kumbaya on; meanwhile, D recites a verse that sounds like bad poli-sci-undergrad poetry, and Perry lays down some sugary backup vocals that rob the song of anything remotely resembling outrage. Granted, the song’s title reflects a valid question: What good is a protest song that’s downright numbing?
5. Ministry, “99 Percenters”
There was a time when Ministry’s blistering industrial felt genuinely dangerous, which would make it a natural ally for a movement that made a lot of people nervous. Too bad Occupy didn’t occur back in 1989, when Ministry wasn’t a sad husk of its former self, peddling boneheaded speed-metal that hasn’t really changed since 1992’s Psalm 69. But the Occupy movement so inspired frontman Al Jourgensen that he had to pour his rage into lines like “Let’s put ’em all away / let’s put ’em in handcuffs / throw away the key / because enough is enough / 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-99 percenters!” As we mentioned in Reasonable Discussions back in May, the song and accompanying video play like a pitch-perfect Ministry parody. All that’s missing is Jourgensen holding a sign saying “Eat The Rich” or flipping off the camera. Oh wait…
6. Joseph Arthur, “We Stand As One”
Don’t confuse Joseph Arthur’s “We Stand As One” with Dennis Madalone’s “America We Stand As One”; the former is a surprisingly violent denouncement of the corporate raiders who fomented economic collapse (“Our canvas is freedom, your blood is our paint”), and the latter is a amazingly terrible 9/11 ballad written by a former stuntman. Of all the songs on this list, Arthur’s comes closest to the folky protest-song archetype, its plaintive chords strummed on an acoustic guitar and accompanied by the occasional harmonica, though it goes on and on for nearly nine minutes. Arthur spends that time addressing the guilty parties, employing cliché (“Take back our country”), statements of unity (“But blessed are the meek / for we stand as one”), and lots of threats. Beyond repeatedly referring to Wall Street criminals as pigs (“like a pig you consumed and like a pig you will roast”), he promises violent vengeance: “Hear how we knock / soon there won’t be a door / and what you won’t share / will be ripped from your hands / your body destroyed / the way fire lands / burning your homes / the privilege you snake / the payback beyond anything you could take.” If Citizens United didn’t use “We Stand As One” in its documentary Occupy Unmasked, it really missed a chance to stoke its anti-Occupy hysteria.
7. Miley Cyrus, “Liberty Walk (Remix)”
As far as protest songs go, the messenger is often as important as the message itself. When the messenger is a former Disney teen-pop princess, it doesn’t really help a movement that has a hard time being taken seriously. Pop star Miley Cyrus, whose personal fortune places her well inside the 1 percent, had no qualms about dedicating a disco remix of her song “Liberty Walk” to the Occupy Wall Street movement. To be fair, the original song is an empowerment anthem, with lines like “It’s a liberty walk / walk free yourself / slam the door,” and “Don’t listen to all the people who hate.” Regardless, it’s a terrible Auto-Tune mess with clichés seemingly ripped from motivational posters. The video for the remix, posted on Cyrus’ official YouTube page, begins with a title card that says, “This is dedicated to the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in…” While the video mixes in a few international marches supporting human rights and the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, most of the footage comes from Occupy marches. The gaping disconnect between sugary dance music and footage of cops roughing up protestors doesn’t seem to occur to Cyrus, and the package seems more like a co-opting of the Occupy movement than an earnest token of support.
8-plus. Various artists, songs recorded by and at Occupy locations
Take a random sample of songs on YouTube about any given topic, and most of them aren’t going to be very good. They’re going to be dumb covers done by remedial guitar players or coffeehouse wannabes who are pretty sure that one of these days, the whole solo singer-songwriter thing is going to pay off for them. So it should come as no surprise that most amateur ditties written about the Occupy movement—even ones by people who were actual participants in said movement—aren’t very good. “Dear Mr. President” by Gabriel Quinn Andreas and “We Are The 99%” by Jeremy Gilchrist are so awkwardly earnest and ham-fisted that they’re positively excruciating. Even Makana’s “We Are The Many,” one of the most popular Occupy songs by an amateur artist, is so clumsy in its attempt to ape Bob Dylan that it falls harshly flat. Other songs, like Remy’s mocking “Occupy Wall Street Protest Song”—presented by the libertarian periodical Reason—are actually twisted Dylan covers, but with groan-worthy lines like “George Washington was the richest man of his age / But he lost all his teeth at a very young age / Because they didn’t have Scope and they all crapped in trays.” Even satirical songs about Occupy land with a thud.