Fight For Free is a politically oriented album and essay produced for Maria Soneyvetsky’s U.S. Political Protest Music class. The material is made available for free download or $5 purchase of the cassette and essay on Bandcamp. The essay is intended to be revised and added to over time by myself and others. The audio material is modest and sonically oriented very differently from most of my sound work. It’s colloquial!
Fight For Free (Version 1)
Almost all can agree that music moves people, that there is an explicit social power in the sharing of music. America’s political consciousness is about to burst with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s battle to occupy the white house being decided in less than a month. The last decade has been full of frustration particularly for left leaning hopefuls and artists and so one asks, “Where is the art to speak back?” Sure, all music inherently speaks back to political pressure and processes of power by the nature of its orientation in society, but “where is the work of my morally inclined or politically charged friends?” or the song writers following in the explicitly political vein of Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Nina Simone? Bob Dylan has just won the Nobel Prize in literature for his lyrical efforts, and don’t think those words got their merit in a vacuum, it is the social and successful nature of their internalization and repeated utterance that have elevated them to such attention. In our current moment in history we find American artists gripped by thick contradiction. *Trends and pressures in organized musical production and distribution have inhibited the ability of artists and activists to maintain an organic political conversation through the sharing of art. Simultaneously, our technologies have allowed us to create more participatory dialogues and reach metaphysically a bit more independently from corporations.
As technologies allow a bigger position for independent sharing and prosumption, corporate entities do tighten up and co-opt what they can. How can musical attitudes be reassessed so as to allow a more fluid dialog between a social/political reality and art? What systematic and personally affective pressures are in place? How have vessels that producers and consumers or political art had to go through in the past changed?
With this collection of songs and sound, titled Fight For Free, a blueprint is presented rather than a fantastic product. What is it to be spontaneous and simple? What groups of people can be accessed or formed when you abandon the commodity fetish, but abandon “Production value” as well? The gesture of publishing 30 minutes of music with a “fiercely amateur aesthetic…as well as a commitment to political action” (Keenan, Riot Grrrl, Ladyfest and Rock Camp for Girls, 262 & 264) for free unannounced and sharing it to friends on platforms like Facebook is an attempt at re-habituation. Spontaneity, free-ness, and simplicity are presented in opposition to casual or advanced marketing strategies, the presentation of communication as something to be bought, or the “work of a genius.” The latter tropes are perhaps necessary for one to make a life off of political media, but what this media re-habituation suggests is a segmentation between the world of commodities and of political communication.
People have ambition, but they also have habits, and even when an individual or group’s ambition and energies catalyze into something tangible and deeply inspiring, the habits of those individuals or modes of conception pervasive in society can inhibit or mis-use, or rather “practically” appropriate, that something. This can happen purposely, like the co-opting of Kurt Cobain’s defiant nihilism by MTV (Fisher, Capitalist Realism,) or naively in the instincts of those who recognize meaning in a new creation or expression, and are familiar with a system that extracts meaning and converts it foremost into capital through the mediation and modulation of its forms. Hannah Arendt stated in 1968 that, “we today are more likely to suspect that the realm of politics and active participation in public business give rise to philistinism and prevent the development of a cultivated mind which can regard things in their true worth without reflection upon their function and utility” (217.) Function and utility have become habitually oriented and stressed almost exclusively to the accumulation of capital. Family is important, but isn’t a rich family a happy one? High education serves an important function in society, because it leads to a high paying job right? What do we do with this money? Too much to eat, so we buy things, or make elaborate pieces of political media that we intend to be elevated to the level of mass media. This transformation of the something is can practically be enabled by wealth, but believed to be elevated because it is meaningful and reflects what should reallybe important to everyone. It is easy to view the masses only as the enigmatic other and ask, “Can something meananything politically unless it is mass mediated?” It is right that we ask this, as Mass Media plays a growing role in our lives, and the idea that “truly political activities…cannot be performed at all without…a space constituted by the many” (Arendt, 217.) gains merit. The solution to our problems is believed to dwell in mass media.
People use products as solutions to happiness…over and over, and through the observation of this repetition one can deduce that products are not in fact solutions, but a part of an on-going process that believes in and reaches for satisfaction. These products are treated as parts in a process, but are not viewed this way, and in this way they are mis-used. The transformation of the political protest song into a cohesive and magnificent product, and the belief that the sharing of this product as a buy-able concert or recording can solve the problems in its content is flawed. Many who comprehend and have acknowledged this, are dissuaded from the production of politically explicit music but they shouldn’t be. Opening “The Decline and Rebirth of Folk-Protest Music,” Jerry Rodnitsky cites Judy Collins’ departure from her self prescribed role as “political agitator”(17) because “protest songs were like hitting people over the head…you don’t accomplish very much singing protest songs to people who agree with you. Everybody just has a good time thinking they’re right” (17.) The problems here are numerous. Collins didn’t accomplish much singing protest songs to her sympathetic audience members because they were her vehicle to get those audience member to pay as well as be entertained. Acknowledgement of an “in the end” and of “right-ness” curtail and dismiss political discourse through musical communication pre-maturely. Here, where people share the real belief that products should remedy our problems and cares, one realizes that the sharing of awe-inspiring and politically explicit performance did not remedy society’s aliments. The problems which are dispelled by commodity gratification are often pseudo-problems built up by choreographed pseudo-events superimposed on the lives of the masses by those with power. (Boorstin, The Image: A guide to pseudo-events in America.) The political problems aroused by protest music however are un-deniably real, and therefore cannot be dispelled as if they were fabricated solely by the absence of the political protest song.
What is implied in the releasing of Fight For Free as a blueprint is that there is construction to follow. Construction of consciousness, social groups, and tangible items and events that you, no matter where you are on the globe, can easily participate in with a voice, cheap recorder, and Internet access. Fight for Free does not frame itself as a product to solve, (proof being that it is published with this essay attached,) but as a part of a process. A process that is an attempt to raise consciousness and conversations relating to its explicitly political and diverse content, and that is also a process of re-habituation in the way we produce, consume, and share music. These acts of publication and release have their contradictions. One must go forward with an attitude oriented to work and produce in the midst of social and economic contradictions rather than to deny art as a vehicle. Fight For Free does not frame these contradictions as political problems which it can solve because it echoes that “The conflict between art and politics cannot and must not be solved” (Arendt, 217.)
We can examine further how the belief in products as solutions to real problems is furthered even in groups which view themselves as progressive through the writing of Barry Shenk. As he has noted, a symbiotic relationship of political music and action flows best through what Lauren Berlant defines as an intimate public, a group “formed in and through a sense of shared and ordinary feeling, [that] are energized through… an almost religious sense of ordained purpose…they create a sense of equality among their members through that shared sense of their ordinariness” (Shenk, 39.) There are contradictions in this conception of the intimate public that can arise depending on the nature of the public itself, and problems that can keep it immobile, intimate, and fleeting. For members of an intimate public born into a subject-oriented society, where one’s “religious sense of ordained purpose” is related to an ordinariness built by American corporate consumerism, the catalyst of that intimate public can not escape commodity fetishism, or the desire to reduce the consumption of political communication to a fulfillment of purpose prescribed by their experience of society.
It is easy for a young “citizen” who knows nothing but public school and suburban life to have a “religious experience” when they go to see a band which openly flirts with political subversion and connects frustration to fantastical highly produced performance. You can’t blame them, and you can’t even condemn consumption itself because what else is one supposed to do in today’s world aside from try and be happy and fulfilled? However, you can let the kid know that they felt good because political subversion is important, that they can take what they’ve consumed and spit it back out and mold it into something new, (metaphorically please,) and then share that with others around them. Even if you don’t know them, you can introduce them to a new discourse of prosumption by releasing and publicizing a set of politically oriented, amateur sounding songs online and saying “you can do this too and it doesn’t have to be great or part of your career or money-making, it just has to exist because otherwise consumption and silence will exist in its place while society will continue on!” Though you might have to write that message explicitly. Jasbir Puar writes a-long this track in I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess when she suggests mass mediated items such as a televised football game not as image content, but as “event-potential.”
Fight for Free attempts to deal with what Serge Denisoff and Mark H. Levine outline as what can be defined as “effectiveness in terms of propaganda…(1) the significance of the material to the listener; (2) legibility of the material; and (3) action upon the message after it has been received—supplementation.” (The Popular Protest Song:The Case of “Eve of Destruction,” 118.) How it attempts to deal with these problems could be elaborated perhaps endlessly, but will instead be quickly outlined in the interest of time.
Time is so interesting, interesting in that as it goes on, the actors of reality change but the plots can stay the same. This is usually very frustrating, but in terms of keeping the material of a political artwork significant it is convenient if you are both specific and general enough. One can be vague enough to allow the superimposition of any problem upon the political protest song but then it loses significance as it is seen as hollow. Songs also lose attention if they are too specific and do “not necessarily protest what [is] in current vogue” (Rodnitsky, 19.) I attempted to make my songs both specific but universal and capable of relative superimposition. “Dick Nixon’s Silent Majority Anthem” opens with a line about Donald Trump. “But I thought the song was about Dick Nixon?” Exactly. It could be about any dominating male who evokes, fabricates, and relies on the existence of a silent majority. Though, in the case of Trump, that majority is disturbingly not so silent. The song then continues on to claim that “strange technologies” have left me with “foreign feelings,” a claim that has been made long before me and before Walter Benjamin’s 1936 work …Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and will continue to be made as technologies advance. “Let Us B Fine” has been extremely relevant since notions of white supremacy have been around but hopes to become less relevant as its message is spread. It attempts to be especially relevant to a liberal arts college community when it asks “shouldn’t you work to free colored bodies before you try and free your white mind?” “Where was Andrew Jackson’s Assassin?” will continue to be relevant as long as we see people trying to change the world for the better murdered while evil figures like Andrew Jackson stay around. “Money Doesn’t Exist,” but it does, “9th Grade Geomety and Occupy Wall Street” conflates low level education with the exposure to a movement, “Dakota Access” is about the current pipeline controversy but also the access and agency the Dakota tribe to land that was taken from them. I could go on, but will end this by saying that the content of these songs is unfortunately formative relevant to anyone American or oppressed by American desire.
“(2) Legibility of the material.” I provide lyrics with the recordings and my voice is more un-affected than ever but there are still problems of legibility that face Fight for Free. How big a scope does it have as far an audience because of its lack of production value and funding towards advertising? Does its DIY nature render it largely unheard because most music listeners communicate in a lexicon of production value and familiar tropes? Does that matter? Isn’t the point to be subversive? I’m not sure. I went through great efforts to make the songs legible and hope to change what is and isn’t legible as meaningful material in social consciousness.
Finally, supplementation. At this moment I cannot predict how the material will be inspire listeners. I know that at least a handful of people will listen to it and express their approval, but will they record and send me their songs when I announce that I am putting together a compilation of politically oriented music to be released for free? Will they read this essay? I can’t know how my work will be supplemented but I know what supplementation I think I call for.
What Fight for Free calls for, as does the disturbing assent of Trump to the White House, is a new secularization, one between the political and the economic. The economic and technical institutions which long ago framed themselves as an end to the domination of religious institutions over the political are themselves based on sacredness and worship of capital and often the desire of the same white male’s continuing to champion the “word of God.” I defy nihilistic apathy and hope you make music that isn’t escapist, but can not tell you to attempt anarchy. You can go out and make money, in fact you have to support yourself, but your political communication should attempt to exist outside of that quest. It is bettered segmented, and able to grow a new intimate public in opposition to that quest.
The Difficulty of Studying the State
The memory and melody stay the same,
Independent of some state and the game
I don’t want to play.
My actor’s not on the tv,
It’s the box that has agency over me,
It’s the scheme.
Woah, the State itself is a mask,
One could almost say, the mind of a mindless world,
The left and the right are the wings of the same bird,
Who was taught not to fly
And doesn’t exist,
Nor could I, as I consent,
To the wish, of the bid, in the name,
Of disinterested domination
Dick Nixon’s Silent Majority Anthem
Oh, Shock and rebirth,
Donald Trump is on my mind, he’s in my time, he’s in my life,
I’ve used strange technologies of communication in my dealings,
and realize now I’ve been left with foreign feelings,
and at times I perceive the atrocities outside of my life,
and then feel sorry for having a nice time,
And out there there’s violence and hate and greedyness and unrest,
While teenagers stare at their fictionalized screens on their white beds,
And would you go back to convince yourself you’d regret it?
And then feel sorry for believing the lie of living a nice life?
Let Us B Fine
Let us speak eye to eye, let us be fine,
What are the white men set’n up and down downtown and is it right?
If not than why?
You’ve got to act now because your and actor in everyone else’s life.
And your advantage or dis has been defined.
And yeah it’s been built on lies,
but that doesn’t mean you can’t try and bring down the blinds,
Stand up to other whites and tell them what’s not right.
To let us be fine,
Shouldn’t you work to free colored bodies before you try and free your whit mind?
You can’t play colorblind,
Oppressive algorithms have been in play a long time.
You know what’s right, right?
What Sport are We talking About Here?
Frankly what’s happened America?
I wanna get down and boogie with you,
But it feels so wrong when I see you
On Tv Talk’n shit,
You’re the man,
but where’s the woman on the other side of the screen?
I wanna boogie with you America,
But it’s hard when you feel so sick,
I just don’t know how to win,
I don’t know who I want to win,
I know it’s not him, I don’t think it’s her,
What a world.
The last thing we need is a silent majority,
did you deny the Dakota Access pipeline on-line this morning?
Or were you groped by advertising and illogical association?
The same old broken self, with implied sensation?
America’s got it pump’n through their veins,
We decide if that stays the same,
The pipeline is a vein of their game,
Who could sit and watch their gain in vane?
Media Man please don’t steal my brain,
The pipeline is our genocide today
L.A. Train Station
An anecdote where one is approached by a black male who just got out of country jail. The narrator wishes him well and gifts him a cigarette, as the man crosses the street he begins to dance to the loud rap music playing from the car of a white woman. The woman turns down the music and looks to our white music for consolation.
Surely this says something about the tenuous intersection of music and race in today’s public landscape.
Where Was Andrew Jackson’s Assassin?
Written in 2012
Where was Andrew Jackson’s assassin?
The People all smile when they look down at him,
He made America’s soil salty and sick
The assassin bought a gun but to shoot it made him sick.
Up in outer space you can hear the Trail of Tears,
Lost cries will be traveling for thousands of years.
True aliens were coming, they came and they went,
they saw Andrew Jackson and endlessly wept
Do aliens tell stories of Earth as a hell?
Where people aren’t living but trying to kill?
A heathen, a demon, was elected twice,
helped turn America into Greed’s paradise,
His face stains our money, his lips touch your hands,
America’s injustice covers the land in the form of green greeded paper poison.
The Cherokee footprints aren’t on Google maps,
You can’t know your world through a screen on your lap.
A president led Genocide ignoring his courts,
Team names as compensation in greed fueled sports,
Where was Andrew Jackson’s Assassin?
#1 Baby’s Names
A song that has been divorced from a song and dance whose conception was inspired by Aaron Fox’s lecture “The Archive of an Archive.”
9th Grade Geometry and Occupy Wall Street
Pristine-po-paladine you’ll assume my language,
a society of assumption and who
taught you such cruel things like
everything is funny so it can be okay,
and the things that are lovely
they just seem to slip away
with these vibrations in our pockets
there’s a ringtone in my brain,
there’s a man on the subway
with a daughter miles away
and he’s screaming and bleeding
from his privileged mouth
spitting blood into his chalice and
then pouring it out on the people in the park,
He’s painted their clothes
with a pail shade of grey
that has smothered our rose
but I still feel a ruby
deep beneath a sea
and our souls are getting bigger
soon they’ll be up above the trees
Money Doesn’t Exist
Who values life, and when you go downtown, what do you like?
The internet and human brains are stuck playing computer chess, and believe in a top.
When I’m not stuck staring at this tangle,
I’m stuck staring at this rectangle
that was bought at the apple store for people who are
living without having to know that fruit exists,
Because an upper class exists,
in a socially divided game with rules fixed
by humans obsessed with dominance
and blind led long lost capitalists
I wish we born without fists
I wish we weren’t born into this
Because money doesn’t exist,
and all types of un-needed hunger are caused by it
Arendt, Hannah. Between past and Future; Eight Exercises in Political Thought. New
York: Viking, 1968. Print.
Denisoff, R. Serge, and Mark H. Levine. “The Popular Protest Song: The Case of “Eve of
Destruction”” Public Opinion Quarterly 35.1 (1971): 117. Web.
Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK: Zero, 2009.
Keenan, Elizabeth K., and Sarah Dougher. “Women Make Noise: Girl Bands From
Motown to the Modern.” IASPM@Journal 4 (2014): 259-91. Web.
Peddie, Jerry Rodnitsky. “Chapter 2.” The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social
Protest. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2006. N. pag. Print.
Puar, J. K. ““I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess”: Becoming-Intersectional in
Assemblage Theory.”philoSOPHIA, vol. 2 no. 1, 2012, pp. 49-66. Project MUSE,
Shank, Barry. “The Anthem and the Condensation of Context.” The Political Force of
Musical Beauty (2014): 38-71. Web.