Old Music for a New Administration
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing two songs over and over again in my head. The first one is “Your Racist Friend” from the Hoboken duo They Might Be Giants. The lyrics make me think of the various Steve Bannon apologists in the President-elect’s inner circle: “This is where the party ends / I’ll just sit here wondering how you / Can stand by your racist friend.”
The other tune that I can’t get out of my mind is “Stand Down Margaret” from the British ska band the English Beat (pictured above). Released in 1982, the single was specifically aimed at the Thatcher government — but also seems very appropriate to the Trump presidency in 2016: “You tell me how can it work in this all white law / What a short sharp lesson, / What a third world war / Oh stand down Margaret / Stand down please / Stand down Margaret.”
Ska was most popular in the 1980s — which much like today featured simmering tensions (as well an increase in interest in the neo-fascist movement). As noted on the wikipedia page for ska, this music pointed to a more optimistic approach of tolerance and friendship between different cultures:
“The 2 Tone movement promoted racial unity at a time when racial tensions were high in the UK. There were many Specials songs that raised awareness of the issues of racism, fighting and friendship issues. Riots in British cities were a feature during the summer that The Specials song “Ghost Town” was a hit, although this work was in a slower, reggae beat. Most of the 2 Tone bands had multiracial lineups, such as The Beat (known as The English Beat in North America and the British Beat in Australia), The Specials, and The Selecter. Although only on the 2 Tone label for one single, Madness was one of the most effective bands at bringing the 2 Tone genre into the mainstream. The music of this era resonated with white working class youth and West Indian immigrants who experienced the struggles addressed in the lyrics.”
I wonder if ska and punk and other similar genres will see a resurgence over the next few years as more musicians voice frustration over what looks to be an increasingly divided nation. For better or for worse, powerful art often thrives in new and unpredictable ways under times of duress. However, one certainly hopes that the price for this jump in creativity isn’t too steep.