When In Doubt Sing It Out

by D. Stocker

I’m convinced that music can heal the world. More than simply easing the tribulations and suffering of humans. Music is among the oldest of human activities. It predates warfare by so long that it’s almost funny. Before language, before written words, before private property and totalitarian agriculture our ancestors’ ancestors’ were driven by a desire to communicate with the natural world by imitating the sounds they heard. So we sang, clicked, hummed, tapped, plucked. Music is the activity that is the antidote to war. You can’t kill other humans while making music.

Okay we’ve had drummers on the battlefields, but they couldn’t carry guns and drums at the same time and those poor buggers, like the flagbearers, were the first and easiest targets. I’m talking about music that has changed the course of history. Music that emerged from pure spirit and endured to the Modern Age to sing in the face of oppression. The kind of music that never asked for a following but found one through energy, truth and simplicity. In my lifetime, music brought down apartheid in South Africa. Antonio Carlos Jobim wanted to be an architect but his words and melodies changed the course of the history of Brazil standing out. Ringing truths in an outrageous context.

So where is that powerful healing force right now? Not that the sixties are going to blow in and save us like a mighty wind. No, we need something for today. With a few notable exceptions like Ani di Franco and Ben Harper, the so called ‘new folk’ movement is about as political as Brittney Spears. The corporatization of popular music is a death knell for the oral tradition just as electronic voting machines spell the death for democratic elections. Corporate music has obscured the real legacy of Woody Guthrie with issues of royalties and licensing. The man believed music was not to be owned but to be given away. There’s very little of the significance of a quarter million years of human oral history to be found shrink-wrapped at Border’s Books and Music.

Connecting the dots of my musical journey, you’d find me picking up glimpses of oral history in the sacred music at Pine Ridge Reservation, Pilgrim Baptist Church and Philly Folk Fest. It’s been said that the only truly unique American contribution to musical history is the Elvis Presley movie. I always liked the moment in Elvis’ movies when life just spontaneously bursts into pop music. Lately I’m beginning to think that other than maybe the thrum of a Harley Davidson, the only unique contribution America has made to the history of sound is the sound of two atomic bombs vaporizing tens of thousands of people. Most of the musical styles claimed as American music are derived from the music of people enslaved, conquered or otherwise oppressed.

So we better sing our little hearts out. For better or worse. If the ancestors are listening. Maybe a song we have not yet heard will come into our consciousness. Just maybe we can alter the tragic course of our American government.

The following new lyrics to a familiar Irish melody will be sung at a community meeting in Rockford, Illinois with Dennis Kucinich on March 13. Meeting with Dennis Kucinich feels a bit like attending at a hospice. But I am thankful for his courage and I want to tell him that. I’m proud that any political candidate had the balls to echo the 1950 ballad by Ed McCurdy
…last nite I had the strangest dream I never had before
I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war.

Dominic Behan (added verses D. Stocker)

Come all you young rebels and list while I sing
For the love of ones country is a terrible thing
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame and
And makes us all part of the patriot game.

I’ve aimed my machine gun at women and kids
My mind fills with terror at things that we did
For the fear that was banished, I’d gladly regain
My humanity lost to a patriot game.

I’ve the same name as you, I’m just home from Iraq
Five pieces of shrapnel are lodged in my back
Put there by a people who just don’t agree,
With the home of the brave and the land of the free.

We take what we want then we steal what we need
Replacing our freedom with corporate greed
Where no one must answer and no one’s to blame
As the world pays the cost of our Patriot game.

The true heart of Justice is now masked and veiled
Once neighbors and friends are deported and jailed
Our own bill of rights lies all twisted and lame
It’s just the first taste of the patriot game.

I dreamed of a world where all people lived free.
I stood up for justice and true liberty.
I look at my children, how can I explain
Where we all went wrong in our Patriot’s Game.

An Afghan, a Haitain, Iraqi or Kurd
A yank or a Briton, no matter the word
An Act or a Missile, it all is the same
All players beware the new Patriot game.

David Stocker is a teacher and member of ONE DRUM