Song Wars: The Voices of the Unheard

Everybody now! 

"You say you want a revolution,
Well, you know,
We all want to change the world.” 

Whether in Shakespeare’s lyrics, negro spirituals, or Louie Louie entendres, songs have been a secret password for communicating between ‘knowing’ people as far back as music goes.

They’ve passed along hope, insight, and news-from-beyond long before Bob Dylan was labeled a “protest singer,” and they’ll continue long after the last Parental Advisory stickers have decomposed in landfills. 

But here we are smack dab in the middle.

You might think, so many decades after “This Land Is Your Land” and Elvis being shown from the waist up, that we’d be in some happy new society instead of a Brave New World

 But for every staged lesbo smooch between pop-tarts, there are a thousand artists dropped by the corporate conglomerates for being so revolutionary as to sing about Wal-Mart or a lying president. 

Quick question — What were we Declaring again on July 4th?  That wouldn’t be anybody speaking up against their government, would it?  If so, whoever they were, I sure hope they’re not being taught in the textbooks in Texas!

Sounds Like a Revolution
 documents the previous decade or so of the Song Wars — specifically the corporatization of the music industry, the marginalization of outspoken artists, and the resulting emergence of independent labels that are skirting the flanks of the Brick In The Wall’s culture of sterilization. 

If a lot of people see this, it could end up an important film.  There’s no doubt it’ll be an underground hit — like the music it covers — but if this can reach a major doc’s audience, a lot more artists will end up making a lot more music that a lot more people will hear.  

Abbie lives!

Rather than retelling the story about how brave Bruce Springsteen or the Dixie Chicks are, Revolution focuses on artists who are actually marginalized and not household names — Michael Franti, Fat Mike from NOFX (no effects), Justin Sane from Anti-Flag, the erudite rapper Paris, and the extraordinary Natalie Pa’apa’a of the indefinable Blue King Brown — all of whom improvised ways to keep making music despite being quarantined by the mainstream industry. 

Helping fill out the story are some veteran warriors like Pete Seeger (“What’s so dangerous about a song?”), David Crosby (passionately describing Neil writing “Ohio), Steve Earle (“If you’re only armed with a guitar, a guitar’s what you fight with”), and Wayne Kramer from MC5 (“It didn’t start with the 60s, it didn’t end with the 60s”), as well as contemporary colonels like an animated Ani DeFranco, an indefatigable Boots Riley, a riffing Henry Rollins, and a show-stealing Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine.

Even though there is no grand conspiracy in the world, there is a great constituency of apathy and greed — and they are one co-dependent pair.  The dealers push smoke and mirrors; and the apathetic snort on the nod.  Problem comes when you cook up something stronger than plastic that the official Fiduciary Doodies don’t want on the shelf next to their disposable toiletries. 

Troubadours, town criers, and temerity  

You’ll find a lot more solid music in this film than in the bins at your drive-by SuperStore:  Michael Franti’s anthem to peace, “Bomb the World” is reprised throughout, along with his joyous “Hey World,” and a bunch of other great songs like Rage’s “Bulls On Parade” a capella in a crowd, Ministry’s “Lies Lies Lies,” Johnny Dix’s “Hey, Wal-Mart (Blow Me),” or NOFX’s touching tribute to George Bush, “Idiot Son of an Asshole.” 

But more than any other, Sounds Like A Revolution is the visual evolution of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not be Televised — using the same name-checking to burn in the same message — that enlightenment won’t be found on primetime television, corporate radio, or in glossy magazines.  Like the earliest songs of revolution, the messages to this day are passed along in code from one to another — whether on your front stoop or your computer lap.

Sounds Like A Revolution is one more verse in an eternal song that’s been sung since before recorded history, all through recording history, and will continue until our species runs out of disk space. 

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