By Alyssa Rosenberg
Adam McKay, the man who gave us the satirical masterpiece Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and stealth financial meltdown rage comedy The Other Guys, has decided that in addition to movies about angry boy-men, what America really needs more of is protest songs, particularly ones in the public domain so lots of people can cover them. He’s even set up a website and written a song on the subject himself! McKay’s not the only person to jump on the idea that we need a new wave of iconic music to galvanize liberal dissent. The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle called for covers of protest songs on Twitter during the showdown in Wisconsin and contributed a cover of Billy Bragg’s “There Is Power In a Union” to the cause:
And Audioslave’s Tom Morello played a concert in Wisconsin in February.
It’s not like there’s anything new about the attempt to link politics and music, or to find the perfect, galvanizing song for a campaign or cause. We will be cracking up over presidential contenders’ attempts to find pop middle ground in their theme songs as long as there are politicians. But I’m interested in the sense that there ought to be a musical movement to match the progressive political one, some school of people who are cranking out contemporary “Ay Carmela”s:
and “The Times They Are a-Changin”s:
I don’t know why we’re not getting those sort of immortal songs spontaneously. Maybe it’s the corporatization of our music industry, which doesn’t exactly make it easy for deeply engaged folk songs to bubble up the charts; or the fact that we don’t have a moment of musical innovation that’s motivated by and intertwined with politics; or the fact that if you deliberately go out and try to write a protest classic, you’re like to end up with something self-conscious and clunky. Or maybe it’s just that our popular music is in a sort of disposable moment, and it’s not clear if any songs (other than maybe ones by Kanye?) are going to be truly indelible. But I don’t know that we’re going to get great new politicized music either by chance or by dint of effort.