Listen to the Boss

Posted January 2, 2007

Categories: Art, Articles

I’m from Jersey. So whenever the Boss sings, I listen. He’s always sticking up for the little guy, the Tom Joads, the downsized, and the downtrodden. He’s patriotic, but it’s a bittersweet patriotism. You remember: when the Reagan campaign in 1984 and then the Dole campaign in 1996 wanted to use the song “Born in the USA,” Springsteen said no. When Lee Iacocca wanted to use the song to sell Chrysler cars, Springsteen again said no. Didn’t they listen to the lyrics of the song? It’s all about the plight of Vietnam vets: “Got in a little hometown jam/so they put a rifle in my hand/sent me off to a foreign land/to go and kill the yellow man.” It’s hard to imagine those lyrics in a car commercial.

And now the Boss is channeling Peter Seeger. His recent album, We Shall Overcome, is all Seeger covers. One of those Seeger songs that the Boss has been playing at concerts is “Bring ’em Home, Bring ’em Home.” FPIF’s Stephen Zunes remembers hearing Seeger sing the original at an anti-war rally in 1965. “The lyrics are tragically apropos today,” Zunes writes.

The Boss is in good company. Ever since the Dixie Chicks dissed the president, the music industry has increasingly taken aim at the war. Neil Young, Ben Harper, Merle Haggard, Green Day, and others have all penned anti-war songs. The artists have been careful to register their support for the soldiers even as they condemn the war. Anti-war rocker John Mellencamp sang for injured vets at Walter Reed hospital, which earned a snarky review in The Washington Post that celebrated his putting “a muzzle on himself.” Joan Baez offered to sing there as well, but the Army disinvited her, demonstrating how a real muzzle works.

Several websites list anti-war songs, including VH1. But ZNet has a more activist-oriented archive. Progressives should adopt a new slogan: if I can’t dance to your songs, I don’t want to be part of your anti-war demonstration. After all, as union organizer Joe Hill once wrote to a friend, “A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once. But a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over.”

Rapping with Noam Chomsky and Kalamu ya Salaam

Michael Stipe of REM once invited Noam Chomsky to tour with the band and warm up the audience with a mini-lecture. Chomsky declined. What REM audiences missed out on, you can catch at FPIF. This week, Michael Shank interviews the MIT linguist and foreign policy expert in Chomsky Takes on the World (Bank).

In the wake of Paul Wolfowitz’s resignation from the World Bank, it’s useful to put his record in context. “The charges against Wolfowitz are maybe correct but pretty minor compared to his record,” Chomsky argues. “Forget his involvement in the Iraq War, let’s put that aside, though it was surely significant. He was the ambassador to Indonesia under Reagan. He was one of the strongest supporters of Suharto, who was one of the worst monsters in the modern period, comparable to Saddam Hussein. When Wolfowitz was appointed to the World Bank, Indonesian human rights and democracy activists were bitterly critical because he never lifted his finger to help them when he was ambassador. In fact, he harmed them, and they explained how he did it.” Stay tuned for part II of the interview in which Chomsky talks about South Asian affairs.

(For more on the Wolfowitz affair, check out John Cavanagh’s satirical take on the resignation in AlterNet).

Kalamu ya Salaam is no stranger to music. With his son Mtume, he runs the website breath of life, a conversation about black music. He is also a poet who spins out powerful verse, such as these seven haikus for “old Orleans” entitled You can’t survive on salt water. He talked with FPIF’s Fiesta interviewer E. Ethelbert Miller about the geopolitics of Hurricane Katrina.

“The United States did not accept assistance from a number of countries including one country that offered to fly in a water purification system,” Kalamu ya Salaam replied to a question about the U.S. refusal to accept humanitarian aid from Cuba after Katrina. “The issue is the non-responsiveness of the federal government and the incompetent response on the part of state and city governments. To only look at the refusal of physicians and medical aid from Cuba is to get caught up in a kind of Cold War/ideological issue that muddies the water of perceiving the depth and breadth of government failures.”

Winograd Commission

Speaking of government failures, the Winograd Commission released its interim report a few weeks back on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon last summer. The report has sparked a debate within Israel about the decision to invade and the conduct of the fighting. Stephen Zunes offers two looks at this reevaluation of the Lebanon war.

In the first, The Democrats and the “Human Shield” Myth, Zunes points out that several human rights organizations have challenged the charge that Hezbollah fighters used human shields to protect themselves from Israeli military assaults. And yet the Democrats are still stuck in the past. “Now having the majority in Congress, the Democrats appear to have made it a priority to use their position to discredit reputable human rights groups in an effort to defend the policies of important U.S. allies,” Zunes writes. “Indeed, some leading Democrats, in a desperate effort to defend human rights abuses by the U.S.-backed Israeli government, have attacked human rights groups directly. For example, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a member of the Democratic Leadership Team, has said that ‘a lot of those organizations, Amnesty International in particular, have always had bias against Israel.’”

Meanwhile, in U.S. Role in Lebanon Debacle, Zunes examines how the Bush administration pushed Israel into attacking Lebanon as part of a larger U.S. Middle East strategy. “Despite the Winograd Commission’s shortcomings, Israelis should be commended for allowing a serious investigation into their government’s actions,” Zunes writes. “But Olmert and other Israeli leaders did not act alone. Americans who profess to care about Israel should also demand an independent investigation here in the United States as well to examine why the Bush administration, with the support of such a broad bipartisan majority of Congress, goaded Israel into waging an unnecessary war that cost the lives of scores of its citizens and emboldened anti-Israel extremists in Lebanon and beyond.”

War, what is it good for? Edwin Starr got it right with his 1970 number one hit (which the Boss covered in 1986).

Absolutely nothing.

FPIF, May 21 2007

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