When Americans are questioning whether pre-emptive strikes against onetime-ally dictators is in direct violation of international law, it seems frivolous to focus our attention span on (insert snarl) popular music. But by sheer coincidence, our first week at war just happens to coincide with what could very well be the bleakest week ever in recorded musical history.
Not since the week Mozart lost 28 percent of his hearing to a kettle shriek has the news been this bad. Even the Von Trapp family being captured by the Nazis, tortured and forced to sing songs about Der Führer and strudel couldn’t equal this nadir in mass music production.
As with every conflict, people draw analogies to Vietnam, in hopes that the casualties will be far fewer and that we might get some good music out of the heightened political awareness. Fat chance. Yes, Virginia, there is no Joe Strummer — there ain’t even a Country Joe McDonald. We’ll be lucky to get anything as usable as Culture Club’s wishy-washy “The War Song” (“War is stupid”), which single-handedly ruined their career worldwide when they decided to release it in Japanese, Spanish, German and French. ¿La guerra es estúpida? ¡Boy George es estúpido!
The weak in pop continues …
March 13: The Beastie Boys become Peace-stie Boys, posting a lame anti-war song on their Web site; a song my humorless auntie could easily have written. “In a World Gone Mad” does contain a funny line about “George Bush acting like Zoolander/trying to play tough for the camera” but the rest is just “war is stupid” with nasal congestion and a better beat. Check out these first-draft Bush and Saddam observations: “So people watch your back ’cause I think they smoke crack/I don’t doubt it look at how they act.” We’re looking to the Moe, Larry and Curly of rap for political advisories — you were expecting maybe “The McLaughlin Report”?
March 13, Bloomington, Ind.: Did Dylan have to wait months to release “Masters of War”? No, but that was when everyone had to release three albums a year anyway. Record companies no longer comprehend the impact of the stand-alone single like CSN&Y’s “Ohio,” rushed-released with a Bill of Rights picture sleeve and in stores less than three weeks after the Kent State shootings in 1970. Compare this to John Mellancamp who has to ask Sony for permission to release his anti-war song in advance of his album, scheduled for late May. Sounds like a replay of what happened in the early ’90s when Sony sat on the Rolling Stones’ anti-Gulf War rant “Highwire” for months until it saw release the day after the war was over, to universal cries of “aw, forget it.”
March 17, Denver, Colo.: How does she continue to get away with this chick-anery? Cher is now into year two of her farewell world tour! Her show in Denver was canceled by a blizzard, which means she’ll have to make up the date after she finishes the rest of the tour, sometime in 2006.
March 18, Orlando, Fla.: Making her first public appearance at a record industry trade show is Lisa Marie Presley, who’s been threatening us with her impending recording career for how many years now? Trade sheets are telling us her Capitol debut is set to “drop” next month. While we’re dropping bombs on Iraq, major labels are dropping even bigger bombs on us and they seem unable to stop their player wannabe PR flacks from overusing that insidious buzz word “drop.” At one time people “released” albums like doves out of a box. Now they “drop” them like so many turds clustered together to make a huge splash in the bowl. “American Idol” Kelly Clarkson will also “drop” her first full-length karaoke demonstration disk next month. The next time I see the word “drop” in a press release, it better be because some label has decided to drop these mega-talents from their roster.
March 18, New York, N.Y.: The Backstreet Boys announce they are reuniting? Now that we’ve had two full years of ignoring them individually, we have to get used to dissing them collectively again? As the put-upon TV director said in A Hard Day’s Night, “It’s a young man’s medium and I can’t take the pace.” If we can’t unite on this war, the least we all can do is agree to say, “I think I hear my Mom calling me,” when they show up with a new album, and run back into the street to play ball after they slink home. Or just leave that to the girls who’ve discovered meth and 3 Doors Down in their absence.
March 18, Houston, Texas: It’s not all bad news — those banjo-pickin’ Bushwhackers the Dixie Chicks became the first pop casualties of war, with country radio dropping them off playlists like so many overused nose hankies. As we speak, hordes of disgruntled Chicks fans are bulldozing their CDs, now that they figured out burning jewel cases would emit noxious toxins worse than the music inside them. The Dixies really deserve to be hung out to dry. Not for Natalie Maines saying she’s ashamed Bush is from Texas to elicit some cheap London applause, but for backpedaling about it after the airwaves are suddenly bereft of those down-home “Theme From the Dukes of Hazzard” rewrites.
March 18, Nashville, Tenn.: As The Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” slips to No. 3 on Billboard’s country chart, Darryl Worley’s pro-war song jumps to No. 2. And while this may get me uninvited to a lot of parties, damned if he doesn’t sound way more committed to extracting some kind of emotion out of the listener than any of the “war is stupid” songs I’m hearing. And he rhymed “have you forgotten” with “bin Laden.” If Eminem thought that one up, he’d get 48-point type headlines. Give this Worley boy time, and he’ll be rhyming “Saddam” with “madam,” just like George Sr. use to do. Sure beats the Beasties rhyming “America” with “hysterica.”
March 18, Hollywood, Calif.: Academy Awards organizers announce there will be no red carpet arrivals this year, because we are at war and it wouldn’t seem appropriate. Barbara Walters canceled her pre-Oscar sob-a-thon special because that wouldn’t be appropriate. Liza and her no-nosed husband canceled their first anniversary party because that wouldn’t be appropriate. Why don’t you Hollywood sissies just admit the truth — you’re all afraid of Charlie Daniels! Following the Uneasy Rider’s poison posts against actors such as Sean Penn and Barbra Streisand, Ted Nugent also voiced his anti-Hollywood, pro-war support on his Web site, tednugent.com. Fine by me. Make statements, not records.
March 21, Hitsville, UK: Everyone’s favorite washroom attendant George Michael had an anti-Iraqi war opus out as early as last fall. I know what you youngsters are saying — “When is someone under 50 going to stand up and be counted?” That’s just what the band Blue was trying to do — organize a new anti-war record to raise awareness a la Band Aid, but the plan has been widely pooh-poohed by Michael, who reasons that since acts like Blue just parrot the words of other people, their opinions carry no weight. “They’re extremely young and extremely lacking in political knowledge,” he said — and he’s absolutely right. Nobody cares what these teen mannequins have to say. They’ll never come up with anything as politically savvy as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” But you’ll recall that Wham-bo practically invented boy bands with his ventriloquist’s dummy Andrew Ridgely. For him to blast boy bands is like Dr. Frankenstein telling his bolt-headed creation he’s gotta find somewhere else to crash for the night.
March 22, London: In case you haven’t heard Cat Stevens’ re-recording of “Peace Train” done the Yusef Islam way, he’s now redoing “Lady D’Arbanville” as “Angel of War.” Too bad he isn’t also rewriting his 1972 hit “Moonshadow” for the Iraq conflict. I could really get into the verse that goes, “And if I ever lose my weapons of mass destruction.”
March 25, Ciccone Nation: Madonna wanna shockya again! And everybody chomping at the bit to use that joke about Madonna being pro-Bush since her Sex book, consider yourselves ignored. Madonna’s new single is serviced to radio stations today. Last month, the Drudge Report described the upcoming “American Life” music video as a “mad frenzy” of “bloody babies,” Iraqi children, limbless casualties and grenade-lobbing runway models. But a spokesperson for Madonna denies the video has bloody imagery and, as if a light bulb went on over her head, acknowledges that this could change in postproduction!Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. His Burt Bacharach biography, The Little Red Book of Burt Bacharach, should "drop" any day now. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org