Every social movement has its music. From the uniond in the early part of the 20th Century who built civil society to the 60's revolution to Africa's apartheid, everywhere voices were raised together against the forces of injustice and misrule. There are important reasons why music belongs in every revolution.
Music penetrates to deeper levels of consciousness than mere language. The discipline forces simplicity upon the creator and there is nothing more powerful or difficult. Voices raised together makes despots tremble. There is nothing more empowering than 'owning the air'.
With the favorite tool of the current populist movement being the online petition, m usic has failed to take its rightful place in the massive organizational effort to beat back the right wing devolution. We have no anthems that stir us and unite us.
After the walloping the Dixie Chicks took for a casual remark on stage, a mere tweak at the monolithic power structure that drags us into war after war, top tier artists have kept their heads down. The industry is more consolidated there are fewer places for independent artists to gain a foot hold.
But things are about to change. A real star has stepped up to the plate and it just couldn't get any better.
I have admired Ry Cooder's work for as long as I could name the strings of a guitar. He's played with bands but he's not a pop star. He is a guitar player's guitarist, a real artist. Rolling Stone voted him number 8 of the top 100 guitarist worldwide. His impeccable guitar playing and husky voice are not his only gifts . No other musician that I know of has his ability to encompass so many different genres of music and to do it so well. From session work to solo albums to playing with some of the world's best musicians, from rock and roll to jazz to Tex Mex, from John Lee Hooker's hard edged blues to the undulating sounds of Hawaii's Gabby Pahanui, he's done it all.
Cooder has always marched to his own drum. His choices reveal an inherent integrity. Cooder's greatest commercial success was the Buena Vista Social Club, a film/album collaboration with some of Cuba's best musicians from Havana's golden age. It was so well received that the US State Department saw fit to fine him a $100,000 for violating the US embargo against Cuba and prevented some of the artists Cooder championed from coming to the US to receive richly deserved awards.
In the last few years there have a been a series of solo albums including I, Flathead, part of his California trilogy that was released with a novella about a fictional musician. To date, none of them has provoked a response from the political establishment.
Last fall Cooder dropped a bombshell. He released a single on iTunes called Quicksand. He wrote in response to Arizona's draconian immigration laws and assigned all the proceeds to MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. It is the simple and much told story of hardships and death Mexican's face trying to enter the US through the back door. ( Keeping in mind that there is no front door for those driven off their land by agribusiness and NAFTA trade policies. No social safety net in their own country.
Cooder's next inspiration came from a column written by Truthdig editor, Robert Scheer entitled "Leave No Banker Behind", describing the one sided response of our government to the economic collapse. Cooder takes it one step farther and puts all the bankers on a train that is taking them to the White House for a feast while the rest of us are left empty handed on the platform.
Cooder didn't stop there. All this and more (what John Lee Hooker would do if he were President) became an album called "Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down" that will be released late this summer. Each song embraces a different social issue with a different musical style that best serves the material.
Cooder admits he's angry about what is happening in our country, a feeling he shares with a majority of Americans. Many Americans have talent and the access to make their anger count for more than most of us. Very few have the courage to use it.
But courage, like measles, is contagious. Once it's in the air, not even fear can inoculate us against it.. Cooder has thrown down the gauntlet and I believe others will pick it up.
Even if the first response is silence. There's nothing like a good song to push away the clouds of gloom and despair, the favorite weapons of despots everywhere. We know the silence can't last.