Social critics including Noam Chomsky credit the Occupy movement for changing the national discussion from federal budget deficits to a discussion of economic inequality. Independent music labels are bringing that same change of topic into popular music. Two artists from the extremely different genres--alternative country and heavy metal rap--Soles of Passion and Prozak, respectively, provide examples. Both groups emphasize the domination of the middle class by the financial class, and the threat that poses to ordinary people's lives. It remains to be seen whether the existence of two songs outside the mainstream are an indication that anti-bankster songs will elbow their way into the Billboard 100.
To take Soles of Passion first, which in some ways is the more interesting of the two due to the normally conservative genre the music comes from, the lyrics to their song "Got Me Surrounded" directly reference banks and foreclosures. The imagery in their video includes protests, foreclosure actions involving activists and police SWAT teams, homeless (who feature prominently in the video), bankers testifying to Congress and titles with anti-bank messages. The lyrics are especially focused on bank fraud and breaking financial and metaphorical bonds:
"This here's a tale 'bout you and me
It's not too pretty, hard to believe.
Deception brought us to this place
Kept us down, and out of pace...
They've got me surrounded,
Their APR's compounded,
They've got me surrounded,
These chains I'll break around me."
(For a review of Soles of Passion's album, see this article).
In a press release, the group stated "The Soles of Passion are very committed to rally our resources at all times to help our fellow brothers and sisters who have become victims of the National foreclosure machine, and as a result have had their lives turned upside down." Though the remainder of their album is not quite as focused on politics, the group has made an announcement setting up a non profit organization: "Myla (Snow) and Steven (Wolfe) have made it their mission to secure relationships with a network of attorneys to help those stricken by foreclosure. The FAF offers applications for monetary grants made possible by Soles of Passion's contributions and others who have joined their groundbreaking movement."
Michigan heavy metal rapper Prozak does not specifically mention banks in his single "The End of Us," but instead channels the rage of ordinary people. In a short interview with Revolver Magazine, he states his song is about "the surfacing anger and rage within these current times, the collapse of our economy and the effects of consumerism. Simply watching the effects of it bleed out society. There are people losing their homes, small business owners going bankrupt, and watching my home state of Michigan rank No. 1 in violent crime and unemployment. Desperate times create desperate measures."
The lyrics point to the effects of income inequality without naming the bankers:
"You must comform to the norm
You been a slave to the grind from before you was born
Product of enviroment, must obey 'till retirement
You see the shackling chains hang from the monument...
You're in a spirit filled with rage as the hours pass
You can't describe the...
And your salvation all relies on financial class"
Prozak has a reputation for storytelling in his lyrics, readily seen in the title of a previous release "Tales From the Sick." He comes from Saginaw, Michigan, an economically depressed city, and has consistently crafted social messages in his music.
Noam Chomsky, referring to the Occupy movement's focus on sharply rising inequality and the concentration of wealth, recently said "one of the really remarkable and almost spectacular successes of the Occupy movement is that it has simply changed the entire framework of discussion of many issues." BusinessWeek, owned by Bloomberg, stated that an OWS "win" was "changing the national conversation," and specifically measured the shift from deficit cutting to "income inequality."
The German cultural theorist Thodor Adorno, who wrote about popular music and capitalism, argued that capitalism "fed" the masses a lesser form of musical culture in order to prevent them from being stimulated by more serious music. Serious music, he said, would stimulate their minds and lead them to critical thinking about human potential and creativity, which might be bad for capitalism. He wrote that popular music helped create false needs and "commodity fetishism."
While Adorno might have said that taking a serious subject like "income inequality" and making it "consumable" would have defeated the purpose of the protest song, at least, as Chomsky says, the conversation has changed. The Occupy movement (or current economic conditions) does appear to be stimulating popular song writers to write songs about income inequality. Even if it's only a couple of songs right now. I for one will be keeping an eye out for commercial music that focuses on income inequality. I expect to see more. Continued...