By Gil Kaufman
U.S. troops in Iraq are fighting a high-tech war courtesy of GPS systems and laser-guided missiles, but they are not the only ones using technology in battle.
Musicians and activists opposed to the war are using the Internet to spread their messages of peace and protest in a new millennium version of the 1960s Vietnam anti-war movement.
Just as the implements of war have been updated for the digital age, the tools of protest have similarly been brought into the 21st century. Artists ranging from the Beastie Boys to R.E.M., John Mellencamp, Lenny Kravitz and some Cammy-winning local bands are using the Web to post songs supporting the peace movement and protesting the war in Iraq.
The swiftness with which these musicians have been able to voice their opinions is unprecedented.
"Technology always assists all major movements within any given tribe," said Simon Anderson, a professor of music education at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. "(In these times) we can't expect Bob Dylan to stand on the corner and sing 'Blowing in the Wind.' This is a tradition as old as human history, but updated for this age."
One of the first musicians out of the gate was Indiana resident Mellencamp, whose new song, "To Washington," is a pointed rebuke of the Bush presidency. Ironically, Mellencamp's stripped down, acoustic folk ballad uses MP3 technology to deliver a track as dusty as a Woody Guthrie chestnut.
Over jangly guitars and violins, Mellencamp sings, "And he wants to fight with many/ And he says it's not for oil/ He sent out the National Guard/ To police the world/ From Baghdad to Washington."
The song was quickly followed by an Internet-only single from the Beastie Boys, "In a World Gone Mad," which took a biting, if somewhat lighthearted approach to dissent against the war.
The rap trio, long known for their activism on behalf of the people of Tibet, sing, "Mirrors, smokescreens and lies/ It's not the politicians but their actions I despise/ You and Saddam should kick it like back in the day/ With the cocaine and Courvoisier."
Though nearly all major radio broadcasters have refrained from airing anti-war tracks while troops are fighting overseas, within the past two weeks, the Internet has been flooded with MP3s from major acts. Unlike during the Vietnam era, however, when songs by Country Joe and the Fish, Dylan and Pete Seeger made the Billboard charts, these downloadable tracks are bypassing traditional media in favor of free online distribution.
Locally, satirical rock act Fudgie and Fufu launched the Dissentcinnati Web site (www.fudgieandfufu.com/dissentcinnati) as a clearinghouse for songs from area bands. The group has collected more than 50 tracks from local artists - including the Ass Ponys, Ruby Vileos, the Underwoods and Wolverton Brothers - which they are encouraging fans to download and burn onto customized, homemade protest CDs.
Many of the songs are not explicitly war-related, but that is not the point according to band member David Enright, 29. "We tried to get as many bands as we could just to get these compilations out there," Enright said.
He has personally burned 200 CDs - featuring homemade artwork consisting of anti-war literature - and distributed them at local record stores, such as Shake It in Northside and Buzz in Corryville.
In total, Enright said more than 500 CDs have made their way into local shops. "The whole point is to burn whatever you want and copy stuff from the newspaper, write a poem, do whatever you want to get the anti-war message out there."
Since the bombing of Baghdad began, new songs from major artists have debuted almost daily.
Days after the war broke out, Lenny Kravitz posted the song "We Want Peace" on the Rock the Vote Web site (www.rockthevote.org) - a collaboration with Iraqi pop star Kazem Al Sahir, Palestinian musician Simon Shaheen and Lebanese artist Jamey Hadded.
Longtime activists R.E.M. also weighed in, posting the new composition "Last Straw" on their official Web site (www.remhq.com).
"We are praying and hoping for the lives of all people involved, the troops, the Iraqi civilians, refugees, POWs, families of troops, the innocents - that they are safe and OK," wrote singer Michael Stipe.
Both the R.E.M. and Beastie Boys songs also can be found on a new Web site co-founded by Sonic Youth singer/guitarist Thurston Moore, Protest Records (http://protest-records.com). The site offers free downloads of 40 new protest songs (under the Abbie Hoffman friendly heading "Steal this stuff") from a number of independent acts such as Cat Power, Jonatha Brooke, Mudhoney and Eugene Chadbourne, with new tracks added daily.
British pop singer Robbie Williams is about to release his take on the John Lennon anti-war song "Happy X-mas (War is Over,)" entitled "Happy Easter (War is Coming)," and longtime peace human rights activist Michael Franti (Spearhead) has posted the song "Bomb the World" at www.stayhuman.org.
Punk band Green Day released its downloadable acoustic anti-war song, "Life During Wartime," last week as well, featuring the pointed lyric, "A real war to fight against/ Instead of our petty disagreements/ How can I rationalize my life during wartime?"
No radio? No problem
Perhaps most caustic of all is a song from former Rage Against the Machine singer Zack de la Rocha, "March of Death," which features the lyrics, "I won't follow like cattle, I'm more like the catalyst/ Calm in the mix of battle."
The lack of support from traditional radio outlets has not affected the movement, according to Dave Davis, a professor of electronic media who works for the Cincinnati-based record mastering company, QCA. "Radio was the Internet of its day," said Davis.
Though some may not have the same level of artistry or universal meaning as a Dylan song carefully crafted over weeks or months, Davis said these new protest songs could be remembered as much for their immediacy as their message.
"The Internet is unique because it's free and available to millions of people," Davis said. "With home recording technology, these artists have the ability to record, produce and post these songs almost instantaneously."
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