Photo by Timon Klauser on Unsplash

In Times Of Danger And Turmoil Look To The Artists

In times of great social upheaval, artists illuminate truth, whether it is Picasso’s depiction of the horrors of war in “Guernica,” Billie Holiday’s wrenching rendition of “Strange Fruit” and the terror of lynchings or Olivia Rodrigo’s and Lily Allen’s rendition of “F — You” in protest to the Supreme Court ruling overturning a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body.
More than 200,000 fans packed the 1,200-acre Worthy Farm field in Pilton, Somerset, England, for the five-day Glastonbury Festival. On June 25, many joined in to the chorus with Rodrigo and Allen to jeer the High Court ruling.
Here’s a few verses of Lily Allen’s inspirational assault on the ruling:
“Look inside, look inside your tiny mind, then look a bit harder
’Cause we’re so uninspired
So sick and tired of all the hatred you harbour.”
So you say it’s not okay to be gay, well, I think you’re just evil
You’re just some racist who can’t tie my laces
Your point of view is medieval.
Fuck you (Fuck you), fuck you very, very much
’Cause we hate what you do
And we hate your whole crew
So, please don’t stay in touch (da-da-da-da-da-da-da).”
Rodrigo explained why she joined with Allen to sing “F — You.”
“I’m devastated and terrified. So many women and so many girls are going to die because of this,” she said in an interview. “I wanted to dedicate this next song to the five members of the Supreme Court who have showed us that at the end of the day, they truly don’t give a shit about freedom. The song is for the justices: Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh. We hate you! We hate you.”
Before her set, singer Phoebe Bridgers addressed the audience.
“In all honesty, [the festival is] like super surreal and fun, but I’m having like the shittiest day. Are there any Americans here? What wants to say ‘Fuck the Supreme Court’ on three?” she shouted before leading a chant of “Fuck the Supreme Court!” “Fuck that shit. Fuck America. Like, fuck you. All these irrelevant old motherfuckers trying to tell us what to do with our fucking bodies.”
Award winning singer Billie Eilish also brought up the ruling, telling the throng, “Today is a really, really dark day for women in the US. I’m just going to say that as I cannot bear to think about it any longer in this moment.”
“F-You” was just the latest in a long line of protest songs in the U.S. Protests have taken form in songs, paintings, billboards, murals, graffiti and the ubiquitous tattoos. Protest art has focused on wars and prohibition, racism and police and much, much more.
Picasso painted “Guernica” in 1937 in reaction to the April 26, 1937, bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in northern Spain which was bombed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the request of the Spanish Nationalists. The composition, including a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, a dead baby, a dismembered soldier, and flames, became widely acclaimed as it helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.
Billie Holiday made famous with her searing rendition of “Strange Fruit,” written in 1939 as a poem by Abel Meerop, a white, Jewish teacher and member of the American Communist Party. It was later set to music, exposing lynchings and the brutality of racism in the United States. The song juxtaposed idyllic, florid scenes of a Southern landscape with uncompromising descriptions of black bodies swaying from a tree in the Southern breeze.
The lyrics of “Strange Fruit” were:
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”
The nation went legally dry with the prohibition amendment of 1919. After years of bootleggers, smuggling, speakeasies and public outcry, prohibition ended with enactment of the 21st Amendment in 1933 which legalized beer with 3.2 percent alcohol and light wine with the same percentage, both mild by today’s standards..
The turbulent prohibition years was fertile ground for many anti-prohibition songs, beginning with David Kohn’s 1922 “Light Wine and Beer,” which became the official song of the Anti-Prohibition Party and Association Against the Prohibition Amendment.
“Prohibition Blues,” written in 1919 by Nora Bayes, expressed the sentiment vividly.
“Oh! my Brothers and Sisters, listen to what I say
By nineteen twenty dere’ll be no boose sold in the U.S.A.
De whole country am goin’ bone dry.
Prohibition am de battle cry.
‘Scuse me while I shed a tear,
For good old whiskey,gin and beer.
Goodbye forever, Goodbye forever.
Ah got de Prohibition, Prohibition, Prohibition blues”.
“Every Day will be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry” was Edward Meeker’s 1919 spin on prohibition.
“Goodbye, Hunter; So long, Scotch; Farewell Haig and Haig;
Oh my darling old frappe, they will soon take you away.
At the table with Lola they will serve us Coca-Cola.
No more saying: “Let me buy,”
No more coming thru the Rye.
Old Manhattan and Martini have received the big subpoena.
Ev’ry day’ll be Sunday when the town goes dry.”
The unfairness of denying an abortion to young Black women is depicted uncomprisingly in “Runaway Love,” by Ludacris, which begins with a 9-year-old girl who is raped by her mother’s boyfriend and ends with a teenager whose boyfriend leaves when she becomes pregnant and she cannot afford an abortion. A few verses include:
“Now little Lisa’s only nine years old
She’s tryin’ to figure out why the world is so cold
Why she’s all alone and they never met her family
Momma’s always gone and she never met her daddy
Part of her is missin’ and nobody’ll listen
Momma’s on drugs, gettin’ *** up in the kitchen
Bringin’ home men at different hours of the night
Startin’ with some laughs, usually endin’ in a fight
Sneakin’ in her room when her momma’s knocked out
Tryin’ to have his way and little Lisa says ouch
She tries to resist but then all he does is beat her
Tries to tell her mom but her momma don’t believe her.”
Runaway love, runaway love
Runaway love, runaway love
Runaway love, runaway love
Runaway love, runaway love.
The days go by and her belly gets big
The father bails out, he ain’t ready for a kid
Knowin’ her momma would blow it all out of proportion
Plus she lives poor, so no money for abortion.”
Neil Young wrote “Song X,” taking aim at the 1993 murder of Dr. David Gunn outside of his abortion clinic in Pensacola, Fla. The killer was Michael F. Griffin, an anti-abortionist, fundamentalist Christian.
Song X verses include:
“Hey ho away we go
We’re on the road to never.
Where life’s a joy
For girls and boys
And only will get better.
Hey ho away we go
We’re on the road to never.
Romeo and Juliet
The doctor and his case
Without a plan they left the van
And there were laid to waste.
The priest was there
With sandy hair
Religion by his side
He saw his law was broken
The punishment was applied.”
War has historically been fertile ground for art.
Barry McGuire sang his “Eve of Destruction” in 1964:
“The Eastern world, it is explodin’
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin’
But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
How you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction. “
Bob Dylan wrote in his 1963, timeless masterpiece, “Masters Of War”:
“Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.
You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly.”
And who among you baby boomers doesn’t recall the “Fish” Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” a 1967, lyrical romp against the Vietnam War by Country Joe and the Fish. It went:
“Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men
Uncle Sam needs your help again
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam.
So put down your books, pick up a gun
Gonna have a whole lot of fun.
And it’s 1, 2, 3
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it’s 5, 6, 7
Open up the pearly gates
Ah, ain’t no time to wonder why
We’re all going to die.”
In 2015, anger was rising around the country over the shootings of unarmed black men by police. “Fuck Tha Police” was the focus of an angry song by the rap group, N.W.A., short for “Niggers With Attitudes.”
“Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority.
Fuck that shit, ’cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
To be beatin’ on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell.
Fuckin’ with me ’cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product
Thinkin’ every nigga is sellin’ narcotics.”
Yard signs have become the medium of choice for many to express their concerns, depicting such themes as “Reproductive Rights are Human Rights”; “In this house, we believe Black Lives Matter”; Women’s Rights Equals Human Rights”; “My Body My Choice;” and “Diversity Makes Us Stronger.”
Posters demand, “Leave Women’s Bodies Alone” and T-shirts are emblazoned with creative memes like, “He who hath not a uterus should shut the fucketh up. Fallopians 19:73.”
And hats have taken on a special significance, particularly since the popularity of the MAGA (Make American Great Again) theme of the trump years. One counter-MAGA hat has the words “MAGA-Make the Asshole Go Away” while another calls on people to chill, with “Relax Idiots It’s Just a Hat.”
And then there are the tattoos, medium of choice of the younger generation, with such depictions as “REVOLT,” symbols like raised fists and anti- police tattoos and one tattoo with a particularly pithy admonition, “Dumbledore wouldn’t let this happen.”



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