Thursday, November 05, 2009

different era, different band

I was listening to a new Green Day song on the radio this afternoon, 21 Guns.
Do you know what's worth fighting for?
When it's not worth dying for?
Does it take your breath away
And you feel yourself suffocating?
It's good. It's wistful, a word which doesn't immediately come to mind when trying to describe Green Day's music.


The song brought to mind another song , by another band (once called the only band that mattered), The Clash—The Guns of Brixton. That song is about as far from wistful as you can get.

When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun




Joe Strummer might sneer, but hearing 21 Guns made me wonder if the Clash's 80s were a more innocent time than Strummer or any of us thought. It was no walk in the park—we had to deal with Reaganomics and apartheid and were just beginning to really hear about AIDS
when Combat Rock was climbing the charts—but we still could rebel against a society which seemed to have a strong foundation, no matter how screwed up, or how much we disagreed with it. There was "the system" and we could fight it, make art about it.

The last decade brought in a political regime so twisted at its corewith its response to horrors like 9/11 and policies formed which resulted in military actions that risked lives and made little sense (declaring war on one nation and then forgetting about it to attack the "weapons of mass destruction" of another, Guantanamo Bay, for starters) that "the system" was revealed to be weaker than ever suspected; unsupportable. You can't make music like The Guns of Brixton in such an environment. It's redundant. It would only make everything more shaky, more tenuous. But maybe the fact that no one heeded The Guns of Brixton led to the last decade's politics.

I'm wondering if artists had to adapt a mellower approach, as a coping mechanism, to deal with their environment. There was no punk rock. And even the most critically acclaimed bands, like the White Stripes (a stripped-down duo), Coldplay (sometimes too laid-back) and Radiohead (this generation's Eno & Gabriel) were not in-your-face politically in content or persona. Did Bush kill punk? Just add that to the list of atrocities.

Green Day has always patterned itself after the most excellent Clash. At times the comparisons have seemed too forced, even annoying. But this song, with its different tone, different approach, has brought them closer to their idols than ever before. They are making music of the moment.

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