Hindsight is an interesting thing. A couple of years ago I was bemoaning the fact that music had, by and large, lost its political bite. That something which had been so potent, from rock ’n’ roll to political soul-funk, from punk to hip-hop, had retreated to waxing lyrical about the most inane subjects such as the joy of text-messaging or someone’s favourite new trainers.
But as the West has witnessed a rising tide of conservative nationalism championed by narcissistic, aging white men (and I’m writing this in the UK so I’m in no position to cast the first stone) more and more recording artists are weaponising their words. In the context of unprecedented social and economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic, music is once again the perfect messaging system.
A new song by a new band, or should I say the heart and soul of a band I previously reviewed here last year, has been released under a new name. Having written the full measure of music and lyrics for San Francisco gospel rock band Sovereign Sounds debut album “The Eagle Has Landed” player/songwriter Gary Ochs returns with new music under the rather apropo monicker, “Shelter In Place.” Teaming up in this instance with Denver, Colorado vocalist Eric Stone for a folk-rock blues Ochs has penned the wonderfully satiric, “King Of Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Pointing fingers at the monarchial style of America’s presidential incumbent Donald Trump, the song is a potted history of the run-up to the 2016 election and the cascade of events since then, pitching fact with fun, poignancy with mirth.
I’m sure this is antithesis to how America sees itself. After all, the country was born out of a desire to replace kings with democracy. And what might have started out as perhaps a gentle call to arms, has taken on additional weight in the last week’s and its message is more sharply driven home by the political backdrop it is currently being projected onto.
Of course music has to be entertaining too. “King of Pennsylvania Avenue” mixes raw guitar rhythms and wilfully unfussy backbeats with washes of elegant strings and punchy choruses to create an excellent musical dynamic.
But the main ingredient of such a song is always going to be the lyrics. This is anything but dry and dusty sloganeering here. The message rings crystal clear.
It’s a brave new world we live in
White is black and black is whiteTruth is a deception
When wrong is seen as right
Stay away from our new wall boy
Go find some other place to play
Dirty tricks and politics
Rape your land and dig your grave
Enough is enough. When the Democratic Party was accused of being sore losers back in 2016, their frustration wasn’t about the fact that Hillary Clinton lost. They were angry and disturbed because they all knew what was about to come.
And now, here it is. City streets from New York to Los Angeles, exploding with flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, mounted riot police, helicopters and uniformed National Guardsmen in camouflage fatigues. And above it all the chilling cries and screams of the innocent.
In Washington DC, peaceful protesters are forcefully cleared from the street so that their “law-and-order” president can perform a shameful publicity stunt posing with the holy Bible in front of a boarded up church. His press secretary then appallingly compares him to Winston Churchill. Really?
White supremacy, bigotry and presidential threats to “dominate the streets” by military force have turned the US into a besieged fortress where the “tired and huddled masses” have been regarded as something less than human.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus death toll in America has surpassed 105,000. To many looking in from the outside, it is apparent that the American Dream is in danger of total collapse.
For a music review, I have gone way overboard here, but then again the power of music is that it can both entertain and inform. At its best, it can clear up the cobwebs, so to speak, and make us think about what is really going on. If you listen to King of Pennsylvania Avenue and your mind doesn’t think along such lines then perhaps you should take a look at the man in the mirror straight away. The power to change always begins there.
I find it strangely ironic that a call to revive the revolutionary spirit in America should come from the shores of the former British Empire. Let the collective voices of “the silent majority” be resoundingly heard at US voting stations this year. As I myself have read in the headlines, the soul of America and perhaps democracy itself, is at stake. And so, as the song poetically states, pay heed to these words:
Come all you millenials
It’s your time to fight
Turn off the TV
And turn on the lights
Tell that man in the White House
We won’t take any more
Tweet him we don’t need him
On November 4