Roxanne Tellier: I Protest!

rox lolas May 2014 3

So if I’ve got 41 new messages on Facebook, 3 books that have to be returned to the library, and the kugel will be ready at 7 p.m., how many nude photos did Jennifer Lawrence upload to the cloud? Answer: One tin soldier ran away.

postcard-5.5inx8.5in-hSome weeks are better than others.  This week started off pretty good, but degenerated into a black hole of veterinary emergencies and then my own nosedive into bronchitis.

The news, all around the world, didn’t help either. We’re living in a time when everything we do or say is under scrutiny, 24/7, and then regurgitated to us in the media, with an emphasis on blood and boobs.

We kneejerk in response, but within 24 hours, what had us enraged the day before is now but a memory, as more atrocities and sexual hijinks dance across our screens. It’s difficult to keep the issues properly framed when we’re drowning in a sea of information, all geared to generate a momentary rise in blood pressure.

Few have time to properly ruminate on the issues. Sometimes it seems like the only people who really care about justice are the ones spamming our inboxes with requests for signatures on petitions, and then a donation to their cause. It’s hard not to get cynical in times like these.

Big ButtsPopular music mirrors what we’re being spoon fed. Image conquers art. Let me serve you up some boobs and butts, in a beats per minute range that will keep you dancing all night. Toss in some glitz, a limousine, champagne, and a dude ‘making it rain’ dollar bills and we’ve got a winner! At the end of the year, a mashup of the year’s Top 10 will move seamlessly from song to song, rarely straying from a perfectly autotuned blend designed to numb the brain, and generate those clicks and views. And by the next year, we’ll all vaguely remember that Daft Punk had a big hit with “Get Lucky.”

It’s the rare artist or tune that not only dares to shine a spotlight on the sacred cows, but also hit the charts. I can only think of one in the last few years;  Lorde’s “Royals.” A minimalistic art pop ditty, tossed off in half an hour by Lorde, and later polished by the single’s producer, Joel Little, the song was a “response to everything that’s on pop radio.”

Lorde“All those references to expensive alcohol, beautiful clothes and beautiful cars – I was thinking, ‘This is so opulent, but it’s also bullshit… I guess what i tried to do is make something you could understand. A lot of people think teenagers live in this world like ‘Skins‘ every weekend or whatever, but truth is, half the time we aren’t doing anything cooler than playing with lighters, or waiting at some shitty stop.” (Lorde)

The song hit number one all over the world. Lorde pegged the inanity of music and videos being sold to kids who live in a real world where being made manager of the local McDonald’s is more likely than living the dream and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

“But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.”

Protest songs weren’t always so scarce. There’s a long history of songwriters commenting musically on the ills of the world. Bob Dylan shot to fame on the back of Woody Guthrie’s laments, and Dylan’s success allowed other artists to dream that they too could vent their anger at the injustices they perceived.

In 1963, hard on the heels of Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,” Sam Cooke was inspired to write and record the poignant “A Change is Gonna Come.”  In an era of racism and segregation, before the rise of the civil rights movement, Cooke, who had hit with “Twisting the Night Away,” showed great courage in releasing a song that was basically biting the white hand that fed him.

Bob Marley practically cornered the market on politically based protest songs, becoming the most prominent reggae musician of all time along the way. Marley drove his point home with lyrics like “You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. So now we see the light! We gonna stand up for our rights!”

In 1989, Public Enemy broke through with their song “Fight The Power,” later chosen as the musical motif of Spike Lee’s classic film Do The Right Thing.  The melodic rap tune demands action against the “Fear of a Black Planet,” poking fun at white supremacy with a James Brown groove.

And in 1992, Rage Against the Machine released “Killing in the Name,” linking  police to racism with the line “Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses,” and ends with “Fuck You, I won’t do what you told me.” The song almost inspired a riot at the Democratic National Convention in 2000. There’s power in music.

Where are the songs for today’s victims of racism and police brutality, like Michael Brown, slain in Ferguson, Missouri? Contrary to what the United States Supreme Court would have you believe, racism is not dead in America. It just bubbles under the surface, always ready to flare up at the slightest provocation.

Racism isn’t the only subject of protest songs. I remember being chilled by Barry McGuire’s version of “Eve of Destruction.” Written in 1965 by P.F. Sloan, the song was originally offered to The Byrds, who weren’t interested, and then recorded by The Turtles for their album, “It Ain’t Me Babe.”   But the song didn’t get any traction until gruff voiced McGuire released  what was intended to be a rough mix, ‘leaked’ to radio, where it shot to number one on the US Billboard charts that September.

The lyrics remarked on racism, but also referenced the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Gemini space mission of June 1965.

In 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival touched a chord with their song “Fortunate Son,” which commented on the effect of income inequality on eligibility for the draft.  While low and middle class earners sent their sons off to fight and die in Vietnam, the upper class found the money to pull strings to keep their own boys home.

And the next year, Crosby Stills Nash and Young released “Ohio,” written by Neil Young, about the U.S. military personnel killing of four young Vietnam War student protestors at Kent State University. U.S. support of the action in Vietnam was already waning, but this song helped kick up the pressure on Americans to pull out of the conflict.

Also released in 1970 was Gil Scott Heron’sThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” In his lyric poem, set to a groovy jazzy beat, Heron poked fun at America’s preoccupation with television, TV series and celebrities, advertising slogans and newscasts. Prescient, and incredibly subversive during the Nixon era, the song is considered one of the best protest songs of all time, and is still referenced and relevant today.

“In June 2013 a sign quoting the poem’s title (in Greek) was posted on a window inside the Greek state broadcaster ERT as employees resisted its closure by the government under pressure from the “troika” of the EU, ECB, and the IMF to cut public spending under their austerity regime.  And released in September 2013, South Korean entertainer G-Dragon’s “Coup d’Etat” contains a vocal sample of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” performed by Gil Scott-Heron.”  (Wikipedia)

So I ask again – where are today’s protest songs? Are writers and performers so frightened of rocking the boat of luxury that they daren’t speak about the issues that really matter? Have we all been hypnotized by Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda butt (162 million views and counting)?


There is power in music, the power to inspire change. We need more Lordes to point out to young listeners that there is hope for the future, whether they’re struggling against income inequality, racism, sexism or any other –isms, but they’re gonna have to fight for it. The next revolution will indeed be televised. Let’s just hope it’s not calling a formative generation to “fight for the right to party.”


Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

Contact us at

DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.

2 Responses to “Roxanne Tellier: I Protest!”

  1. Eva Mendes Says:

    I googled big butts and it led me to here. also i know when you were born.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: