Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: A Musical Review

Within the first few weeks of 2011 it was abundantly clear that this was already a year of world-historic proportions, right up there with 1968 or 1848. The entire Arab world was in revolt, and here at the end of 2011, it still is. And the Arab Awakening has just been part of the global excitement.

I'm a bit slow when it comes to new technologies, so the beginning of 2011 also marked the first time I learned to record a video on my iPhone and hit the "upload to YouTube" button. For the first time (for me) I had started to do with my songwriting what I was already doing on occasion with my essay-writing -- commenting in real time on world events for a global audience on the internet. Musical blogging -- nothing like a studio recording with a band that most indy songwriters can't afford to do more than once a year or so, but it's in real time, and the quality of the iPhone recording is at least bearable.

Casey Neill commented that these home-made videos I was sending out of my latest compositions was a "modern broadside," which it is. Decades ago an essay or a new topical song might be printed, with sheet music, and circulated by hand. Now it's a bit different, a video on the internet, but it maintains the same qualities as the old broadsides and chapbooks -- it's cheap and simple, no frills, but it works. I've taken to calling them my "iPhone broadsides."

It's the immediacy of the broadside that is most appealing, I've noticed. It's the lower-quality iPhone recordings that get the most views. Radio programmers may have a bit more of an ear for sound quality, and may opt to play the high-quality studio version when it eventually exists, but for the average listener it's clearly the immediacy that counts the most -- this is made unforgivingly clear in the view statistics below each video. (As are other humbling bits of information, such as the fact that 68% of the people who view my videos are male.)

So there may be nothing too immediate about this musical essay, but this is the time of year we do such things, so for those of you who are interested, here is my year in review, in the form of selected songs I wrote about different events that have transpired over the past twelve months.

As the year began, the reverberations of the hundreds of thousands of documents Bradley Manning is alleged to have sent to Wikileaks were being felt throughout the world. Most exposes in the media worldwide in 2011 have been directly connected to these documents. For his heroism, Manning has spent all of 2011 and much of 2010 in deplorable conditions in an American prison.

The original iPhone broadside got a lot more views, but here is the music video using the studio version of the song which was finished last summer:

On January 15th, 2011, Tunisia's corrupt despot of many decades, Ben Ali, fled the country. Here's the music video for the song I wrote soon after this event:

With February came the uprising in Wisconsin against the governor's ongoing union-busting efforts. For weeks, large numbers of people occupied the state capitol building, with crowds often numbering in the tens of thousands (especially impressive given the bitterly cold weather, complete with copious amounts of wind and snow). The tactic of taking and holding a central space 24/7 was widely seen at the time as being directly inspired by events in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. Here's one of the "musical buttons" I made for the occasion, using a solo acoustic studio version of the song I recorded many months after the original iPhone broadside. Just click "play":

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On March 11th, the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan killed tens of thousands of people, and destroyed the lives of many more. Some towns were completely demolished. One such town was called Minami Sanriku. I read an article about an orphaned boy there and wrote a song. This is the original iPhone broadside I sent out, recorded in someone's guest room in southern Germany. (A studio recording of it can also be found on my website.)

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster I was thinking about the other technologically advanced, rich countries that did not go the route of building lots of nuclear reactors. One such country is Denmark, which is where I was as the Fukushima disaster was unfolding last spring, where the original industrial-scale windmill was built in the mid-1970's. I wrote this song. Here's the button version:

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At the end of March people in Pennsylvania discovered that as a result of widespread hydraulic fracturing practices, the entire state's drinking water had become radioactive. I wrote this song:

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Among other things that were happening last April was another ridiculous budget debate in the US Congress, during which only a couple marginal leftwing members of the esteemed body even mentioned taking the sorts of measures that need to be taken, such as a massive increase in taxation on the top 1% and a massive gutting of the imperial military budget. So I wrote a musical response to the budget debate complete with a solid budget proposal:

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On May 1st Osama Bin Laden was executed by Navy Seals in Pakistan. Here's the original iPhone broadside I put out in response, two days later. (A better-quality recording can be found on my website.)

A few days later in May the world's largest urban commune, the Free State Christiania, reached an agreement with the Danish government which would allow it to continue to exist, after many years of on and off persecution by the Danish state. Here's what iPhone broadside I put out when I heard these negotiations were taking place. I was in Copenhagen at the time.

On May 23rd Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to a jubilant US Congress, spouted lies and racist propaganda and got several dozen standing ovations for his efforts. I put out this musical response:

By June -- well over a year before the next Presidential elections in the US -- the race for president for the 2012 elections began. After his history of utter capitulation to Wall Street and the military industrial complex, Barack Obama began the campaign for his second term in the White House. Here's my musical response to this notion, as delivered at a gig for a small crowd in San Francisco:

One June 6th, Keith McHenry and three other folks were arrested in Eola Park in Orlando, Florida for serving food to the hungry. My response:

Also by June there were large-scale protests, strikes and riots in Greece. Bjorn-Magne Stuesdol took the occasion to make an animated video for my song about the most famous leftwing dog in Greece, Loukanikos:

On July 22 the worst thing ever to happen in Scandinavia since World War 2 occurred. Anders Brevik coldly executed an extensively-planned massacre that resulted in 77 people dead. He was inspired by many fanatics throughout history, from the Crusades to the present. He considered himself to be a member of a group called the Knights Templar, an organization which in its time was responsible for untold death and suffering for people in Europe and in various other parts of the world which had the misfortune to be invaded by the Crusaders.

Breivik's terrible deeds were committed in the context of 2011 Europe. While leftwing movements are taking power across Latin America and revolutions are sweeping the Arab world, in Europe all the major national leaders have in recent months vocally denounced multiculturalism. I ask you, how are people supposed to respond to this? When you live in what is obviously, clearly a multicultural society, and with the history of xenophobia Europe has in such abundance, how is that Cameron, Sarkozy, Merkel and Berlusconi can say such things? How do they expect a historically racist, xenophobic population to react? This was my iPhone broadside at the time:

For several days during the beginning of August, cities across England were experiencing several days of sustained rioting. Many people were denouncing the rioters as mindless criminals. To others, such as myself, these riots were a perfectly predictable response to the rigid class society that is modern England, and to the widespread knowledge throughout British society that things are only going to get worse.

On August 11th, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney explained to the television audience at a debate, "corporations are people, too." The Supreme Court ruled this, as well. This was my musical response to Romney's statement:

On September 17th I went to Wall Street to protest the capitalist swine who got us into this mess. Within weeks this Occupy Wall Street movement grew exponentially. I spent much of the fall singing this song at Occupies throughout the US and Canada:

In October, long-time friends and comrades of my dear friend Marie Mason held a fundraiser for her expenses in prison, where she is serving an insanely draconian 22-year sentence.

My final iPhone broadside of 2011 was a reaction to being inundated by way too much Christmas music -- or the 25 songs repeated ad nauseum for two months of the year on half the radio stations that we today know as the Christmas music tradition.

If there's anybody out there who actually read all this and listened to all these songs in order of appearance I think you should be given an award of some kind. Let me know how you liked my musical review here. Maybe I'll do it again next year. May it be even more full of mass social upheaval than the last one!

For those of you who still haven't had enough, here's my favorite live video recorded of me singing in 2011. This is the last 36 minutes of my set at Occupy Portland the night before the camp was evicted:


Alex Smith said...

David, you are an American treasure, maybe even a world treasure.

I can't think of anyone else like you, a troubadour for the times.

Thanks for a good musical year.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock

eric said...

thanks David for another fine year of contributing resistance and consciousness raising in song.

in solidarity with people and the planet,


gaya said...

thank you so much for your music,it became a big part of my music listening life^^can't wait to see you again...all the best to you and your family in 2012.

Steve Suffet said...


What a great collection of songs! While I hate to think of songwriting as a competitive sport, I would still put you up there with the very best of the contemporary political songwriters in the USA, and that group includes the likes of Bev Grant, Jon Fromer, Anne Feeney, Tom Neilson, Evan Greer, and Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow, among others.

As far as the politics go, I agree with you about 85% of the time, and that's quite a lot. However, even when I disagree with you, your songs are both thoughtful and thought-provoking, which makes them just as important, perhaps even more important. So thanks for putting them out for the world to hear.

Have a sweet and peaceful New Year. And keep up the good fight, as I am sure you will.

Kindest regards,
Steve Suffet

Rohan said...


When even your fans have to check the listeners faces when they play a DR song you know you are getting it right. When a DJ tells me Phil Ochs was more mainstream than DR you know youve hit the sweet spot like no one else, and in tune.
Thanks for a year of gems coming out of your gat and empathy from your corazon. Stay strong and keep singing for the 99/100 and be right 100/100.

Mindy said...

Amazing depiction of 2011 by music. Thank you for being aware, and all the work you do to spread the messages. Truly appreciated!

Tim OConnor said...

David, Happy New Year 2012. Thanks for all your interesting music and writing this past year. Your creativity is amazing and we all appreciate your energy and perception of reality. Best wishes mi amigo--Tim OConnor

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