Rout of the Rebel Angels, by William Blake

A Dog Starv'd

A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
      -- William Blake,
     "Auguries of Innocence"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Great Old Protest Songs Never Die, They Just Recycle (Over and Over and Over Again)

"Eve of Destruction," says Wikipedia,

is a grave warning of imminent apocalypse, and considered by some to be the epitome of a protest song.

Oh yeah. It's all that, and then some.

On one of public TV's recurring orgies of '60s-music-driven pledge drives, last night I caught Barry McGuire (now 40 years older, of course) performing it in a voice which, if anything, is even more drenched in an agony of disillusion than in the original recording. (Time does some things right, especially to some singers' voices.)

The Wikipedia article linked above includes a 30-second sample -- not much. I'll try to give you a little more later, when I'm at a desktop better equipped for audio processing. For now, here are the song's lyrics:

Eve Of Destruction
(as recorded by Barry McGuire, 1965)

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, 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,
ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say?
Can't you see the fear that I'm feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there's no running away,
There'll be noone to save with the world in a grave,
take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy,
but you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin',
I'm sittin' here, just contemplatin',
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
handful of Senators don't pass legislation,
and marches alone can't bring integration,
when human respect is disintegratin',
this whole crazy world is just too frustratin',
and you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China!
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!
Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,
but when your eturn, it's the same old place,
the poundin' of the drums, th pride and disgrace,
you can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace,
hate your next-door-neighbour, but don't forget to say grace,
and you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Aside from some of the dated references (Red China, four days in space), the sonofabitch holds up pretty well, doesn't it?

Truth be known, it's a little depressing to consider how readily the content still fits. Are the problems that intractable? Can so many people see, so easily, what the problems are in the first place, be so committed to fixing them, and yet be so incapable of breaking the old patterns?

This is one of the most important things fueling the Obama campaign's success. I have yet to make up my mind about him, 100% (I was an Edwards fan). But the harping by critics on what they deem an inappropriately style-over-substance appeal misses the point. That point is: Enough. We've had enough.

I don't say his opponents should roll over and let him take it without a fight, but I am saying they're supremely misguided. If their cynicism masquerading as "hard-nosed practicality" and "realism" comes to triumph over Obama's strange amalgam of charisma and goose-bumping rhetoric and plain old hope, it's a safe bet you'll see "Eve of Destruction" pop up its desperate head in another couple-three-four decades.

Update 2008-03-23:
Here are samples of the first 90 seconds of Maguire's original recording, in .ogg and .mp3 formats. The samples include the first couple of stanzas.



Flash audio player:



Google Gadget:

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