Singer/songwriter Jackson Browne and the band Dawes performed at Zuccotti Park for Occupy Wall Street yesterday. Browne, Dawes and two very talented female vocalists played about a six song set that began with Browne unsuccessfully trying to talk to his audience.
Without a microphone, he was told to use the “human mic” that Occupy Wall Street has had to use because of the ban on sound amplification. Browne went into a “mic check” after being told what to do:
I’m not known for my brevity. My songs are usually pretty quiet and I’ve never really been known to make speeches although some of my songs have been called speeches. We’re here to express our solidarity and stand with the occupiers in calling for sustainable future, justice — Justice.
He then launched into an acoustic performance of “Casino Nation” off his 2002 album The Naked Ride Home. The lyrics are quite appropriate for the Occupy movement. One stanza goes: “Gleaming faces in the checkout counter of the Church of Fame/The lucky winners cheer Casino Nation/All those not on TV only have themselves to blame/And don’t quite seem to understand the way the hammer shapes the hand.” But, it’s the opening lines, “In a weapons producing nation under Jesus/In the fabled crucible of the free world,” that perfectly set the tone for this song against consumerism.
Dawes then performed the song, “When My Time Comes.” It is off the roots-rock band’s 2009 album North Hills. The song has a sweeping feel to it and the lyrics should resonate with the forlorn worker in America trying to make ends meet:
There were moments of dreams I was offered to save
I live less like a workhorse, more like a slave
I thought that one quick moment that was noble or brace
Would be worth the most of my life.
So I pointed my fingers, and shout a few quotes I knew
As if something that’s written should be taken as true
But every path I have taken and conclusion I drew
Would put truth back under the knife.
And now the only piece of advice that continues to help:
Is anyone that’s making anything new only breaks something else.
When my time comes,
Ohhhhh, oh oh oh.
When my times comes,
Ohhhhh, oh oh oh.
Then Browne played what I consider to be an excellent anti-intervention tune, “Lives in the Balance.”
Dawes played another song, “How Far We’ve Come,” with Jackson Browne.
Browne & Dawes launched into a performance of the Little Steven song, “I Am a Patriot.” The section of the song, “And I ain’t no communist/And I ain’t no capitalist/And I ain’t no socialist/And I ain’t no imperialist/And I ain’t no democrat/And I ain’t no republican/I only know one party/And it is freedom,” deeply resonated with many of the occupiers.
Finally, Browne performed a tune that was written for the Occupy movement called “Which Side Are You On?” (no, not the classic civil rights gospel anthem). The song is possibly the one that will be on the Occupy Wall Street benefit music album, Occupy This Album, which will be released soon. The opening almost sounds like the beginning to John Mellencamp’s song “Play Guitar.” The feel of the song shifts at the chorus though.
The lyrics are hard to pick up but some of the lines that can be heard: “People know the game is rigged…They see their expectations slowly slip away…You have come to Occupy … Changes we must bring about to what this life can be.”
Music is essential to keeping this movement alive. It won’t be sustained if the movement isn’t tapping into culture. I don’t mean popular culture or counterculture. I don’t necessarily even mean the kind of culture that Jackson Browne or Crosby & Nash because that culture reminds people of a time in the 60s, 70s or even 80s. I simply mean that the occupations should be regularly inviting musicians, entertainers, comics and artists to perform or display their art at the camps or in locations where they are occupying so that they can protect the idealistic vision of the movement, which is to bring about a world with more democracy and economic equality and justice for all.
That is why the Friday and Saturday action, Occupy Broadway, is so significant. Parallel to rampant corruption on Wall Street and growing influence of money in politics has been the commodification of art and culture. And that has meant more and more socially conscious art and culture is turned down by producers when artists want to create something powerful.
Song, dance and even street theater provide a shell that can preserve what this movement is about and make it about much more than stopping police or cities from arresting occupiers for wanting to have encampments in public spaces. It can be the soul that makes the movement even more powerful to humanity than the First Amendment rights the movement cites to justify not packing up and going home.