To recognize the power of protest music, acknowledge its role in keeping dissent alive and how musicians translate social issues and systemic problems into song, The Dissenter has launched a daily feature that highlights a protest song every weekday.
Off the album Between the Times and Tides released this year, “Shouts” is a song Lee Ranaldo, a member of Sonic Youth, recorded. It was inspired by a photo he saw after riots in Vancouver following the Canucks loss in the Stanley Cup.
“The photo showed people hurling bottles an screaming,” Ranaldo says of the song. “In the foreground, there were all these riot police in crash helmets. And, in between the riot police, there was this couple on the ground kissing. They were in a deep embrace. It became known as the ‘riot kiss.’ Turned out, they weren’t kissing. The girl was hurt and he was trying to calm her down.”
The song has a kind of despairing sound to it and opens with the words, “Everybody is shouting/There’s shouts out on the streets/I can’t hear a word they’re saying/Reports are incomplete.”
It does not really have any kind of chorus. After describing the scene of this riot, which the bystanders/protesters are in the middle, there is a spoken word section. A “riot kisser” explains:
It was complete chaos. Rioters set two cars on fire and then I saw the looters breaking windows. I don’t know why. We weren’t being aggressive toward them. Nothing like that. Eventually, eventually they passed over us and that was when we were on the ground. I was just trying to calm her down.
Everything happened so quickly. Police were “hysterical” and “overreacting.” So, the younger man thought—as Ranaldo sings, “I’ll embrace you on the ground/While cameras shoot the sounds/This whole world’s upside down/I still can hear the shouts.” After the kiss, they will try to make their way out of the crazy scene.
“Riot kiss” happened before the Occupy movement ignited. However, Ranaldo was one of the musicians who went to Zuccotti Park regularly to document and see what was happening. He supported what was developing in Manhattan and this song, he says, is for the general uprisings going on around the world.
It is about finding love in another in the midst of repression. The two kissing had no idea that police would come down on people this way. They were naive. Like multiple scenes captured on video of the NYPD snatching up occupiers, there was loud shouting, but the naiveté of the young man led to an interruption of the chaos. It led to a brief moment of passion, which in a sense is more subversive than protest in its purest form because kissing is a quite obvious display of a person or two people’s choice to not be afraid.
The Dissenter will be putting one of these up every weekday morning. If you have requests for songs that should be featured or if you have a protest song you recorded, which you would like to see featured, email email@example.com.
And all previous Protest Song of the Day selections can be found here.