Monday, 3 August 2015

A Rallying Soundtrack

It's been interesting to watch the debate surrounding the nationalist rallies in Australia over the last few weeks. An organisation known as "Reclaim Australia" had rallies in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney on the 19th of July and they quickly turned violent. On one hand, Reclaim Australia are protesting as what they perceive is the "Islamisation of Australia" and then the anti-racism protesters on the other clashed with police making some ugly scenes.

It is not the place on this blog for debate about these issues. We take a strong anti-racism view but we will not comment on our opinion any further.

However, the interesting part of the story is the use of music by the Reclaim protesters. If you wanted to make a statement about something, do you really think the use of the song "Khe Sanh" by Cold Chisel is the best choice of song to use?

Considering Reclaim Australia are protesting against immigration, using a song about a Vietnam Vet who returns to South East Asia a number of times on a soul-searching mission, the song's use is even more ridiculous.

It is admirable that Jimmy Barnes has spoken up to express his disgust at the use of his music at these rallies. As have a number of other musicians, such as Shane Howard of Goanna, Midnight Oil, John Williamson and John Farnham.

In all the above examples, the use of the music as a rallying cry to support their viewpoint is almost uniformly incongruous. I thought I'd take a look at why this is the case.

"Khe Sanh" is obviously an ill fit, but it's funny as to why this song is almost a de facto national anthem in the first place. The piece is a narrative of a Vietnam Veteran who finds like increasingly difficult back in Sydney after returning from his time in the war. Not an uncommon scenario for many of those who fought in the conflict, but quite a foreign premise for most people who weren't there to grasp onto, especially 20- and 30- somethings who are alive in 2015. As the lyric deals, in a non-partisan way, with Asian cultures it seems like an odd choice for a rally such as this.

Shane Howard, the writer of the iconic "Solid Rock", a hit for his band Goanna in 1982, states this song is about:
"Working to find our common identity and shared destiny, in this remarkable Aboriginal cultural reality is a more powerful, peaceful and rewarding way forward."
. It's more of a plea for racial harmony and integration, and not exclusion.

John Farnham's "You're The Voice" was written by Chris Thompson (ex-Manfred Mann's Earth Band), Maggie Ryder, Andy Quinta and Procol Harem lyricist Keith Reid. It was written as an anti-war missive at the height of the cold war in the 1980s, to protest against the use of force to find a peaceful solution. Keith Reid states, (From Songfacts.com:)

"Chris called me and said, 'I've got something and I don't know what to do with it lyrically. It feels as though it should be slightly political, but I don't know. Have a listen.' And we sat down, he played me the tune, and I got the title idea, 'You're The Voice.' It's an anti-war song in a way, but it was more of a 'make your voice heard' kind of thing. Wake up to your own power."

"You're The Voice" is probably an easy one to misinterpret, but it's not an excuse in this case.

John Wiiliamson's "True Blue" is a typical one to go for if you want to push a purist racial agenda:

"Hey True Blue,
Don't Say You're Gone,
Say you've knocked off for a smoko,
And you'll be back later on..."

Even so, it misses the point. Sure "True Blue" may lament the loss of a certain way of things but JW is not an exclusionist. He is certainly not xenophobic line in this song anyway. He argues that politicians shouldn't "sell us out like sponge cake". He also puts it that there is a place for everybody and every culture.

It's hard to push an agenda conclusively using someone elses music as a backdrop if said agenda is not in the spirit of the musician's original intention. Doing even a cursory amount of research into the people who create the music we love will fill in any blanks one may have on the topic. This is why so many televangelists look ridiculous when they attack popular music. This is why politicians who use pop music get their song choices out of line, raising the ire of the songwriters.

What other misguided soundtracks exist that we haven't thought of?

Until next time...

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