By MARC McDONALD
Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.
I didn't watch the Grammy Awards this year. In fact, I never watch the Grammys (which is nothing more than a wank-fest of the corrupt U.S. corporate recording industry to celebrate another year of the utter mediocrity that clogs up today's pop charts). Anyone who thinks the Grammys celebrate the best of U.S. popular music probably also thinks the "Best Picture" Oscar actually has something to do with the best cinema of the year.
I suppose there might be some worthwhile music at the Grammys. But as the great Morrissey once sang, "It says nothing to me about my life."
Once upon a time, popular music actually had something to say. Listen to the best songs of the 1960s for example, and you can quickly get a sense of the issues of the day, from the Vietnam War to the youth rebellions that shook the Western world.
But these days, the songs are all about sex, bling-bling, and mindless consumption. And even the "best" music these days seems clinically crafted for one purpose: to shift as many units as possible.
It's all the more outrageous when you consider that one important function of the arts has been to hold a mirror up to society. Any outsider who listened to today's U.S. pop music would conclude that most Americans drive Bentleys, drink lots of Grey Goose, and spend their days having sex with supermodels.
If today's pop music really reflected U.S. society, it would reveal a broken, deteriorating nation that is facing a major crisis. Poverty is rising. The gap between rich and poor is at obscene levels. More and more kids are going hungry. The once Great American Middle Class is becoming extinct. And yet our corrupt government does nothing but act as a concierge service for the Rich & Powerful.
Do today's hitmakers like Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke have anything to say about all this? No---in fact today's popular music has nothing much to say about anything, bar the odd left-field hit from Chumbawamba.
One artist who always did keep it real was the great Paul Robeson (1898-1976). One of the most important progressive artists of all time, Robeson was often persecuted by the Powers That Be for his beliefs. But he never apologized and never backed down.
In the video above, Robeson pays homage to another great progressive hero, Joe Hill, who was executed in 1915.
Today, it's easy for some to mock Robeson's leftist beliefs as "naive." But what I've always found really naive is how so many in our society now embrace a unregulated, unfettered "free market" as the answer to everything.
Somehow, in our society, it's always the lefties who are regarded as naive. But those who embrace hard-core dog-eat-dog capitalism are somehow regarded as "sensible" and "realistic."
But those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Back in the 1930s, unfettered capitalism led to the Great Depression. I believe that today's unfettered capitalism will likely lead to nothing less than the end of America as we know it.
The fact is, the middle class is dying in America. And without a healthy, vibrant middle class around to buy the products that the system produces, U.S. capitalism won't survive for much longer.
Where are the Joe Hills of today? And for that matter who is our generation's equivalent of Paul Robeson? You certainly won't ever find such a singer, watching the banalities of the corporate wank-fest called the Grammy Awards.