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The Guardian FEBRUARY 24, 2007 - by Duncan Campbell
THE SAME OLD SONGS
There is a gaping hole for a new anti-war anthem that will capture the moment and the mood.
"And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for?..." Forty or so years ago, no anti-Vietnam war rally was complete without someone trying to sing the I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag by Country Joe and the Fish. Country Joe McDonald himself is still very much with us, living in Berkeley, still protesting and promoting versions of his 1965 song that now incorporate the war in Iraq.
Today tens of thousands of anti-war protesters are due to assemble in George Square in Glasgow and Hyde Park in London, when they will hear a new version of the other great anti-war anthem of that era - War (What Is It Good For?), originally sung by Edwin Starr in 1970. The latest interpretation is by Ugly Rumours, an anti-tribute band named after the group in which the prime minister performed in his long-haired youth.
London demonstrators will also be entertained by Ed Harcourt singing Masters of War, written in 1963 by Bob Dylan about the military-industrial complex that profits from the fighting (and Joan Baez may even be appearing). These are all great songs, but where is the defining anti-war anthem of today?
The first world war, as anyone who has seen the musical Oh! What a Lovely War will know, produced dozens of haunting songs from When This Lousy War Is Over to The Bells Of Hell. In the second world war, everyone did know what they were fighting for, which may account for the fact that there were fewer in the way of protest songs, but the Vietnam war brought a bundle to the fore in addition to the contributions of Country Joe and Edwin Starr.
The cold war gave us Randy Newman's still highly topical Political Science ("No one likes us / I don't know why / We may not be perfect / But heaven knows we try ... Let's drop the big one now"), and the conflict in Northern Ireland prompted Billy Connolly to write a beautiful little song called Sergeant, Where's Mine? ("All your talk of computers and sunshine and skis / All I'm askin' is - sergeant, where's mine?"). And from the Falklands war we had Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding, as sung by Robert Wyatt.
Nor is there a shortage now of songs about what is happening in Iraq. Bloc Party's Helicopter, Hard-Fi's Middle Eastern Holiday and Elbow's Leaders of the Free World are just three suggested by a colleague, and there are many from the other side of the Atlantic; but there is still the lack of a defining anthem.
Andrew Murray, of the Stop The War Coalition, says that every week he is sent new anti-war songs, but they are mainly in a traditional folk style, and he has not yet come across a new song that has quite the anthemic, rallying resonance of Fixin'-to-Die or War. He said that the anti-war movement has had plenty of support from writers, actors and artists, but not quite as much as he would have hoped from the musical fraternity. Ms Dynamite was at the big 2003 rally, Damon Albarn has also attended protests, and Nigel Kennedy and Brian Eno have been active - but Murray says there is a gaping hole for a new song.
There is no shortage of bands and musicians of all generations committed to political action, whether in terms of climate change or poverty, and there is no lack of willingness to help. This summer an army of young and middle-aged musicians will take part in Live Earth to draw attention to the dangers of global warming. But it is one thing to offer one's services and another to compose that elusive song that somehow captures the moment and the mood.
Murray says that if anyone can come up with such a song they will be guaranteed a big audience. Out there somewhere there must be a musician lurking with lyrics scrawled on the back of a flyer just waiting for their moment.
In the meantime, it's one, two, three...