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Dissent: American As Apple Pie: Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

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Tuesday, Jul 3, 2012
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10 - 6

10. Strike Anywhere - “Sedition”

With ubiquitous urgency, Strike Anywhere unleashes a barrage of politics-soaked hardcore tucked inside a melodic maelstrom. Not unlike beat poet Allen Ginsberg, Strike Anywhere bemoans the disintegration of the United States. The group’s philosophical vein is honest, all-encompassing, and left-wing, but it knows no slogans can replace real, hard wrangling to get things done. These themes percolate in wordplay and agitation. “Which lie is the one / That will take me”, yelps singer Thomas Barnett in a potent, harrowing use of rhetorical devices. He describes staring at suns and walking the dead ends streets, one foot still inside the American dream of heroic dissent, the other stuck in the collapsed industrial state, paved in dead intentions and “generations of age slave data”. Banks buy Presidents, corporate capital drives democracy, and suburban homes glow with security lights where wild animals once roamed. Barnett chooses not to retreat, but to recall the legacy of his grandfather’s own fight for honest pay and work. Stand up and be counted, he breathlessly infers.

Photo: David Ensminger

Photo: David Ensminger

9. The Adolescents - “Lockdown America”

Their still-buzzing early seminal songs like “Amoeba” and “Kids from the Black Hole” remain a huge part of the punk musical fabric of youth-gone-mad America, but their comeback album OC Confidential in 2005 proved their politics were as fierce and focused as ever as they grew into middle age, even as young Hot Topic bands stole the limelight. Singer Tony Cadena (Tony Reflex) is a barbed poet of lethal caliber, while the music forged by Derek O’Brien (fine-fingered former drummer of Social Distortion) is a surging force. Taking no prisoners, they unleash their vehemence at America’s darker tendencies, such as backfiring colonial aims (“Pax Americana”), floundering ideals (“a dying democracy”), and major indifference (“sweep it under the rug”). With tuneful tenacity, the Adolescents combine surf-punk prowess with vetted, true and tried, bona fide punk ideas that should make any old Yippie or 1982 Dead Kennedys admirer shake a fist or turn a flag upside down.

Photo: David Ensminger

Photo: David Ensminger

8. MDC - “America’s So Straight”

Reeling with disgust and indignation, Dave Dictor pounces on prejudice and pummels the homophobic narratives spewed by normal dominant society. Formed first as the Stains in the gender-bending punk scene of Austin, TX—where lead singers such as Gary Floyd of the Dicks and Randy “Biscuit” Turner of the Big Boys proved that punk was shaped by queer sensibilities—MDC attacks small-minded, straight-laced heterosexual mumbo jumbo. Part an ode to streetwalkers, men in drag, and true sexual freedom, Dictor unleashes the protagonist “rebel rebel on the street, make-up on my face, stockings on my feet” to confront the jeers of men. In doing so, Dictor tests the limits of freedom, which irks so many bystanders. “Call this the land of the free… home of the brave… they call me a queen… just another human being”, the persona recounts, years before ACT UP and Queer Nation took to protesting and clashing. Few bands in the early 1980s were willing to stake such an intractable position on gay and lesbian rights, so this song is mighty prescient and powerful, insightful and incendiary.

7. The Ramones - “Planet Earth 1988”

The Ramones are forever link to pinhead, bubblegum, and teen psycho cartoon punk by many writers dismissing their larger, varied, and complex style. “Planet Earth 1988” proves the depth of their conscience right at the peak of hardcore in New York City, when the Cro-Mags, Bad Brains, Cause for Alarm, and Agnostic Front reigned. The Ramones did not turn a cheek to world events, nor did they play up their pop modes on Too Tough to Die which remains one of their most bitter and treacherous albums. Penned by Dee Dee Ramone in a fit of clairvoyance, the songs lyrics read like a heading from today’s newspapers: “The solution to peace isn’t clear / The terrorist threat is a modern fear / There are no jobs for the young / They turn to crime, turn to drugs.” He places the blame on Cold War powers concerned far more about guerrilla armies than Christmas seasons, and war machines rather than goodwill and peace. Dismissed as pop fodder, the Ramones remain controversial, contradictory, and poetic American icons.

6. Hüsker Dü - “In a Free Land”

Though these Minnesota natives were often more associated with emotional hardcore, the personal politics of frustration and unease, this track proves they could also deconstruct American idealism. Knowing that 2/3 of the band were closeted gays at the time further fuels the debate about the song’s significance. Perhaps latent in the lyrical palate is an urge to find freedom in both a country and underground music scene that made false promises and pretended to honor difference while squashing dissent. “Nostalgia is a symptom of a dying culture”, drummer/singer Grant Hart said in the liner notes to the live album The Living End, yet this tune represents, in clarion call urgency, a nostalgia for the roots of American liberty, independence, and respect. In Bob Mould’s brash narrative, students are subjected to a “government that authorize education… they’ll teach you want they want you to think… saturation, stars and stripes.” Hüsker Dü’s blitzkrieg bombast bop delivery is what made it famous, especially when anchored by such terse, puncturing prose and razor-sharp musical skills.

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