the chicago tribune reports today on the music of the refugee all-stars in west africa, which got me thinking about american war songs. until this summer, i'd heard comparatively few treatments of the iraq war by musicians. i recall a burst of patriotic war songs on country radio in 2003-2004, by artists such as (the reconstituted) lynyrd skynyrd, clint black, toby keith, and darryl worley. these were countered mainly by strong anti-war statements by green day's american idiot and "political" artists such as steve earle.
now the picture is more diffuse and complicated, with every album and performance seeming to address the war in one way or another. i've heard three bands cover war pigs this year, including a spirited version by the flaming lips at the minnesota state fair. natalie maines of the dixie chicks famously criticized the president, then apologized for her disrespect, and today stands by her initial comments. even good ol' bluegrass music is split over the presence of military bands and music at an awards show. similarly, mr. worley's new song is a somber and conflicted story about the problems soldiers face in returning from combat. it is a long way from a protest song, but an equally fair distance from the pro-war stance of his hit, have you forgotten?
neil young says he waited as long as he could -- age 60 -- before unleashing his metal-folk-protest fury (prompting mr. colbert to ask "is it just you or the entire AARP?"). mr. young's living with war site now offers a handy list of the top 100 protest videos and top 700 songs of the times. on the videos page, you can watch bruce, merle, pink, steel pulse, the drive-by truckers, bad religion, devendra barnhart, and even a loose performance of a nofx song favored by the lad. perhaps lee greenwood or toby keith will create a countersite so that we can view the top 100 pro- and anti- songs together.
flipping through such videos tells you something about public sentiment, though we'd learn more from a simple list of the top 100 songs addressing the war from any perspective whatsoever. i bet one could discern temporal shifts in the pro- or anti- ideology that lag public opinion by a year or so. i suppose one could argue that artists are leading public sentiment on the war, but i've seen little evidence to support this hypothesis in the past five years (unless one counts mr. colbert and mr. stewart as artists, i suppose). alternatively, one might find more strident statements on both sides early in a war that give way to more complex and personal visions over time. i'm not sure how cultural sociologists have approached such issues, but there are a lot of data just waiting to be analyzed...