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Gobsmacked While Listening to Democracy Now!

Two Bobs, Same Old Song and Dance

by DAVID ROVICS

Listening to DN today once again…  First of all, before reading further, if I were to ask you to name two musicians whose first name is Bob, who comes to mind?  Please write them down.

After interviewing Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange about recent developments with regard to the US accusing journalists of being terrorists, the first music break was Bob Dylan’s 1963 classic, “The Times They Are A’Changin’.”  I know I’m repeating myself here, but this is another classic case of DN’s continued tendency to play songs from the 1960s and 1970s by massively popular artists who can be heard on commercial radio worldwide any day of the week.  Bob Dylan certainly wrote a lot of great songs that were especially topical when he was writing most of his topical material, from 1960-1963, but in most cases, to feature a song like this on a news program is nothing short of self-mockery.

My question, once again, is how can a program that emphasizes its independent nature rationalize playing one of the most well-known songs ever written, by one of the most well-known major label artists who ever lived?  If the song completely nailed the story preceding it, fine, good, play the song.  But the song in question is, at this point, the very definition of a musical cliche.  It’s a great song, and really spoke to the spirit of what was happening in the early 1960s for a lot of people, but it has no place after an interview with Julian Assange.

How many independent artists making music today, in so many genres — acoustic (“folk”), punk rock, hip hop, to name a few — have at this point written songs about the war on terror, the war on journalists, Wikileaks, the NSA and related subjects, at this point?  How many of them have written great songs that would powerfully augment the impact of an interview with someone like Julian Assange?  What songs did Wikileaks itself include on the CD they produced?  How many of those artists are struggling to book the next tour and get their music out to the exact types of people who listen to DN every day?  How can anyone rationalize promoting an artist who daily packs stadiums around the world, when there is so much more contemporary, more topical, more powerful songs that could be played, that would also have the effect of dramatically increasing the audience for those very independent artists, struggling to make ends meet, spending so much of each year touring, just the way Bob Dylan tours, except we play for dozens or hundreds, rather than tens of thousands.  This is not an irrelevant point, given that the point of playing independent artists — and introducing listeners to new artists they’ve never heard before — is not only to play music that would far more effectively communicate the story, but also to promote independent culture, just as you are promoting independent journalism.

Following an interview with Michael Ratner and others about more aspects of government surveillance and Snowden’s revelations, the music break was another of the world’s most popular artists, Bob Marley.  Like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley wrote and sang many songs related to struggle, generally, and certainly have lots of songs that are potentially, under the right circumstances, good choices for music breaks on DN.  But when extremely well-known artists doing vaguely relevant songs are the mainstay, rather than the exception, for DN’s music breaks, then something’s very wrong with this picture.  How this continues to happen is mind-boggling.  Who’s making decisions here, and who are they entrusting to have a clue about choosing music breaks for all of DN’s listeners to hear every day?  What is the formula here?

Needless to say, there are many, far more contemporary, independent, and most importantly, profoundly impactful songs that could be played that are a direct response to the NSA, Snowden, and other aspects of the story, rather than something Bob Marley wrote in the 1970s.  Honestly, I’m just gobsmacked.  This is nothing short of shocking — for an independent musician listening to this independent news program and what they consider to be appropriate for their independent program’s music breaks.

David Rovics is a singer/songwriter based in Portland, Oregon.