As conflict escalates in Iraq, musicians are continuing to speak out with anti-war songs, the latest coming from Lenny Kravitz and R.E.M.
With "We Want Peace," Kravitz has taken the protest song notion to the next level, as the song was recorded with Iraqi pop star Kadim Al Sahir, Palestinian strings musician Simon Shaheen and Lebanese percussionist Jamey Hadded.
The song, a rocker similar to Kravitz's recent "Dig In" single, but with lyrics like "There won't be peace if we don't try," is available as a free download at the Rock the Vote Web site, www.rockthevote.org.
"This song for me is about more than Iraq. It is about our role as people in the world and that we all should cherish freedom and peace," Kravitz said in a statement through Rock the Vote, which he came to "because of its strong stance with young people as defenders of free expression." Visitors to the organization's Web site are encouraged to vote and take part in rallies across the country.
Also posting an anti-war song is R.E.M., whose "The Final Straw" can be heard on the band's Web site www.remhq.com.
The mostly acoustic number, described as a "rough mix from the studio," features the verse, "Now I don't believe and I never did that two wrongs make a right/ If the world were filled with the likes of you, then I'm putting up a fight."
"This is the strongest voice I could think of to send out there," singer Michael Stipe explains on the site. "We had to send something out there now. We are praying and hoping for the lives of all people involved, the troops, the Iraqi civilians, refugees, POWs, families of troops, the innocents — that they are safe and OK."
R.E.M. performed "The Final Straw" Sunday at Zulu's record shop in Vancouver before a scheduled in-store performance by guitarist Peter Buck's Minus 5 side project. R.E.M. are in Vancouver recording the follow-up to 2001's Reveal, due in early 2004.
The Internet has proven to be the medium of choice for protest songs, beginning with John Mellencamp and the Beastie Boys offering downloads before Operation Iraqi Freedom even started (see "Beastie Boys Take On Bush With First Song In Three Years").
Since then, former Rage Against the Machine singer Zack de la Rocha and DJ Shadow have posted "March of Death" on www.marchofdeath.com, and Clash singer/guitarist Mick Jones and Generation X bassist Tony James have posted "Why Do Men Fight?" on www.poptones.co.uk.
Offering downloads allows artists to bypass radio stations, which have been slow to add any of the protest songs to regular rotation, including System of a Down's "Boom!," which was actually written in response to the first Gulf War (see "New System Clip Features Cast Of Millions, Cartoon Saddam").
"We've played [the Beastie Boys' 'In a World Gone Mad'] a few times and gotten some mixed reactions," said Kevin Weatherly, program director at the influential KROQ-FM in Los Angeles. "We thought it deserves the opportunity to at least get exposed. I think the production values are not quite as strong. We found a lot of people interested in it and agree with where the song is coming from, and there's some that were pissed off and didn't think the message was necessarily one they agreed with."
Whether or not the songs are widely heard, many musicians feel it is their duty to speak out (see "Beasties, Audioslave Say Protest Songs An Important Part Of Our Culture"). "We just felt like if we do have an opportunity to put some ideas out there that a few people might hear then we should do that," the Beasties' MCA said.
System of a Down singer Serj Tankian agreed, adding that he believes a song can have the power to change someone's mind about war.
"To me, the only way you can make a life-altering change is if you're affected by something in your heart, not in your mind," he said. "Because in your mind you can convince yourself of anything. ... If something touches you, if there is a truth in something and it touches you, there's no running away from that. It will compel you to do something about that."
— Corey Moss, with additional reporting by Conor Bezane and Gideon Yago