At the Grammys last month, Fred Durst did his best to enter the grand fraternity of musicians who use artistic platforms to make political statements. Perhaps inspired by the creative protestations of everyone from Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan to Ian MacKaye, Marvin Gaye -- heck, even yappy little Zack de la Rocha -- and others ad infinitum, Durst slumped up to the microphone and offered an appeal for a swift resolution to the pending war in Iraq. Again coining his own G-boy grammar, Dirty Durst said he was pretty sure the world was in "agreeance that this war should go away" as quickly as possible.
Funny, we've been saying the same thing about Limp Bizkit for years.
Durst's brief screed seemed well intentioned, if linguistically challenged. At least the guy acknowledged that there was a world going slightly bonkers outside Madison Square Garden's Grammy-gilded halls; few others did the same. Presenter Bonnie Raitt uttered a fleeting reference to peace that sounded more like a let's-party wail; Sheryl Crow tried to make an on-stage statement but was foiled by her own luscious locks -- the "No" of Crow's "No War" guitar-strap slogan was obscured by her swinging hair. That was about it, though: Apparently the revolution really won't be televised. Is it possible that Fred Durst -- moderately neanderthalic, potentially satanic -- is the most socially aware popular musician in America?
A scary thought -- are we in agreeance? Might we someday be called on to do the Nookie for peace? Chris LaPlante, leader of Denver rock band P-Nuckle, certainly hopes not.
"I think it's really sad that the music industry hasn't stepped up to create a position on what's going on in the world right now," LaPlante says. "Especially at the Grammys -- you've got all these people who are supposedly so politically active, and they have a chance to get up and say something to the world: 'Hey, not everyone agrees with what's going on right now.' But they didn't. They were totally silent. It's sad."
LaPlante created a position of his own on Saturday, March 8, when he staged a multi-band benefit for Food Not Bombs at the Ogden Theatre. "Don't Believe the Hype: A Local Plea for Peace" was designed to be more diverse than the UN cafeteria at lunch time, pairing death-metal bands with hard rock and get-down-and-groove fare; Mercury Project, Bop Skizzum, Step Short and As We Speak were among the artists showcased. Inside the all-ages event, volunteers manned a small table, collected donations and urged support for upcoming rallies -- but many of those filing through the Ogden's gum-stained lobby passed right by without giving the table a second glance. And while most participating performers were subtle in their saber-rattling, others seemed glad simply to have a gig.
"We're not really down with the war thing," says Vince Carlisle of the heavy-metal act Ik. "The whole thing is kinda touchy, though. We feel like shit's going to go down, so I guess we turned up to play and say we think that kinda sucks. But in a way, it's just nice to be playing at the Ogden on a Saturday with a bunch of bands, you know?"
LaPlante isn't worried that many of the pierced and punkish young people who turned up at "A Local Plea for Peace" didn't care about its underlying purpose. Nor is he disheartened by the fact that, despite his best efforts, the war machine has continued to move forward. (Maybe W didn't get the flyer?)
"I didn't feel so motivated by outcomes," he says. "I just want to be at least one voice of peace. I wanted to reach out to younger people who I play for and mentor and just ask them, 'How do you feel about this stuff you're being fed?' Music can make them think about that stuff in a different way.
"Some of the most influential people in history have been musicians," he adds. "Music is the face of politics. It can be a political statement with a beat. And if you don't take the opportunity to make those statements, you are making a statement...by doing nothing. You are complicit, then."
LaPlante does admit to surprise that his was the first bona fide anti-war music benefit in the area. But Denver's dearth of politically oriented musical activity is just mirroring a larger trend: When it comes to creative responses to a freaky time, the music community has recently lagged behind other art forms. Photographers and painters have been working like crazy to capture the essence of what we might unaffectionately call the "Terror Years," as evidenced by the bounty of 9/11-centric exhibitions popping up all over the place. Last week, actors and activists in almost a hundred countries gave bare-bones readings of Lysistrata, the ancient Greek anti-war play and sex farce; in fields and on beaches the world over, hordes of nude protesters have stripped and laid down together, creating massive peace symbols and anti-war slogans that look pretty swell from the sky. (Think a dovey Spencer Tunick project.)
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What does it take to get pop musicians to write about something other than, you know, doin' it? Even the immediate, superficial musical response to 9/11 was more of a ripple than a wave. A couple of embarrassing tribute albums, as well as Bruce Springsteen's The Rising and Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," were among the few truly visible products of last year. Now that you can get Che Guevara T-shirts on sale at Hot Topic and the phrase "Free Leonard Peltier" has been co-opted by a pop band from Madison, Wisconsin (true, dat), is politicizing or protesting through music considered cliche? Or is it simply regarded as a poor career move? Last week, the British Broadcasting Corporation admitted it had edited out segments of a George Michael appearance on Top of the Pops because Michael and fans were wearing T-shirts with slogans criticizing Prime Minister Tony Blair's hawkish position on Iraq. Is everybody afraid of being cut out of the picture if they speak up?
"We had a really hard time rounding up bands to play this show," LaPlante says. "I talked to so many people who were just kind of...fearful. They wouldn't really say why, or what they were worried about or afraid of. But I just had the sense that it was something a lot of people wanted to distance themselves from, even if they felt the same way about things that I do. It was really bizarre.
"We got enough, though," he adds cheerfully. "And maybe enough to do even more. Everybody's just got to wait and see what happens. Right?"