The protest song has a long history in popular music. One thinks of Meeropol’s Strange Fruit sung by Billie Holiday, that chilling song about lynching; Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come; Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind or A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall; or Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam. There are a great number of songs, composed or performed by artists who effectively use their position to raise awareness of an issue of justice – racism, war, domestic violence, discrimination, or environmental destruction. And we’re grateful to them for being prepared to put their heads above the parapet and risk losing some of their fans for the greater good.
But my goodness – Van Morrison is releasing three tracks to protest the anti-virus safety measures in the UK. He refers to “fascist bullies,” wants “no more lockdown” and claims “crooked scientists [are] making up crooked facts.” In this he joins that other UK grumpy anti-science musician, Noel Gallagher, who is refusing to wear a face mask, despite the legal requirement to do so. Morrison’s line about government measures enslaving people is actually downright offensive.
Van Morrison’s so-called protest songs are unlike real protest songs which rail against genuine injustices. He’s tilting at windmills when he goes against the scientific community’s growing body of evidence regarding mask wearing, social distancing and large gatherings of people.
The Northern Ireland Health Minister has rightly called Van Morrison’s songs “dangerous.” With the ‘R’ number for the virus over 1 in Britain and Northern Ireland, and the UK Prime Minister (whose own performance during the pandemic has been less than impressive) saying that the UK is now seeing a second wave of the virus, it’s no time for conspiracy theory touting by well known artists. We’re all frustrated by the restrictions the virus is enforcing on us, but wealthy artists venting their frustration? Pul-ease.
If Van Morrison wants to write a protest song, there is plenty of material to do with the virus. There’s the abysmal record of the UK government in dealing with the virus by being slow to lockdown, failing on PPE for medical staff, failing on testing and tracing, failure to close borders on time, and failing to protect its elderly population in nursing homes. All resulting in terrible loss of life. And then there’s the government’s failure to plan properly for the economic impact of the virus, which has resulted in Britain’s economy being hardest hit of any advanced economy – which in turn has hit its poorest and most vulnerable citizens the hardest.
That’s before we even get to the problems worldwide for the poor and disadvantaged whose lives have been devastated by the pandemic.
There’s so much here to genuinely rail against, that Van Morrison’s impatient moaning looks utterly self centred.
Here’s Nina Simone’s real protest song:
All I want is equality
For my sister my brother my people and me
Yes, you lied to me all these years…
You don’t have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi goddam, that’s it