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The blues of Robert Johnson could easily serve as the soundtrack for the people of Iraq, who certainly know suffering.



Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore has co-launched a site that features protest music, free for the download.


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the drama you've been craving

by Michael Goldberg

Monday, March 31, 2003

We're Not On The Same Trip

Finding comfort in music as the war rages.

Since the war with Iraq began the week before last week, for the most part, all I can listen to is music from the past. The reassuring sounds of jazzman Charles Lloyd, who I dug as kid after buying Love-In, an album recorded at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1966. The blues of Otis Spann's 1960 recording, Walkin' the Blues, which had such an influence on John Mayall and numerous other then-young blues musicians. The deep recordings of the great Thelonious Monk. But most of all, I have listened again and again to the "good time" music of The Charlatans, folk-rock, blues-rock and old-time music, remade in the mid-to-late '60s into the hippest of sounds.

When we first began bombing Iraq — thanks to round-the-clock television coverage it seems like months ago rather than nine days as of this writing — I felt the heaviness that came in the wake of Sept. 11. I never experience writer's block, yet I found it impossible to write.

Most everyone I know, no matter which side they fall on, is bummed out by the war. The town of Sonoma seems only half-alive. On the Sunday morning after fighting began, as I walked through the streets on the east side of town with my wife, we couldn't help but notice an uneasy silence. The streets, where we usually see others out walking, were deserted.

Emails from friends and associates from as far away as Peru reflect the uneasiness that some of us feel; it's as if storm clouds have filled the sky. And they're just not clearing. It now appears that this war could drag on for months. If it does it will be devastating — to the people of Iraq, to the world, to those of us that live in the U.S.

Usually I write about music, and how music and life intersect, are one and the same. Right now, my life feels a bit on hold. It's not just this war. It's the weight of what one man, George W. Bush, has done in two short years. This war is the final blow. It follows attacks on civil rights, the environment, a woman's right to choose, social services, education, the elderly, our civil rights and more. It feels like democracy is at stake, that there really has been a coup d'etat.

Do you remember the campaign, and what Bush said he would do? One of his defenders suggested the other night that 9/11 had caused him to rethink his agenda. I disagree. I think the dismantling of government, the shifting of even more wealth to the rich and powerful, and a "might makes right" approach to world affairs was his real agenda from day one. He lied. And he lies over and over. It's simple as that. He has reversed himself time and again. We now have a bait-and-switch artist in the White House.

Should the U.S. take it upon itself to go to war against countries that it doesn't like? Even if it doesn't have the support of the United Nations? Bob Dylan's "With God on Our Side" seems prescient — and quite appropriate — 40 years since it was written.

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens have taken to the streets to protest a war they feel is wrong. There were protests before this war started, but Bush ignored them. And by ignoring them, he did what he seems to always do. Dismiss, in an arrogant and condescending manner, those who don't agree with him. What he seems to be saying is that it doesn't matter what the American people think. He's going to do what he wants to do, and damn the rest of us.

Certainly I hope that U.S. troops survive this war. Now that they are in Iraq, I hope that they depose Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator who has oppressed the people of Iraq for far too long. I hope that democracy is allowed to develop in Iraq, and that life will be better for the people there. But that doesn't mean that I now think this war is justified; I don't. The end doesn't justify the means.. The process matters. It really does.

All of this might seem a million miles away from music. But it's not. The blues of Robert Johnson (there's a cover of "32-20" on that The Amazing Charlatans album), could easily serve as the soundtrack for the people of Iraq, who certainly know suffering. And the amazing sounds of The Charlatans could play in the streets of San Francisco, filled as they've been with protesters.

But for me, during two bummer weeks, music has served as an escape. And we need to be able to escape. We need some relief from the emotional stress that we feel as this war goes on. It does no good to worry, 24/7, about this war. Better to focus on positive ways we can make a difference. It is heartening to see musicians accepting the challenge. Thurston Moore and designer Chris Habib are to be commended for launching Protest Records, a site where free MP3s of protest music are offered from such artists as Cat Power and the Beastie Boys. R.E.M., too, have risen to the occasion, offering a song, "The Final Straw," on their REMHQ site.

As the first days of war passed, I listened to The Charlatans "Codine Blues" and "We're Not on the Same Trip," not to remind me of the war but to get some relief from it. And music is such a miraculous cure for the blues. How can I keep from smiling, as I listen to an early recording of Dan Hicks' "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away," dig the appropriateness of "We're Not on the Same Trip," or hear the joy and in the late Lynn Hughes' voice as she sings "Sidetrack"?

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