Back in 1954 in the classic film “The Wild One,” there’s a scene where a biker, played by Marlon Brando, is asked why he’s so rebellious. “What are you protesting?” asks a reporter. Brando’s character spits back, “Whadda ya got?”
Art as a form of protest — in paintings, in music, in films, in photography — has been a particularly potent way of expressing our contempt for society’s ills. Protest music in particular has been around in this country ever since pre-Civil War slaves came up with songs bemoaning their brutal lot in life.
By the 1920s and ’30s, Delta blues musicians like Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson and others wrote many dozens of blues songs about lack of money, lack of food, cheating spouses, broken down cars and other woes of bad breaks and hard times. In 1939, Albert King summed it all up this way: “Born under a bad sign, I been down since I began to crawl, if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” Read More