John Schumann of Redgum fame joins us to reflect on the role of protest songs, especially in times like these, given that protest songs are often rooted in a particular time and place.
The SA Drink Of The Week is from Andrew Pike in the Clare Valley
And in the musical pilgrimage we have a track from John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew.
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Running Sheet: John Schumann on protest songs in times like these
Introduction to the show.
00:04:20 SA Drink Of The Week
The SA Drink Of The Week is 2015 Pikes The Merle Riesling, tasting with Andrew Pike.
00:11:20 John Schumann
In 2017, John Schumann teamed up with Shane Howard to co-write a modern protest song, Times Like These. Apart from the sense of frustration in the lyrics about how previously hard won gains are disappearing by degrees, there’s a haunting line in it that has spooked me, given that I’m now in my second decade as a marketer who teaches businesses how to use social media:
From Dondale to Manus Island detention
People are drowning in a sea of inattention
This society is so fraught with and saturated by things of distraction, I wonder if protest songs are ever going to have potency ever again. So, I’ve asked John Schumann to reflect on this with me.
John, I want to trawl back through some of your protest songs produced with Redgum, and get your reflections on other protest songs of note, but let’s start with an experience I had this morning, when I went to YouTube to relisten to TImes Like These. They say that protest songs thrive within a social and temporal context (time and place), that’s what gives them meaning and power, so how’s this. Your song was not able to play until I’d been subjected to a cheery ad for Target, coaxing me to buy some glittering toys, and then a health insurance ad wooing me to switch to them with the offer of waiving waiting times for claiming extras. I think I got my daily allowance of irony.
Could Bob Dylan’s Blowing In The Wind get cut through in Times Like These?
And when are Times Like These NOT times like these. For example, we hear of people protesting the invention of the printing press, saying books will wear out our brains, we hear of ancient Roman writers lamenting “today’s youth”, and then we hear songs from back in the 70s like Winter In America by Gil Scott-Heron with lyrics like:
Seem like winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting,
Because nobody knows what to save
Are all times as good or as bad as all other times, which begs the question, do we need protest songs at all – or do they give us something to occupy ourselves with, like throwing a bone to a dog?
You and I both saw a show at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival recently, The Art Of Protest, starring Vince Jones. My feeling at the time as a Vince Jones fan, was that there was a dissonance between Jone’s smooth and polished voice and exquisite jazz accompaniment, and the heart-rending nature of some of the protest songs he played. Are there some key ingredients for a protest song to work, eg, the style of voice and music, as much as the content?
There was nuance in the name of Jones’ show – the Art Of Protest. Art suggests that artists CHOOSE to do a protest song. Am I just naive to think that “real” protests songs are songs that emerge because there is NO OTHER CHOICE, vs making a decision to do something from the protest genre just like a pop genre?
Should there be a price paid by singing or writing protest songs?
Can you take us through the chemistry and the road map that led you and Redgum to write and produce some pretty bitter and frustrated songs?
What did you ever hope to achieve with any of your songs that might be classed protest songs, such as I Was Only 19? And do you start with an agenda, or do you just have something to say and let the cards fall where they may?
In a recent episode of Blind Insights with David Olney, they quoted a former PM of Australia saying: We will tolerate dissent, as long as it is ineffective. Does that wind you, to hear that? Does that make the protest enterprise futile?
Most important protest songs?
Advice to any young Redgums today?
01:03:56 Musical Pilgrimage
In the musical pilgrimage, we have a fitting song from John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew, featuring Shane Howard, called Times Like These.
Here’s this week’s preview video
This week’s video of the tasting of the SA Drink Of The Week is coming soon.
SFX: Throughout the podcast we use free SFX from freesfx.co.uk for the harp, the visa stamp, the silent movie music, the stylus, the radio signal SFX, the wine pouring and cork pulling SFX, and the swooshes around Siri.