Too many protest singers, not enough protest songs (or: Don’t Give That Girl a Pen)

OK, who hasn’t heard the single by Pink (or P!nk as it appears on the album covers, but for the benefit of anyone listening to this with Jaws or similar software rather than reading it, I’m going to spell it properly from now on) called Stupid Girls? The moment I heard it I thought this was another cloned chick with attitude (rather like those the industry foisted on us in the mid-1990s after Ani DiFranco refused to sign to a commercial label), although I sort of respect her for calling the girls stupid rather than blaming the stupid things women sometimes do on some man behind the scenes. Anyway, one definition of a stupid girl is one who writes a song inviting the President to take a walk with her, but gets two of her buddies to back her up. Perhaps she figured the Pres would bring a couple of his own pals along for the same purpose.

I guess the first verse of Dear Mr President rhymes, and “Dear Mr President / Come take a walk with my friends Amy and Emily and me / Let’s pretend we’re just four people and / You’re not better than us” doesn’t, but then, much of the rest of this song doesn’t rhyme either. As a lyrical clunker, it beats even the Irish hit Only a Woman’s Heart, which spawned three compilations of Irish female singers and at least one tour, and its central line is “My heart is low, my heart is so low, as only a woman’s heart can know”. Like, the author has only ever been a woman, so how would she know?

I don’t normally comment on musical matters here, but as one who hates Bush as much as anyone else, I find this song something of an embarrassment. I can imagine his right-wing cheerleaders rubbing their hands with glee at a read of the lyrics, never mind a listen to the song. Many, many people have written protest songs about war and about awful politicians. There have been a lot of competent songwriters who wrote protest songs with powerful lyrics (Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, for example) and if not exactly powerful, then at least punchy (Neil Young’s recent Let’s Impeach the President and Country Joe MacDonald’s I Think I’m Fixing to Die Rag for example). Linda Perry’s song of the same title as Pink’s would have been, if she had got a recording deal while its subject, Ronald Reagan, was still President (it was released when Clinton was in office). Pink, on the other hand, apparently does not know how to write a powerful or punchy protest song.

She just rants and accuses, and flings the same old mud. The handful of specific accusations (“What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street”) are lost amid the general whining (the next line being “Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep”). Some of her accusations are not even directly relevant, like the bit about a man hating his daughter because she’s gay - is this something Bush himself makes an issue of? “I can only imagine what the first lady has to say / You’ve come a long way from whiskey and cocaine”, she jibes. The first lady? Dick Cheney’s daughter is gay, not Bush’s. (Does anyone else wonder if that bit is ripped off the second verse of Richard Thompson’s Can’t Win?) Then there’s the bit about him not knowing nothing ‘bout hard work - a valid point, but you wonder how much Pink knows about hard work herself.

You can find the lyrics to this whinge on any number of blogs, reproduced whole. Actually, a Technorati search reveals one blog after another which has done just this, with very little actual commentary (albeit in one case, the blogger has added “sometimes stupidity speaks for itself”). I also don’t buy the line that this took courage after what happened to the Dixie Chicks; she simply does not move in the same circles as the Dixie Chicks or rely on the commercial country music infrastructure. (And anyway, the Chicks’ record label hasn’t dropped them.) Courageous or not, this song is just lame, lame, lame. It’s an embarrassment to the cause and I wonder why one or other of the Indigo Girls (who, unlike Pink, can write) didn’t politely point this out to her.

Talking of bad “art”, yesterday a large chunk of west London was cordoned off, causing the surrounding area to grind to a halt in the middle of the morning rush hour, because some stupid woman decided to leave some suspicious-looking items (like, a wooden construction with nails sticking out of it) in various streets around Shepherds’ Bush and Hammersmith. She later walked into a police station and claimed that this was art. What?! I mean, jokes about terrorism can sometimes be funny, but bomb hoaxes in this day and age are beyond the pale. Even after the Hemel Hempstead explosion (which was an accident, and very quickly established as such), people tried to start rumours about aeroplanes and terrorism; who knows what could have happened in this case with rumours of several bombs in a populated area. So I hope her fans, if she has any, will pardon me for not seeing the artistic merit or the funny side of this really stupid “installation”.

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