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Taking Eyes and Turning Cheeks

Is rock & roll failing in becoming a rallying point for this war?

By Gina Arnold

FOR ONE REASON or another, I'm up in the middle of the night a lot now, with plenty of time to think. I devise ways to occupy my brain. One thing I do is mentally rearrange my furniture. Sometimes I try to think in Spanish. When I'm feeling more philosophical, I debate all kinds of hard questions--like whether, if it had been me who caught Barry Bonds' 71st homer, I'd have kept the ball and sold it for millions, or done the nobler thing and given it back to him.

Finally, I think about the situation in Afghanistan and America's role in it. In the Old Testament, God's line is "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," but in the New Testament, Jesus says to turn the other cheek. When I'm feeling anxious and awake, I wonder where I stand on that issue.

President Bush is obviously an Eye man, and I would like to think of myself as a Cheek person. But then, I'd also like to think I'd give Barry Bonds his ball back, and I'm not absolutely sure whether I would if I were in that position. Besides, what would happen if we did nothing at all about Sept. 11? I'd like to think that we don't need to retaliate in kind by killing innocent civilians, but it's hard to know what the alternative is. Not negotiation, that's for sure. Negotiations have been going on in Ireland and the Middle East for 50 years, to no avail.

As a career critic, I generally am pretty clear on what I think about a subject, be it the latest LP by Lit or who I'm going to vote for. This is one of the few times in my life I've felt so undecided, and the sensation is intriguing. The issue also interests me because there is so much talk about peace in the discourse of rock & roll. Around 30 years ago, rock & roll was the popular voice for antiwar activists, and it has yet to shake its role as such. But it seems to me that this time around more bands are stepping out to raise money for victims of the bombing than are stepping forward to be the voice of peace.

An exception is local artist and leader of Spearhead, Michael Franti. Last weekend, Franti led a rally for peace at Dolores Park in San Francisco, ostensibly to establish a "Hate-Free Zone," as well as combat racism and future assaults on civil rights. Meanwhile, many other groups, including the Quakers, Global Exchange, and SPAN (The Student Peace Action Network) are banding together in an attempt to create a new antiwar movement which asks for, in the words of one activist, "justice, not vengeance." These groups are passing out bumper stickers and pins that say, "Barbara Lee Voted For Me," a reference to the lone representative who voted against the House's vow to wage war on Afghanistan.

These are all admirable movements, but they are not--repeat not--rock-led. The rock movement--like last weekend's mammoth Concert for New York at Madison Square Garden, the United We Stand concert at RFK stadium, and the Beastie Boys' New Yorkers Against Violence concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom this weekend--is much more diffuse and unfocused on issues, opinions or solutions. I think that's because most bands, be they Backstreet or Beastie Boys, aren't really sure if they are Eye or Cheek people, or if they are, they're not willing to declare it.

Perhaps what we need is an anthem to tell us all what to think--and Limp Bizkit's lame version of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" just ain't gonna cut it. My vote goes for the Flaming Lips song "Superman," the Butthole Surfers' "Jetfighter," or possibly U2's "Peace on Earth."

The problem is that such an anthem would only be good if it were right--like "For What It's Worth," the Buffalo Springfield song that defines the Vietnam War protests--and I'm not holding my breath. Maybe for this war, the antiwar movement will find a voice in some other art form--in a video game, over the Internet, or through some other new media. Rock & roll, I fear, is too fragmented, too laughable--and, finally, too chicken--to be believed on serious topics.

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From the October 25-31, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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