How Music Is Playing an Integral Role in the Occupy Wall Street Protests
"Every successful progressive social movement has a great soundtrack," says Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who is one of several recording artists to have performed for the demonstrators.
NEW YORK -- The sound of insistent drumming bounces off the sides of nearby office towers announcing the location of the Occupy Wall Street home base long before its inhabitants are otherwise seen or heard.
Turn a corner in Zuccotti Park and you're likely to run into a drum circle or find someone strumming a guitar. Maybe it's an amateur trying to keep spirits up, or it could be the real deal -- recording artists such as David Crosby and Graham Nash.
Music and musicians are woven into the fabric of the Occupy Wall Street protest, much as they were in movements, confrontations and protests of the past, from the American Revolution to slavery to the Civil War, suffrage movement, labor movement, civil rights movement and Vietnam War. But no defining anthem such as "We Shall Overcome" or "Which Side Are You On" has yet emerged for the protesters who have taken on corporate America.
"Every successful progressive social movement has a great soundtrack. The soundtrack (for Occupy Wall Street) is just as democratic and grass roots as the movement," said singer Tom Morello, who was given an MTV online music award for his performance of "The Fabled City" at Zuccotti Park last month. A clip of the performance has spread widely online.
Morello, who performs solo as the Nightwatchman and as a member of Rage Against the Machine, has also brought his guitar and sung at Occupy demonstrations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Nottingham and Newcastle, England. Just before midnight Wednesday, he performed near a darkened kitchen area at a demonstration in London.
He has also volunteered to contribute to an album of protest songs that Occupy Wall Street is putting together as a fundraiser this winter.
If Occupy Wall Street has no anthem yet, it's partly due to how a new generation experiences music: through personalized iPod playlists streaming through headphones instead of communal sing-alongs.
True to a movement that claims to speak for the 99 percent of Americans who aren't super-rich, Occupy Wall Street embraces many forms of expression. Musicians across several generations and styles have given their support.
"The more the merrier as long as you're going to bring in positive vibrations for the movement," said Kanaska Carter, a singer-songwriter who traveled from her home in Canada to camp out at Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan near Wall Street. She helped arrange Morello's appearance and is shown in the video clip of his performance, standing near him holding a guitar.
Crosby and Nash's manager sent an e-mail to Occupy Wall Street's website asking if the musicians could perform. Crosby quietly came a few days earlier to check out the scene, worried that cold weather would make it difficult for him to play guitar, said Beth Bogart, who helped show him around. The day of their visit was warm, however. Because police don't allow amplification, the performance was decidedly old school. The audience heard only as far as the singers' voices could project.
Bogart couldn't hear Crosby and Nash, but "you could just see the energy," she said. "When the whole audience started singing, you could see their spirit lifted. It really was a good vibe."
Among the first New York performers was Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, an indie rock cult favorite who played a long set. Rapper Talib Kweli performed and so did Michael Franti. A 92-year-old Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, veterans of the labor, peace and civil rights movements, sang "We Shall Overcome." Sean Lennon and Rufus Wainwright offered an irony-drenched version of Madonna's "Material Girl."
Kanye West and Katy Perry walked through Zuccotti, but didn't perform.
Then there are those drums, beaten steadily by about a dozen people who call themselves Pulse. Police and protesters have limited the hours of drumming to help neighbors work and occupiers sleep.