The Culture Wars

War, peace, subversion, and silliness on South Florida stages

In Berkeley last week, the peace movement rolled out the big musical guns: a massive antiwar protest concert featuring Chuck D., Ani DiFranco, Ozomatli, and Michael Franti's Spearhead. Franti left no room for debate, debuting a new single called "You Can Bomb the World to Pieces but You Can't Bomb the World to Peace." Closer to home, we haven't seen this kind of organized, warm-fuzzy fusillade, but some national and local acts around here have started to take potshots for peace.

There was a time -- weird to think of it now -- when the B-52's were scary. Their faces on that debut album made them seem unhinged, intent on overthrowing the system with beehives, high-frequency squeals, and sea critters. We thought it was really punk. Not bookish, British, Elvis Costello punk but crazy, sci-fi kitsch, collegiate punk. "Rock Lobster" on Saturday Night Livewas a true lowbrow avant-garde performance art moment before we knew what any of that meant. At the time, only Devo seemed more subversive.

A couple of weekends ago at Mizner Park Amphitheatre, the B-52's' quarter-century anniversary tour wasn't frightening; in fact, it was Day-Glo fun, like a live-action Spongebob Squarepantscartoon. After an extended hiatus, singer Cindy Wilson is back -- the last time out, the band replaced her with Twin Peakschanteuse Julee Cruise. With bassist Sara Lee (Gang of Four, League of Gentlemen, Fiona Apple) supplying that supple bottom end again, the band has entered its middle age with style (if not relevance) intact.

Even if frontman Fred Schneider is a silly, foppish, and highly flammable moppet, he wasn't content to let the concert serve as nothing more than Friday-night fun for the feather-boa set. Without spoiling the party favors, he used the song introductions to chuck spears at Trent Lott and other Republican Party-poopers. Introducing "Mesopotamia" with the lispy prediction "This song's all about a place that's gonna be really messed up soon," Schneider dissed the upcoming unprovoked military assault at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. Without a lecture, mind you.

The previous Saturday, when Todd Rundgren warmed up a chilly crowd waiting for the Pretenders, he was even more subtle when he broke out "Lysistrata" and simply let the lyrics do the talking:

"Little boys like to have their fun/And you know I gotta put on my colors and get my gun/Every able-bodied man I know, every patriot is packed to go/Won't you give me a last good-bye?/I'll be sent off to a distant land to spill my blood by an enemy's hand/And then I won't go to war no more."

Surely, it must be a sign of the end times when Boca Raton's Prada-trod boutique-y boulevards have become the flashpoint for radicalism and revolution in the streets.

Club Atlantis' reggae blowout on the beach Sunday, February 2, was no different. Dedicating humble hymns to Jamaican singer Dennis Brown, who would have been 47 the night before, the Millennium Band -- providing stellar riddims for singers Mickal Rustle, Lymie, and Freddie McGregor -- also pledged tunes to the memory of the shuttle astronauts. When McGregor asked why peace was being passed over in favor of fighting, no one had a good answer.

At a time when our fearless leaders have cranked up the war rhetoric past 11, exhibiting more thug attributes and less strategic acumen than Trick Daddy and C-Murder combined, will any musicians or artists take to sponsoring shows or holding rallies to protest the Bush administration's plans? Will we be urged to "support our troops" even as we fiercely oppose bullying on the global monkey bars? Believe it or not, a conservative streak has surfaced in the rock world. It wasn't so long ago (yes, it was -- 1980, in fact) that yours truly attended a massive stadium concert where, just a few rows behind us, an Ayatollah Khomeini effigy was torched to the triumphant cheers of the crowd.

Closer to home, a few area bands will attempt a preemptive strike in the name of peace. Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room is hosting an antiwar concert Saturday, February 15, featuring indigenous talent Morisson/Poe, Neo-Con, and Unbecoming. Signatures will be collected for a petition being sent to the UN: "We need 600 signatures!" reads the announcement. Print out a discount pass by making a stopover at http://morissonpoe.org/banners/pass-030215.gif. Typically knee-jerky -- though maybe that's just what we need right now -- the flier bleats: "We are currently undergoing a worldwide imbalance that could lead to a THIRD WORLD WAR. Come out and sign the petition that could just keep us all alive."

The day before the show, UN weapons inspector Hans Blix will present his report on Iraqi compliance. The date also coincides with the International Day of Action, including scheduled mass-resistance efforts in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and throughout Europe. For weeks, folks around the nation have been bundling up and braving subzero temps to protest in the streets. The least we can do is hoist a few at the Culture Room in the name of peace.

 
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