“It’s been a bad day”…postcolonial critique through music

Continuing to consider how music plays an important role in raising themes of justice I wanted to look a little closer at R.E.M‘s political trilogy-identified by Michael Stipe as  Final straw, Bad day and Until the day is done. Threaded throughout the lyrics is a clear critique of power, in this case the power of the U.S government.

In postcolonial theory and writing the critique of power is quite intentional; it aims to create a new dialogical space, that is, to create a space for another voice to be heard, the voice or voices of those who are oppressed or affected by the power-brokering of the Powerful. In this respect R.E.M’s protest or political music could be considered postcolonial. Let’s have a look at what these three songs have to say.

In the face of the realities of greed, revenge and war Final Straw asserts the centrality of the concepts of love and forgiveness:

Now love cannot be called into question.
Forgiveness is the only hope I hold.
And love- love will be my strongest weapon.
I do believe that I am not alone.

Likewise, in the song Bad day, the children’s nursery rhyme Ring a ring o’ Roses is deployed in a chilling critique of governmental failure, inequality and the growing threat of global resource wars.

The lights went out, the oil ran dry
We blamed it on the other guy
Sure, all men are created equal.
Heres the church, heres the steeple
Please stay tuned-we cut to sequel
ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Broadcast me a joyful noise unto the times, lord,
Count your blessings.
Ignore the lower fear
Ugh, this means war.

It’s been a bad day.
Please don’t take a picture.
It’s been a bad day.

Lastly, an embittered reflection on the financial crash is the subject of  the last post’s song Until the day is done:

The battle’s been lost, the war is not won
An addled republic, a bitter refund
The business first flat earthers licking their wounds
The verdict is dire, the country’s in ruins

Providence blinked, facing the sun
Where are we left to carry on
Until the day is done
Until the day is done

As we’ve written our stories to entertain
These notions of glory and bull market gain
The teleprompt flutters, the power surge brings
An easy speed message falls into routine

Music can certainly be subversive and unsettling to the status quo but it can also be a powerful promoter of an alternative vision of reality. There is a real sense in which R.E.M’s trilogy calls us to account as citizens of the world with the core question: how should we live?

Jesus promoted a vision of how to live in his Sermon on the Mount and his other teachings which may not have been music to the ears of the powerful then or now.

Any thoughts?

One thought on ““It’s been a bad day”…postcolonial critique through music”

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