9 May 2004, Comments (0)

Misuses of music

Author: Helen

Crooning versus Hooning”: For those not fortunate/unfortunate enough to live in Melbourne, Chapel Street is the clubbing and fashionista centre of Melbourne, kind of a poor man’s Rodeo Drive I suppose. For the last few years, it has been the tradition for young smart young men from the outer suburbs to drive their hot Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons, all modified to the nines with spoilers and speccy paint and I don’t know what else, slo-o-owly down Chapel street with deafening doof-doof coming from the (tinted) windows.
The local council has responded by introducing loud piped music in the hoons’ favourite car park: Dean Martin, Henry Mancini, Vivaldi and Mozart. It’s claimed this sends Da Boyz running, though I can’t really understand how the piped Dean Martin can be heard over the Doof-Doof.

Now (as this article admits) this is not the first time this has been done. As a regular train commuter I can confirm that Footscray station has been playing Beethoven’s Pastorale, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and other popular classics for several years now. I’m not sure how I feel about the Pastorale, one of my favourite pieces of music, now being indelibly associated in my mind with Footscray station. However, there does seem to be a complete absence of gangs of Gangsta Rappers, so I’d say it’s quite effective, much like that tiger repellent (Nup, no tigers round here!)

Looking further afield, the misuse of music segues from the merely amusing to the crass to the downright sinister.

Some blogger or other mentioned last year that someone on the Little Green Footballs site had started a discussion (if that’s the right word) about the possible use of music as torture at Guantanamo bay. I have no interest in finding out what songs the LGFs would consider suitable for torture. Personally, I would suggest anything by Phil Collins and most songs from commercial radio in the 1980s.

However, I haven’t found any indication that any of this really took place. However, the US army seems to have a policy of using piped music, not so much to disperse the enemy as to create a display of victorious triumphalism, an “Up Yours!” gesture.

(From The Independent, 12 October 2003, by Patrick Cockburn)

12 October 2003

US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.
Nusayef Jassim, one of 32 farmers who saw their fruit trees destroyed, said: “They told us that the resistance fighters hide in our farms, but this is not true. They didn’t capture anything. They didn’t find any weapons.”

Other farmers said that US troops had told them, over a loudspeaker in Arabic, that the fruit groves were being bulldozed to punish the farmers for not informing on the resistance which is very active in this Sunni Muslim district.

“They made a sort of joke against us by playing jazz music while they were cutting down the trees,” said one man.

Thanks to Barista for saving this from the Independent’s archives. Yes, it was the jazz that got to me, too. It doesn’t record what flavour of jazz they used. I expect they used the upbeat Trad stuff — I can’t see them using Ornette Coleman or Dave Brubeck, somehow, can you?

AC/DC, on the other hand, is the kind of music you associate with Tough Guys, so AC/DC is the music of choice when you’ve just committed a few wartime atrocities and want to lord it over your victims:

Brian Cloughley, Counterpunch.org, November 2003:

By daylight the whole town can see a large truck full of prisoners. Two men walking to work with their breakfast in a basket are stopped at gunpoint, ordered to the ground, cuffed and told to “shut the fuck up” as their basket’s contents are tossed out and they are questioned about the location of a suspect.”

What has happened to decent American boys? How could a normal American youngster willfully destroy someone’s breakfast? Is it army policy for American soldiers to bellow “Shut the fuck up” at unarmed civilians on their way to work who are unfortunate enough to be within sight of an American squad and are therefore treated as the worst of enemies? The Iraqis don’t understand “shut the fuck up”, of course. All they understand is that they were walking peacefully to work with their breakfast in a basket and were threatened, humiliated, physically abused, made captive and bellowed at by the invaders of their country.

After this particular sweep, in which ‘Apache Troop’ was searching for alleged terrorists, Nir Rosen of the Asia Times reported “From the list of 34 names [of suspects], Apache brings in about 16 positively identified men, along with another 54 men who were neighbors, relatives or just happened to be around. By 0830, Apache is done, and starts driving back to base. As the main element departs, the psychological-operations vehicle blasts AC/DC rock music through neighborhood streets. ‘It’s good for morale after such a long mission,’ Captain Brown says.”

Does not this oaf realise he has just made hundreds more enemies for his country? Not only by the jackboot-style raid, the conduct of which would have been well regarded by the Waffen SS, but by his immature gesture of playing triumphal mega-decibel foreign rock music to mark his victory over nothing. The entire town hates Americans. Its citizens may or may not have been supportive of Saddam Hussein or the occupying power before the raid, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out who they detest now.

Remember this was long before the revelations from Abu Ghraib. This was closer to the time when the US was claiming its soldiers would be met with flowers in the streets… “Winning hearts and minds”, wasn’t it? And this was the reality: “Shut the fuck up”.

With proper leadership and a bit of thought, the US had so much to gain from its music. What’s the best US export, the one that even us “anti-US” (ie. critical of the Republican administration and its corporate cronies) people buy and love? Their music, of course. Their Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan and Calexico and White Stripes and Dwight Yoakam and REM and Gillian Welch and all the other wonderful products of the American culture. What was Salam Pax doing just before the bombing started? He was in a music shop with a friend, checking out CDs.

Popular music would be the friendliest wedge to win over the younger part of a country. The artist, George Gittoes, has visited Iraq and has seen troops making music on portable recording equipment– original rock music written for fallen comrades and things like that. What a pity they don’t see the potential for using their musical equipment to engage with the Iraqi population– or is that just a pipe dream now? What a wasted opportunity.

Comments (0)

  • Nick Possum says:

    Love your site and your stuff. Very elegant. I’m going to put a link in to it. Perhaps from the Werrong newsagent … maybe even the front page.

    Could I use your header artwork?


  • anthony says:

    A little wide of the point led to but my favourite misuse of music was Auld Lang Syne being appropriated by Pubs/Restaurants in Japan as “go home” music. I think a misinterpretaion of the midnight thing but it always made me feel simultaneously sentimental and disappointed. Actually, they weren’t all that far off the mark.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.