Friday, December 4, 2009

Radioactive Mix

I was born in 1960. The world had lived with the threat of nuclear war for 15 years. Movies about giant monsters were beginning to give way to post-apocalyptic tales. International politics were driven but the threat of mutual destruction. As a child, I was affected in subtle ways. I was shielded from the brunt of the terror. But the opposition to the Vietnam War was probably colored by this, and I am sure there were other, more subtle manifestations. I do know that this fear occasionally made its way into the music I heard. The enormity of this fear is so great that songwriters try to cope by resorting to black humor.

Randy Newman: Political Science


At first, the United States was the only nuclear nation. We were supreme, and could do what ever we wanted. Once that changed, some people felt that we should not have to change that attitude. Randy Newman lampooned this attitude brilliantly in Political Science. But, listening to this song now, I am reminded of how George W Bush conducted foreign policy. Here in the US, we are still dealing with the repercussions from that.

Donald Fagen: New Frontier


Once the Solviet Union also developed nuclear weapons, people became convinced that they had to prepare for the worst. So every home seemingly had a bomb shelter. Thankfully, these shelters have never had to be used for their intended purpose. Still, they are good for something. Donald Fagen explains.

The Uptones: Radiation Boy


The fear of nuclear war became greater as we learned more about the harm radiation could do. Eventually, we learned that the same thing could result from exposure to waste from nuclear power plants. The Uptones describe this in a song that is all the more chilling because of its seemingly joyous sound.

Fishbone: Party at Ground Zero


To Fishbone, there is only one possible response to the prospect of going off to fight against the Solviet Union. You might as well party, because you may not get another chance. The attitude here is similar to Prince’s 1999, but Fishbone is more specific about the source of their concern.

Sting: Russians


Sting, with Russians, is only one in this mix who chose to tackle his subject head-on, instead of cushioning it with humor. I can see the validity of either approach. Sting delivers a secular hymn for peace.