You protest? I sang it first!

You protest? I sang it first!


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2011

There’s a wonderful letter in the Guardian today criticising its recent review of Dorian Lynskey’s fine history of the modern protest song, 33 Revolutions per Minute.

From an address in Pantin, France, the reader objects – reasonably enough – to the book’s anglo-centricity, its tight focus on the American folk uprising of the 1960s and its British and Commonwealth echoes. 
‘France has a tradition of setting protest to music that goes back as far as the 18th century,’ he argues, naming Boris Vian, Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens among recent song protesters. I would add Barbara’s Sida song to that list, but I’m about to make a documentary about her, and therefore biased.
I would also add the protest singers of Prague 1968 and many samizdat songs that circulated elsewhere in the Soviet Bloc. But in all of these instances, including the French, the protest was localised. In the songs that Dorian Lynskey discusses it was universalised by the force of the global music industry.
So much, so fair criticism.
But the cherry on my pleasure from reading this letter was the name of its signatory: Bernard Besserglik. Which, in Yiddish, basically means: better luck next time.