Monday, June 28, 2010

Relationship Break Up – The Herd

I am a little sad this morning because I have broken up with The Herd. Much like a relationship with a boyfriend, we just don’t talk like we used to and now we are parting ways – hu, I hear you say?

Last week there was a dramatic day in Australian politics with Julia Gillard ousting Kevin Rudd as Australia’s Prime Minister. I was, like many, caught out, not expecting the change to come so soon. Then this morning while walking I was excited to listen to The Herd, only to realise very soon that we were actually breaking up. The last album from The Herd, an Australian political hip-hop group, has two songs in particular that I loved when they were first released. The songs 2020 and The King is Dead refer to the magical moment in Australian political history when the former Prime Minister John Howard was defeated in the 2007 election by Kevin Rudd. How the words resonated with me – “Crook you got your ass played in Mandarin” were only tempered with “Keep your eye on the new kid, ...we knew where Johnny stood, where’s Kevin?”. But today the words were that little bit more hollow as I realised that the songs have now dated. This is the end of their relevance and their shift to the past, like a relationship that has ended with just the photographs to reminisce with. Perhaps I should eat some chocolate?

Political music is commonly grouped into two forms, the narrative and the anthem. Narratives more commonly relate to specific events and while they can take some time to develop they are nonetheless considered to have a limited scope and relevance. Often depicting a broader social issue, for example Bob Dylan’s Hurricane, they nonetheless tell a story that is specific in time. For this reason they may be more easily characterised as a summer romance. We are far less likely to expect them to resonate with us for an extended period of time.

Anthems on the other hand can be either specific or general. I consider The Herds songs to be more specific than other songs, for example Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ (‘What is it Good For’). But our relationships with anthems tend to be more passionate as they drive a sense of inclusion and celebration – a sense of unity and purpose. Like a relationship that suddenly ends, those based on politics have a limited life span but without a loss at an election, the ending is sudden and unexpected. Its not me – its them!

There are of course songs which overlap these categories and are far less easily determined but one good example in this case is the song From Little Things Big Things Grow – a song which samples a lot of the speech to the stolen generation by Kevin Rudd in one of his most positive contributions to Australian history – the apology in which he said sorry for the removal of Indigenous children from their families under the White Australia Policy. Here the song tells the story of the apology but in an anthem style implores Australians to see this as a new beginning. The song is specific in nature in so much that it relates to the apology itself but unlike The Herd songs which relate to Rudd’s election, here the song relates specifically to his speech and indeed samples another former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating. While I adore this song, it was dated from the moment it was released.

The limited life span of more specific anthems is something that appears to bring an emotional disturbance with it. I was really aware of how the John Butler Trio’s song, The Gov Did Nothing, which is about Hurricane Katrina, really missed its purpose because it was released so long after the events. And today I am again reminded of the limited life span of the more specific anthem. While the songs by The Herd do more commonly celebrate the end of Howard holding office, the other side of this was inevitably the celebration of Kevin Rudd as a more suitable and compassionate leader.

I have to admit to being polygamist here though – I am in a long term relationship with my Obama songs and will ddefinitely cry the day they are not longer relevant. The up side I suppose is the anticipation of new music, I hope Australian political artists are ready to celebrate the first female Prime Minister in Australian history and hope that there is a rush to the first song that samples or includes Julia – it would be a testament to the Australian feminist movement to see a song released that commemorates this amazing event.

So as a I lament the loss of a relationship and the loss of music from the present to the past, I hold hope that a new relationship is about to start and will try my hardest to always think of The Herd as being relevant in an historical sense. I still love them, its just that we’ve grown apart, at least for now.

I just sat down to a cup of tea only to hear 'Ghostwriters - Political Animal' and wish to dedicate this song to Kevin Rudd - "politics is fine, if you want to wreck your life".

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