Soundtracking the Resistance - MLK At 50 | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Soundtracking the Resistance - MLK At 50

Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Assassination

Apr 06, 2018 Kesha Bookmark and Share

This week we look at Martin Luther King Jr. and the impact he had half a century on from his death, plus there’re sanctions, walls, pay gaps, reworked wedding songs, and Superorganism.

The Big Event

Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., shot by James Earl Ray while standing on the 2nd floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The aftermath saw unrest in dozens of major cities across the country followed by the declaration of a national day of mourning on April 7.

That was just the immediate aftermath though. As the next half century passed, Martin Luther King Jr’s. name, and the ideals he stood for lost none of their resonance. If anything, they’ve gained in power. His name adorns roads, schools, and other civic structures across the U.S., statues are everywhere, and his birthday has become a federal holiday celebrated by all 50 states. His message will even make it onto currency soon.

Two reasonsone positive, one negativego some way to explaining his ongoing appeal. The first is the impact he had on the civil rights movement. King devoted much of his life to the struggle. He could be found at the heart of pivotal moments, from the Montgomery bus boycott to nonviolent protests in Birmingham, the march on Washington, and the organization of the Selma to Montgomery marches that met with violent opposition.

Violent opposition faced King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wherever they want, and yet he met it all with nonviolent force. This wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, but it was a remarkable way to conduct a prominent movement aimed at gaining rights for a group of people marginalized and persecuted by the white majority.

His death provided additional impetus to get his life’s work into existence, and America is a better place for the legislation passed before and after his assassination in the ‘60s. It left him a recognizable figure to people across the world. He’s inspired politicians, artists, and pretty much everyone from all walks of life. His speeches are widely quoted, and his achievements are regularly lauded.

In our field, countless musicians have referenced him, or written entire songs about him. You can hear it in the music and you can see it in the fact he continues to draw attention. Stevie Wonder gathered a ridiculous array of talent (including but by no means limited to Smokey Robinson, Katy Perry, Mary J. Blige, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Janelle Monáe, and Lionel Ritchie) to share their dreams for the future in a new video.

But the negative side that also partly contributes to his undying legacy is the fact it’s not complete. America moved on massively from the way things used to be, and yet racism in all its forms is not confined to the past here or in any other country. Institutional disadvantages sit alongside personal prejudice to leave African Americans in grossly disadvantaged positions. King remains a shining light for many because he’s lighting a path started but not finished.

It’s not possible to look back at the civil rights era with historical detachment because the battles are still being fought. Which is not to say he failed. He did as much as anyone has, and by the end of his life the scope of his campaign was enlarging, not shrinking. He wanted a better life for everyone. He wanted an end to poverty and an end to the pointless atrocity of the Vietnam War. For King it was never an us versus them battle, something his enemies never grasped.

They threw everything they could at him. Some of the mud stuck because it wasn’t untrue, but he never claimed to be perfect. Mistakes and personal flaws, something we all make and have, don’t cancel out the massive achievements of his life.

The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is all around us just as it remains to be completed. What he was engaged in was no narrow fight. It couldn’t be won with a simple piece of legislation. That was a means to an end that hasn’t yet come. But he believed it wasn’t impossible. He believed it was something we could make happen. King, like others, risked and lost his life for the cause.

As America looks like it’s entering a period of backsliding on civil rights, his message shouldn’t be taken for granted, and it can’t be taken as done. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t abolish racial inequality. Fifty years back he was the latest, and perhaps the most prominent in a long line dedicating their lives to battling against it. It’s a fight still worth fighting and one still being fought. The more people who get involved the better.

What’s Going On

If those nasty people in Congress won’t let you build a giant wall, the thing to do is try and make one yourself out of the nearest accessible resource. And if you happen to be the Commander in Chief, that resource is the military, hence the decision this week to send the National Guard to the U.S./Mexico border. What exactly they’ll do down there remains unclear, but Trump will likely be disappointed to find he won’t be able to gun down everyone approaching the border.

It’s hard being the president when others force you to be mean to your friends. Despite Trump’s ongoing fascination with Vlad, the U.S. is still imposing a bunch of new sanctions on Russia. The one thing we can all agree is that it’s probably all Hillary’s fault. Or maybe “Cheatin’ Obama,” the new nickname Trump wheeled out this week that makes as little sense as anything else he says. At least he has his little trade war with China brewing to show Russia they’re not being singled out.

Surprise, surprise, new UK regulation that requires companies above a certain number of employees to reveal gender pay statistics has shown up large disparities within major music labels. The UK arms of Universal, Sony, and Warner reported figures that show men earn 29.8%, 22.7%, and a massive 49% more respectively. The gap is explained by the fact there are many more men in senior positions, which is not exactly a comforting explanation.

Speak Up!

Last week we mentioned the comments from Jesse Hughes of Eagles of Death Metal, himself a survivor of a terrorist attack, criticizing the Parkland students. He’s since stepped back and apologized, stating that “I was not attempting to impugn the youth of America and this beautiful thing they’ve accomplished.”

A compilation EP was released this week featuring wedding songs updated for gay couples. The artists recording the tracks are of the highest caliber as well. Alongside St. Vincent, Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, Valerie June, and Kesha, there’s also Bob Dylan. Universal Love is a new EP funded by MGM Resorts that features musicians covering classic love songs but adjusting the gender pronouns so that they would be more appropriate for same sex weddings.

Veteran English post-punk band Gang of Four announced a new EP out later this month. The front of Complicit features a picture of Ivanka Trump and a song titled “Ivanka (Things You Can’t Have).” Much influence over her father seems to be one of those things as papa Trump continues to move away from the Ivanka/Jared Kushner axis some of a more liberal persuasion put quixotic hope in. Below is the EP’s first single “Lucky.”

Song of the Week: Superorganism - “Everybody Wants to be Famous”

For some reason, Trump calling Roseanne star (and Trump supporter) Roseanne Barr to praise the ratings success after the highly anticipated return of the her sitcom made it into the news. It’s no surprise Trump is congratulating people for bringing in the viewers though; it’s something he’s been obsessed with for years.

But then he seems to have run for office largely to get his name out to as many people as possible. With a guy in the White House attempting to encourage others to believe fame is the only thing that matters, what better song to end on this week than “Everybody Wants to be Famous” by indie pop group Superorganism.

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