Although this particular site isn’t overly political, political and social issues always influences and informs the art that we respond to and love; after all, political and social issues influence every aspect of our lives – and perhaps more important, the artist and her art, simply doesn’t exist in some kind of vacuum. Whether or not that particular artist is politically motivated is a personal and conscious choice – and honestly, that’s perfectly fine.
What I think we can all agree on is that we live in some extraordinarily troubling times for the United States and for humanity. Some things simply can’t be denied: there’s a greater inequity, inequality, misunderstanding, division, fear, hatred and violence. And it seems more than ever, that I turn to music and art for comfort and for understanding –especially after Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and countless other boys and young men’s senseless deaths.
Obviously, we have had young people across the country taking to the streets and letting their voices be heard, political and social groups starting petitions, letter writing campaigns, and a great deal of thought-provoking essays, speeches and articles detailing what may arguably be our time’s greatest and most important challenge. And a number of artists have responded expressing a collective – although incomprehensibly not universal – sense of horror, confusion, shame, discomfort, and outrage.
In the wake of the Eric Garner grand jury decision, the Chicago-based songwriter Sam Dew, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek and vocalist Alice Smith on “Shell Shock,” a song which sounds as though it owes a great debt to Afrika 70-era Fela Kuti, thanks to its tight, propulsive and relentless groove, as it does to the Civil Rights-era work of Curtis Mayfield; in other words it shows music – in particular, soul music – has had a very vital and necessary role in every protest movement.
And with “Shell Shock” the song openly discusses life in perpetual warfare – a life in which authorities view everyone as enemies of the state, and in which its citizens feel as though they have no redress for cruelty. Its also a life in which citizens know that they could die for even the most innocent and unthinking of infractions. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Smith expresses a mute, powerless horror throughout the song – and in a way that’s haunting.