photo & text by nacrowe
back in the 1980s there was a distinct cultural moment were everyone got excited over bloated charity singles that often featured a chorus of god-knows-how-many notable artists singing in unison. two that come immediately to mind was the MICHAEL JACKSON/LIONEL RITCHIE-penned "WE ARE THE WORLD" (COLUMBIA, 1985) for USA FOR AFRICA (over 45 POP musicians) and the RONNIE JAMES DIO-penned "STARS" (POLYGRAM, 1986) for HEAR 'N AID (made up of over 40 prominent METAL musicians), both of which raised funds for famine relief in ETHIOPIA. buying these singles was less about musical enjoyment, since the songs were objectively horrendous, and more a form of altruism. although it begs one to wonder why the artists just didnt advocate for direct funds as there is no doubt corporate record companies made a pillaging off these recordings.
enter STEVEN VAN ZANDT.
during this period he had recently departed BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's infamous E-STREET BAND right at the cusp of the release of what would become their commercial breakthrough BORN IN THE U.S.A. (COLUMBIA, 1984) record. at the time a journalist friend that had reported on the horrors of APARTHEID in SOUTH AFRICA suggested he write a protest song as a charity-style single. at the time it was still deemed acceptable for prominent musicians to perform at the SUN CITY resort/casino in SOUTH AFRICA. in fact prominent acts at the time such as QUEEN, FRANK SINATRA, ELTON JOHN, LIZA MINELLI, ROD STEWART and LINDA RONSTADT had done just that to their own shame in retrospect. the "SUN CITY" (EMI, 1985) single took aim at the resort specifically and the regime and its racist power structure politically at a time that the UNITED STATES still supported it. even in retrospect its a pretty bold and impressive statement, even if the song is a little bland. participating artists in the ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID activist protest group (who similarly took a vow not play in SOUTH AFRICA until the abolishment of APARTHEID) included the likes of BOB DYLAN, GEORGE CLINTON (PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC), BOBBY WOMACK, LOU REED (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), RAY BARETTO, RUN-DMC, KEITH RICHARDS (THE ROLLING STONES), JIMMY CLIFF, BONO (U2), HERBIE HANCOCK, GIL SCOTT-HERON, PETER GABRIEL, HALL & OATES, KURTIS BLOW, STIV BATORS (THE DEAD BOYS), AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, RINGO STARR (THE BEATLES), BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and JOEY RAMONE (THE RAMONES) among many other JAZZ, R&B, ROCK N ROLL and early HIP HOP luminaries. PAUL SIMON was offered and declined participation due to his friendship with LINDA RONSTADT and the fact that he was then working on his GRACELAND (WARNER BROS, 1986) album at the time with SOUTH AFRICAN musicians, of which he has received (well-founded) criticism ever since for cultural appropriation. that recording was also in violation of UNITED NATIONS cultural boycott against APARTHEID. so there is that.
in this digital era we are all too comfortable with the idea of charity telethons and hashtag activism getting the word out on efforts to encourage fundraising for disaster relief efforts or the victims of the latest international tragedy. its part of the fabric of how our capitalist society functions at this point. but an activist single that take aim at altering AMERICAN foreign policy stances with regards to one of its allies. that i cannot find another example to compare. its a complete anomaly. and a singular achievement for all those involved, especially VAN ZANDT.
fuck PAUL SIMON.