There are so many good nominees for Earth Day anthems that it’s difficult to winnow the list.
Peter Dykstra, my predecessor as a Mother Nature Network columnist, took a stab at that just before Earth Day 2009. He narrowed it down 20. You should check ’em out. The songs — from artists like Cat Stevens to Marvin Gaye to Mos Def — are pretty phenomenal. Best of all, they come from so many different genres.
After reading Peter’s column, it took MNN student correspondent Alyssa Kropp all of a day to rattle off 10 more songs — “a different generation's twist” with new music. Peter and I thank you, Alyssa, for goading our baby-boomer-ism. It’s a great list, too, chock full of interesting artists like Arcade Fire, Jack Johnson and John Mayer.
Besides just anyone though, who might benefit from listening to the lyrics in Earth Day songs? And who might want to use the music to send a message or two?
1. From John McCain, To Barack Obama
Let’s start off on a cheerful note by thinking about nuclear Armageddon. Given the fact he’s changed his mind and has now decided that he likes nuclear bombs, Sen. John McCain might want to play this ditty about the potential benefits of nuclear war for President Obama. A couple of weeks ago, Obama signed a treaty with the Soviet Union to reduce our respective nuclear arsenals. Last week, he concluded a conference in which most nations agreed to work toward reduced arsenals and to isolate non-cooperating countries like Iran.
In the late 1950s, the Kingston Trio popularized the “Merry Minuet.” Half a century of history dates references in the song to specific international disputes, but McCain’s basic point remains the same -- sans, apparently, the satire. The relevant passages:
The whole world is festering
With unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans,
The Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs
South Africans hate the Dutch
And I don't like anybody very much
But we can be grateful
And thankful and proud
That man's been endowed
With a mushroom shaped cloud.
And we know for certain
That some happy day
Someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away
2. From Energy Secretary Steven Chu, To GM's Ed Whitacre
Should a nuclear (or for that matter any other environmental) apocalypse finally overtake us, the Talking Heads’ masterpiece (and my favorite environmental song of all time) “No More Flowers” demonstrates that satire could outlast it.
The famous video for “No More Flowers’” is a masterpiece that was retro even in 1988. The artists perform on a set that evokes the Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s stage, while they frolic with superimposed lyrics that scroll playfully across the screen on retro fonts.
I love this song. The lyrics are so quirky that it’s difficult to pin down any meaning out of context. Still, I humbly suggest that Energy Secretary Steven Chu gift it via the iTunes Store to GM President Ed Whitacre, with an emphasis on the following verse:
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it's nothing but flowers
After all, we now own General Motors, right?
3. From Sarah Palin, To the Department of Interior
Speaking of socialism, Sarah Palin could actually turn the tables on lyrics written by a socialist if she sent them to the U.S. Department of Interior. When he wrote the following lyrics, most people think Woody Guthrie was referring to private property owned by land barons. That seems to be a young Bruce Springsteen’s mindset in this live version.
But Palin could make a case that Guthrie was arguing that hunters should be allowed to shoot wolves on public land from helicopters:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me
As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!
4. From East Cost residents, To Exxon Mobil
Obama gave great news to oil companies about their rights to do what they want on a big chunk of public territory, when he announced his plan to open up a large chunk of American waters to oil drilling. So it might be a good time for anyone who lives along the southeastern seaboard or the eastern shore of the Gulf of Mexico to send Ben Harper’s “Excuse Me, Mr.” out to Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson.
Excuse me, mister,
but isn't that your oil in the sea?
And the pollution in the air, mister,
whose could that be?
So excuse me, mister,
but I'm a mister, too.
And you're givin', mister, a bad name
mister like you
5. From Michael Pollan, To Monsanto
There are, of course, messages a plenty that concerned citizens could pass on to plenty of CEOs at plenty of environmentally controversial companies. God forbid that they would undermine their fiduciary responsibilities to save the environment. But if they like music, they might actually listen.
Real food advocate Michael Pollan, for instance, could underscore his criticism of Monsanto’s quest for genetically perfected crops with the following lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s 1970 folk hit “Big Yellow Taxi”:
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
6. From EPA's Lisa Jackson, To coal baron Don L. Blankenship
Massey Energy’s Don L. Blankenship has tangled with EPA Chief Lisa Jackson over her decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and over her toughened stance against the quaintly named “mountaintop removal” method of coal mining. Blankenship isn't the warm and fuzzy sort. So sending the sentimental 1960 Brothers Four ballad “Green Fields” to the CEO of the company that gained infamy recently in the Upper Big Branch coal mining disaster may not have the desired effect. But that doesn't mean Jackson shouldn't try.
Maybe she should include this part of “Green Fields” in her response to Massey’s next request for a mountaintop-removal permit:
Green fields are gone now, parched by the sun.
Gone from the valleys, where rivers used to run.
Gone with the cold wind, that swept into my heart.
Gone with the lovers, who let their dreams depart.
Where are the green fields, that we used to roam?
7. From me, To climate scientist James Hansen
Some messages probably should be sent to environmentalists rather than by them. So here’s a gentle reminder from Jackson Brown, from his song “Before the Deluge,” for those who find themselves increasingly frustrated by the situation.
The great climate scientist and moral crusader James Hansen comes to mind. How far back we would be in dealing with climate change without Hansen’s courage and leadership is scary to contemplate, but there is a case to be made that the progress will come more quickly if the issue became less polarized.
Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
and they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused