The Occupy movement is famous for welcoming anyone who wants to join. But you can’t help but wonder if, for campers who’ve endured taunts and snow and pepper spray, some musical guests are more welcome than others. Yes, it’s a thrill to see Philip Glass using the people’s mic at Lincoln Center, but too many of the celebrities who visit OWS seem (at the risk of being uncharitable) to be using its fame for their own good instead of vice-versa. One wonders, for instance, how many impassioned discussions of banking regulations and foreclosure statistics were ever interrupted by the comment, “You know who I’d love to hear right now? Third Eye Blind.”
With that in mind, we offer ten dream concerts for OWS — double bills of music that’s relevant and rousing, from artists (unlike these movement-friendly newcomers) with enough name recognition to draw both fans and media attention to Zuccotti Park, or anywhere else the 99 percent are trying to make themselves heard.
Bruce Springsteen, with opening act Arcade Fire
It’s been decades since deregulation-happy Reaganites proved they can’t parse a lyric by mistaking “Born in the USA” for a jingoistic anthem. But Springsteen kept an eye on the downtrodden even when politicians on both sides thought the world was a bed of rose-scented dollar bills: His Depression-inspired “Ghost of Tom Joad” came out just as tech stocks were creating a nation of ersatz millionaires. Bridging the gap between steelworker balladeer and youngsters who never had a union job to lose is Arcade Fire, whose affinity for the Boss has been often demonstrated.
Bob Dylan, with opening acts Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp
If anybody can help reluctant Boomers connect the dots between righteous ’60s protests and Occupy, it’s the guy who wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” But while his legacy’s unimpeachable, Dylan has always recoiled at being nailed down — ask him to endorse somebody, and you may wind up with a Victoria’s Secret ad. Hence the inclusion of his occasional touring partners Nelson and Mellencamp, two heart-on-sleevers whose enthusiasm for overt advocacy might goad the Great One into being openly, clearly political for once. (If the trio wants to recruit buddy Merle Haggard, another slippery character with a deep distrust of our corporate overlords, so much the better.)
The Roots + Public Enemy, with opening act Me’Shell Ndegéocello
Though a version of “Fight the Power” propelled by Questlove and Co. might tempt some in the crowd to reevaluate their nonviolent ideals, there’s no doubt the authors of “911 Is a Joke” have wisdom to share with Occupy’s largely white core. As many observers have noted, the protesters and journalists who’ve expressed outrage at police misbehavior are just witnessing what many black communities have always known — being on the right side of the law is no guarantee you won’t get billyclubbed. Opener Ndegéocello, never one to shy away from racial politics, has recently been channelling the late Gil Scott-Heron, whose “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” takes on new meaning in the Twitter age.
Patti Smith, with opening act Leonard Cohen
Smith may be better at populist fervor and may, after Just Kids, draw a bigger crowd than the dapper old gent from Quebec. But the two poet/songwriters complement each other well. Just imagine Smith’s unabashed, sing-along rendition of “The People Have the Power” being followed up by Cohen’s gravelly deadpan, slowly informing listeners that “democracy is coming to the USA.”
Los Lobos, with opening act El Vez
Self-described as “just another band from East LA,” Los Lobos have been unassumingly mixing traditional border tunes, expertly-observed folk rock, and avant-garde sonic experiments for almost 40 years. If they’re known for taciturn cool, usually making politics a lower priority than guitar solos, El Vez (aka “the Mexican Elvis”) can compensate: The glam showman reworks pop standards into Aztlán-centric anthems that could singlehandedly erase the image some observers have of OWS as alienating to Latinos.
Gillian Welch, with opening act Ralph Stanley
Listeners who called Welch a Dust Bowl fetishist back in 1996 just didn’t get it: Rather than living in the past, she has spent the last 15 years writing songs for the second Great Depression. Now that history’s catching up to her, Welch should share the stage with the Man of Constant Sorrow himself, a banjo-playing son of Depression 1.0 who once ran for office and later bucked Virginia’s red-state tradition by making radio ads promising Obama would “cut taxes for everyday folks — not big business.”
Tom Waits, with opening act Billy Bragg
Don’t let the gruff comedy schtick fool you: Waits has been fighting the man for decades, refusing to license songs for advertisements and suing the pants off companies that try to use his songs or sound to hawk their wares. Bragg, who records for the same record label as Waits, has been fusing Proletariat anthems with love songs all his life; for this occasion, maybe he can work up replacements for some of the movement’s less catchy chants.
Sharon Jones, with opening act Charles Bradley
Two of neo-soul’s strongest links to the era in which Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye made social conscience and progressive optimism sexy, both performers put in long years in the real world (Jones worked as a corrections officer at Rikers Island) before finding their niche onstage.
David Byrne, with opening act The xx
In his popular online journal, the former Talking Head thinks deep thoughts about everything from the benefits of bicycle commuting to “crowd-sourced architecture” in Third World slums. He’s not shy about criticizing politicians, and it’s only a matter of time before he weighs in on the movement happening in his back yard. He should drop by for a visit. As for openers The xx, well, even a protest movement needs good makeout music.
Lady Gaga, with opening act Madonna
After creating her own Capitalist Winter Wonderland at Barneys, one of the One-Percentingest retailers around, Gaga could stand to get back in touch with the huge fraction of her “little monster” fanbase that isn’t rich and famous. And those fans, many of them just starting to form their ideas about how the world works, might benefit from coming to mingle with rabble-rousers. If the prospect of a teeny-bopper queen bringing her public down to Wall Street isn’t outlandish enough for you, let’s go one step farther: Madonna, who’s been clawing her way to the top of the top since “goo-goo” was all Gaga could say, should take OWS as an excuse to return to her working-class roots — renouncing glitz and Anglophile affectations and leading a small band in a straight-through performance of her 1983 debut album.