Thursday, December 1, 2011

No honours for violent classic rock

Today marks the middle of this year’s White Ribbon Campaign working to end violence against women, which brings to mind something that’s bothered me for some time.
In Canada we like to believe we’ve made great strides in equality and reduction of gender violence. We’re particularly horrified by the concept, in other nations or cultures, of “honour killing,” where women are murdered by their own families for supposed moral transgressions. Such acts are disparaged as barbaric, whether they happen elsewhere or are imported here.
Yet vestiges of similar ideas lurk in our own popular culture, even in classic rock music.
One song is Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “Hey Joe”. This folk standard describes a man shooting his wife for infidelity, in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental fashion, as if this were the normal response to that situation.
I can see how perhaps in a live show this song could be put in some kind of educational context by the singer, but played on its own in “classic rock” circulation, all it does is condone spousal murder. Jimi Hendrix was an amazing guitar player, and the song showcases his talents well. But so do dozens of his other great recordings – why does this particular one get so much airplay today?
A song I find even more disturbing is Hendrix-inspired Canadian rocker Pat Travers’ version of “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)”. It is the song of a man combing the town for his ex-girlfriend so he can beat her unconscious for dumping him. And it’s not enough to tell this tale – Travers has the audience, men and women together, enthusiastically sing back the chorus response. By taking part, the crowd internalizes their own acceptance of this violence.
Now, I’ve never favoured censoring music, and I’m not demanding these songs be banned. But I am asking why program directors choose to spin them, when there are so many thousands of other great rock songs to choose from that don’t glorify gender violence?
Luckily this last song is redeemed, in a way, in a new version by the Brothers Dubé, the teen & tween trio from Ottawa featured on this year’s CP Holiday Train. They have re-worked “Boom Boom” to protest rock-em sock-em hockey violence and the resulting concussions. In doing so, they give me hope for our future generation.
If only the previous generation of “classic rockers” running our radio stations could be as enlightened as our youth. Is that too much to ask?
Learn more about the White Ribbon Campaign at, and about local Dec 6 events at
Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Play songs that don't glorify gender violence"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the son of a wonderful woman, husband to another, and the father of two wonderful daughters, and urges all men to stand up against violence against women.

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