Saturday, October 24, 2009

Is modern music torture?

I became aware of the "torture music" a few days ago. Listen to the very end of Thursday's edition of "The World". The one band I remember the program playing was "Matchbox 20". If you are aware of specific artists/music used as part of the US torture program, please append here, or in NEFolknRoots or Facebook.

Excerpt: " assortment of rock stars and pop thingies announced Friday the filing of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (in the U.S.) to force declassification of government documents with the playlist for music pumped during interrogation and whilst terrorism suspects sleep...."

October 24, 2009

Rosie DiManno

Is modern music torture?


The thought crosses my mind every time I'm in an elevator and Norah Jones – the female Perry Como – invades my ear-space with her insufferable neo-jazz ballads. Ditto Sarah McLachlan's narcoleptic vocals on those late-night public service ads for sad-eyed canines. What is it with chanteuses who always sound like they're warbling dirges – music to slash your wrists by?

Neither of those ladies is, however, among the recording artists who are bitchin' outraged about their music being played as instrumentals of torture for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

There's no copyright infringement here. But an assortment of rock stars and pop thingies announced Friday the filing of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (in the U.S.) to force declassification of government documents with the playlist for music pumped during interrogation and whilst terrorism suspects sleep.

Included in the anti-melodic remix – lest this be perceived as exclusively an audile indictment of the hip and the famed – is the Meow-Mix cat food jingle and Sesame Street ditties.

So maybe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – 9/11 architect and the biggest terrorist "get" in custody – rolled over on his Al Qaeda pals not because inquisitors subjected him to waterboarding or attached electrodes to his gonads but on account of not being able to take another refrain of ... Baby One More Time. And really, who can?

This is hardly a novel tactic. It was 20 years ago that an American Psyops team mounted five humongous speakers around the Vatican Embassy in Panama wherein fugitive Gen. Manuel Noriega had taken refuge. After only a few days of being blasted by heavy metal – Van Halen featured – the drug-trafficking despot surrendered. And really, who wouldn't?

I don't recall Eddie V.H. and his bandmates objecting. But we're into a whole new generation of conscience-elevated performers who apparently don't wish to be downloaded for the purpose of torture- lite accompaniment.

The thumpa thumpa as inflicted at Gitmo was first revealed in a report last November from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which mentioned that one Mohamedou Ould Slahi had been subjected to a looped soundtrack of Drowning Pool's Bodies in 2003. That disclosure caused not a ripple of protest.

A follow-up report by the Pentagon noted that the "futility technique" – as in resistance is futile? – leaned heavily on Metallica, Britney Spears and Eminem.

Now, I'm thinking that what most pop/rock stars know about global issues (with the exception of global warming, the cool cause du jour) wouldn't fill a shot glass. Green Day ain't no Pete Seeger and even bands that cluster around Bono for Live Aid seem more about the cachet than the humanitarianism.

But then the National Security Archives – a Washington-based independent research outfit (not to be confused with the other NSA, as in ultra-secret intelligence cryptologists) – got in on the act, rustling up a couple of retired generals for military brass oomph, and suddenly the rockers are all, like, how-dare-you? Though if I'm, say, Don McLean of one-hit-wonder American Pie trivia, I might be grateful for the career jolt.

Others who've had their hits-with-a-bullet (you should forgive the expression) "exploited" down Gitmo-way, include Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine and The Bee Gees(!).

"At Guantanamo, the United States government turned a jukebox into an instrument of tortures," harrumphed NSA executive director Thomas Blanton.

A jukebox? What century is this mook living in? iPod, maybe.

R.E.M., while not cited in the line-up, chimed in sanctimoniously on "We have spent the past 30 years supporting causes related to peace and justice. To now learn that some of our friends' music may have been used as part of the torture tactics without their consent or knowledge is horrific. It's anti-American, period."

And, from Rosanne Cash: "Music should never be used as torture."

Tell it to, oh, Michael Bublé.

So, music to induce a confession is reprehensible. But regurgitated as income-fattening, credibility-gutting ad-tunes – everyone from Dylan to Smash Mouth selling out – that's okay.

Co-opting a seminal piece of music for political currency is understandably infuriating, especially if the original message is turned on its head – hence Bruce Springsteen's cease-and-desist order when Ronald Reagan chose Born in the U.S.A. as his re-election theme song during the 1984 presidential campaign.

I suggest a tit-for-tat shake-rattle-and-hum is appropriate with, say, Afghan music (you haven't suffered until you've spent 10 hours with it in the car) or Osama bin Laden jihad monologues played round-the-clock for accused Wall Street felons or rogue soldiers.

Also, while I'm on the subject, can we please can the deafening arena rock anthems at hockey games? Now that's torture.

One more fusillade of We Will Rock You and I'm gonna get a gun.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

No comments: