Pebbles at the Palace

Volunteer Now in Civilization's Battle Against George the Boy King

I am the white male they warned you about, I'm anything you want me to be, baby, I'm just another lost and lonely rider waiting for Chuck Klosterman to explain to me how implausible it would be to read anything political into this year's music. I mean, duh! How could anything people pay money for be political?

Berkeley, California

Still waiting for the death of rock & roll, and music in general. Everywhere you turned in 2003, bright, buzzing piñatas of stripey sound hovered, waiting to be smashed open. Maybe it was because of Iraq. Wartime seems to shake lovelorn songwriters into a more focused state of desperation. The hooks came quicker and catchier, the lyrics got to the point even as they twisted more artfully.

Los Angeles, California

The year's best music felt no need to address the terrors and evils of the outside world. Me and my guys and gals will just sit here in our home studio entertaining ourselves until the great flood subsides.

Los Angeles, California

While I sometimes wish more musicians had dropped social science in 2003, music wouldn't be as much fun if they had. Asked to choose between sententious protest and clever frivolity, I'll take Fannypack.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Things to look forward to in 2004: more free CDs.

Kings Park, New York

Given the pre-emptive strike posture of the empire, we need music that moves us away from "calculation." Emo's too ego. Hip hop's too bling. Alt-this, revival-that often simply look backward. It's the smaller sounds that drew me in this year—intimate, quiet. More conveyance, less contrivance.

San Francisco, California

I suddenly seem to love protest songs. Maybe I just read the newspaper more this year, I dunno. It was hard not to, and hard not to take pre-emptive quagmire and Constitution dismantling personally, plus what used to be paranoid wacko conspiracy theories now seem like good common sense. Maybe the three explicit anti-war demonstrations on my list are evidence that the left is finally getting intestinal fortitude.

Brooklyn, New York

For the Black Eyed Peas to get on pop radio with a slickly produced but smart and soulful rap that associates the CIA with international terrorism and implies that George Bush is a liar would deserve our attention. That the tune is impossibly catchy, with a boy-pop pinup singing the candy-coated chorus, makes it a subversive cultural milestone.

Houston, Texas

Justin deserves more credit than he gets (which is none) for declining to play the patriotism card. The only possible explanation for why he was never caught in public wearing a flag, singing the national anthem, or lap-dancing the Bush daughters? The little blond can of Easy Cheese has a soul. Who knew?

Brooklyn, New York

If Fleetwood Mac's "Peacekeeper" was too subtle for the mainstream, there were in-your-face statements, from Black Eyed Peas' "Where Is the Love" to R.E.M.'s anti-war "The Final Straw" to Ed Sanders's needs-no-qualifying "Impeach George Bush."

Wadesboro, North Carolina

Switching off the news and turning on the CD deck made it easier for me to be a Jew in 2003. While Ariel Sharon's barrier went up, other borders were being busted, by Brazilian bubbe Fortuna's Moorish medieval greatest hits from the golden age of Jewish- Muslim coexistence and Solomon & Socalled's techno-klezmer wedding-band suites. Nostalgic and hopefully prophetic blasts from the days when we would bring down walls with sound, not build them up in fury.

Mount Tabor, New Jersey

Lightning Bolt's one-bass, one-drumkit "2 Towers" begins with rush-hour sounds: thrum of traffic, opening and shutting of doors, crossing of paths. After a minute, an n-note riff that brutalizes anything on How the West Was Won thrusts in, and in, and in . . . Four minutes later, the riff folds in half, and then folds again, and again, speeding, then screaming, then scattering into a rush-hour order exploded from the inside.

Brooklyn, New York

Although I didn't vote for the Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews, or Willie Nelson, I would like to give them all Honorable Mentions for daring to take on George the Boy King in public.

Reston, Virginia

I love these songs not only because I agree with their politics, but because they sound like a party—even if all indicators suggest that, come November, there won't be much to celebrate. They sound like a party just like all the limbo-dancing-under-the-strip-pole songs do. And just like Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld fan Toby Keith does, for that matter, though he's on my list with his song about how you can find him in da club, not his songs about the Taliban or lynching. So maybe the current-events lessons I voted for don't add up to much. But figure in NOFX, KMFDM, Mutant Press, the Fugs, the Ex, Voivod, Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd, Merle Haggard, John Mellencamp with "To Washington," Local H with "President Forever," reborn old Terry Allen and Mekons songs, the Dixie Chicks by mere virtue of their continued existence, even Brooks & Dunn with "Holy War" and David Banner with "Bush," and whaddaya got? Lots of pissed-off people preaching at me, and somehow I don't mind.

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