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?

JOSHUA CLOVER
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.

FALLING JAMES
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.

TIM GRIERSON
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.

TODD KRISTEL
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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

KENYON HOPKIN
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.

ROSEMARY PASSANTINO
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.

CHUCK EDDY
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.

RICK MITCHELL
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?

ROB SHEFFIELD
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."

FRED MILLS
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.

ADAM MCGOVERN
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.

NICK CATUCCI
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.

MARIANNE MEYER
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.

CHUCK EDDY
Brooklyn, New York

Sure, lots of indie-rockers, undie-hoppers, and tasteful-leftist MOR icons took their pacifistic potshots at Bush and the war in Iraq, but they were just flinging pebbles at the palace compared to Natalie Maines, a woman working from the inside out, playing the kind of music that most sincerely resonates with a large number of people who actually have something at stake in this conflict—families, friends, and lovers of the soldiers themselves. I hope that Maines can reconcile with the heart-on-their-sleeve hardliners she's alienated. They still need each other.

JOSH LOVE
Athens, Georgia

Do I believe Bush planned and executed 9/11? Nope. But in this year of Patriot Act hubris and Gitmo detainees, the conspiracy-theory battle rhymes on Paris's Sonic Jihad liberated my anger a hell of a lot better than "In Da Club."

BRITT ROBSON
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Metrosexuality in da club seems like anathema to the Bush administration and if GW gets re-elected we've got a serious case of Silent Majority coming. Toby Keith's warning bells might sound a lot like N.W.A's during the L.A. riots. Don't pretend they didn't warn you.

ANTHONY MICCIO
State College, Pennsylvania

I'm glad Ashcroft's got cameras following my every move. Until I become a talking head on VH1, it's the only way I get noticed these days.

TIM GRIERSON
Los Angeles, California

Might it be that America is fast becoming one vast prison? Two million of us live in actual prisons, and the rest live in a micro-managed, regulated, politically correct place where speech codes and thought police have their way with us.

MICHAEL FREEDBERG
Salem, Massachusetts

Thug life is now so thoroughly ingrained in the culture that the crimes of Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and their ilk barely make a ripple.

PARKE PUTERBAUGH
Greensboro, North Carolina

We got Black boys returning from a dubious "conflict" overseas in Mylar bags. We got neighborhood kids calling each other "nigger" before they learn how to read. We got working folks making mass exodus out the ghetto 'cause yuppies are taking over and rent's too damn high. We got a lynching renaissance in the "Dirty South." Frankly, the whole high-profile hip-hop obituary thing is getting way ancient. So when do I have your permission to not give a rat's ass whether or not you blow each other to kingdom fucking come?

DARRELL MCNEIL
Brooklyn, New York

White America seems increasingly adept at ignoring the confused, angry, sullen, 800-pound gorilla it kidnapped and left in its streets. As a consolation, Jay-Z and Ludacris were able to top the charts with albums that referred to whites as crackers. But no one heard those lines, right? Everything's good, right? Gorilla? What gorilla?

KRIS EX
Brooklyn, New York

Jay-Z's Pharrell fluffery "Change Clothes" suggested not that black female bodies are overexposed but that sistahs have finally achieved via this puerile medium what myriad angry Sapphires always claimed was the sole province of lily-white Ice Queens: the right to be viewed as a silent object on a pillar (of bling-bling).

KANDIA CRAZY HORSE
Manhattan

It was the year of the Woman Best Seen and Not Heard. Society didn't just disagree with these women, it loathed them. Madonna wasn't allowed to be a critic of American life. The Dixie Chicks weren't allowed to dis the president. Amy Lee wasn't allowed to get pissed at radio jocks objectifying her. And Liz Phair was absolutely not allowed to go mainstream pop.

JEANNE FURY
Brooklyn, New York

Xtina sang a song that parroted the protest of first-wave feminism against the double standard, toured domestic-violence safe houses, and released the slaying "Da Yard Riddim Mix" with Jamaican diva Tanya Stephens, and all anyone could talk about was how bad the video was.

JULIANNE SHEPHERD
Portland, Oregon

Whether it was the Wrens or Fountains of Wayne or the Drive-By Truckers or the Bottle Rockets, the message was the same: Bling-bling is for hip-hop daydreamers. Day jobs blow, and they're not going away.

TIM GRIERSON
Los Angeles, California

The Bottle Rockets provided a voice to the guy who's glad he broke his leg so he can take a break from hanging sheet rock, to the guy kept behind the security line at the St. Louis airport, to the guy driving by a hand-built white cross on the highway shoulder, to the guy who still mows his dead parents' front lawn. Ever since Nashville walked off the worksite to chase the middle-class dollar, this kind of blue-collar chronicling has fallen to ne'er-do-wells.

GEOFFREY HIMES
Baltimore, Maryland

Best proof that Howard Dean doesn't understand the South: Toby Keith's Shock'n' Y'All.

TOM SMUCKER
Manhattan

Nice Jheri curls, cowboy, you must spend more time at the hair salon than all three Dixie Chicks combined: Toby Keith.

ROB SHEFFIELD
Brooklyn, New York

General Clark doesn't need to get crunky and quote OutKast to lose the election. He was doing fine on his own.

WERNER TRIESCHMANN
Little Rock, Arkansas

Did hip-hop really need the validation of the Democratic field during the November debate? Wesley Clark weighing in on OutKast? Dennis Kucinich's theme rap? Somewhere down there, Robert Moses is saying, "For this I destroyed the South Bronx?"

HUA HSU
Cambridge, Massachusetts

I didn't vote for any jazz albums in this poll because that would be throwing my vote away as surely as if I'd voted for Ralph Nader. Nor did I vote for any bluegrass albums for that would be wasting my vote as surely as if I'd voted for Dennis Kucinich.

GEOFFREY HIMES
Baltimore, Maryland

If I wasted my ballot by voting for who I actually liked, it wouldn't be the first time. (Though I do kind of wish I hadn't voted for Ralph Nader . . . )

RICK MITCHELL
Houston, Texas

The FCC rule making of June 2 didn't get a lot of play from anyone whose eyes glaze over at the phrase "FCC rule making," which is most people. But it depressed the living fuck out of me, because that's when I realized that the dynasties that run the American government are willing to enact laws that nobody wants passed unless their pockets will be filled. Commissioner Michael J. Copps pointed out that over 99.9% of public comments opposed more media consolidation. The NRA, NOW, the ACLU, and the Conference of Catholic Bishops were all pulling on the same side, and Colin Powell's son steamrollered us all without a second thought.

DOUGLAS WOLK
Portland, Oregon

This year is going to be fucking horrible, because we all know the date of the tragedy that will befall our country: November 2. Until then, I don't know if I'm going to be able to concentrate on music. What's the soundtrack to 10 months of dread? Then again, if we're all surprised, think about what a party that's going to be.

JOSHUA GOLDFEIN
Brooklyn, New York

It's hard to get worked up about music and industry issues when we're trapped on a fast train about to slam into a mountain. Register if you haven't already.

MARIANNE MEYER
Reston, Virginia

The amount of good new music in the universe is probably expanding at a relatively constant rate—more this year than last, more last than the year before, etc. It may be harder to find, harder to sort out, etc., but it's out there somewhere. And the trend will continue until civilization collapses, which is unlikely (unless Bush gets re-elected).

TOM HULL
Wichita, Kansas

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