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1975 – When Revolution and Music Fused

AUGUST 4, 2003 – Here’s the thing. I did see the Rolling Stones — in the summer of 1975. This year I gave their July 30 “SARSstock” appearance In Toronto a miss. For those of us who attended their 1975 concert, it was already clear that the Stones, 29 years before SARSstock, were well past their “best before” date. They were, and are, a travelling corporation, not a travelling rock band.

Not all the concerts of 1975 and 1976 were like that. There were great concerts, and there was a gang of us in Toronto who took them all in.

We were looking for the cultural connection to the great left-wing radicalization that was just coming to an end. We had heard about it — we had heard about the mass movements, and the rock concerts, and the rebellion — and we wanted our share.

Bob Dylan took his “Rolling Thunder Review” tour on the road to campaign for the release from prison of “Hurricane” Ruben Carter. We went twice — first in Niagara Falls New York, and later in Toronto. Dylan, Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott — all donating their time to try and right a racist injustice.

But while far better than the Stones’ corporate gig, there was something disappointing about even these great performances.

1975 was the tail-end. Things were winding down. The Stones were corporate, and Dylan and Baez — while still fighting the good fight — were already visibly rich and removed. Their politics were heavy with moralism, disengaged and stage-managed.

But in May of 1976, it all came together. Bob Marley and the Wailers came to Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto.

The mid-1970s had seen uprisings against colonialism in Africa. From Angola to Mozambique, rebel uprisings had chased out European colonialists.

In 1974, returning soldiers, radicalized by their defeat in Africa, brought revolution to Portugal, and 40 years of fascist rule was wiped out by a revolution that had the seeds of workers’ power inside it.

And when in 1975 the fascist dictator Franco died in Spain, it seemed for a moment that revolution would spread very far indeed from the borders of Portugal.

In Marley’s Jamaica, Michael Manley was thumbing his nose at imperialism with his attempt at a “non-capitalist” path of development. The whole Caribbean was seething with anger against years of imperialist domination by the three regional oppressors — America, Britain and Canada.

All this was reflected in the Marley concert.

There was just supposed to be one show. But thousands showed up looking for a connection with the music and the movement. Young kids made human pyramids, and snuck into the hall through second story windows.

So Marley played two sets. Outside on the lawn we could hear the music from the first set, we could hear the roars of applause, and we weren’t disappointed when we made it inside for the second set. It was a moment when revolution and music fused.

The crowd was anti-racist. We cheered wildly when Marley called for solidarity with our sisters and brothers in South Africa and the Caribbean.

The crowd was looking for revolution. From “Rastaman Chant”, “Slave Driver”, “Them Belly Full” and “I Shot the Sheriff” to “Rat Race”, “Johnny Was” and “Roots, Rock, Reggae” — Marley and the crowd fused in a mix of music, anger against oppression, politics and enthusiasm.

Without a doubt the highlight was a fabulous rendition of “Get up, Stand Up.” We all got up and stood up, fists in the air, singing along to every note of that great rebel anthem.

It was a concert of the radicalization. Ernie Eves wasn’t there. Ralph Klein didn’t flip hamburgers. Paul Martin didn’t glad-hand the crowd looking for support. In fact the establishment at all levels looked on the whole event as morally, politically and culturally appalling. Which is as it should be.

The organizers of SARSstock wanted to pretend that their event was a reprise of the 1960s and 1970s.

It was not. It was a museum-piece featuring — with some honourable exceptions — rich, pampered and out of touch rock and roll specimens.

There has been a return to the era of the 1970’s radicalization this year. But it was not July 30 — it was February 15 when millions marched against war in Iraq.

This new generation of rebels — young and old — are creating their own cultural expressions of resistance. If you’re in Toronto, check out the Artists Against War benefit concert, Sunday August 10 at 8pm at the Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas St. West. You’ll get a sample of the new music of rebellion.

But what we were offered at the abandoned Downsview airforce base July 30 was very far from that.

© 2003 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.


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