We certainly live in an ignorant period of American history when protest songs are not understood unless they're full of lame abstractions ("We Are the World") or shrill, simpleton propaganda, however accurate (Little Steven's post-blue-eyed soul "work.")
Even the people who defend Paul Simon's "Graceland" album make concessions to his critics by explaining Simon's intentions as "emphasizing the African people over the problem."
Simon, like Bob Dylan, is not the type of artist to give credence to misinformed critics by pointing out, "But wait, I really was 'biting' with this couplet" or "But, dig this 'heavy' passage." And yet, Simon made it easy by printing the lyric sheet. Just what the heck do these people think he was saying with lines like: "Many dead, tonight it could be you . . . Somebody cry why why why . . ." ("Homeless"), and "All about the fire in your life on the evening news . . ." ("Crazy Love, Vol. II")?
So why doesn't Simon just rhyme "Apartheid stinks" with "Botha and his cronies are finks?" Maybe because there's a reason that we all remember the song "Blowin' in the Wind" and who wrote it, but few of us remember who the clown was at Woodstock who rhymed "Vietnam" with "Don't give a damn."
Maybe not immediately, but ultimately intelligence ages better than stupidity. And there's no reason you have to possess the latter to write an effective protest song.
M. KEVIN TUTOR