Number 79 / June 1990:
"HOW WE GONNA BREATHE WITHOUT THEM TREES?"....When Teddy Gentry of country supergroup Alabama found out the river where his father had taught him to fish was too polluted for him to take his own son fishing, he came up with the idea for "Pass It On Down," the new Alabama single. It's the kind of mid-tempo chugger the group excels in, notable for trashing the stereotype that hillbilly / hardhat types don't care about the environment with its pro-rain forest warning to "leave some blue up above us, leave some green on the ground."
But the "Pass It On Down" video takes things further. Set in an abandoned steel mill, it mocks the idea that we have to choose between jobs and the environment As for the cliché that environmentalism is for whites only, it fades as you watch a thoroughly integrated group of kids singing the final choruses.
These aren't just nice ideas--the movement for clean air and water has grown far beyond the college / professional base it had at the first Earth Day in 1970. For example, 150 residents of a poor, racially- mixed neighborhood in Ponca City, Oklahoma, have forced Conoco Oil to cough up $23 million as compensation for damage done by a refinery even though Conoco employs most of Ponca City. And the LA Times recently noted, "The battle against polluters increasingly is being waged by thousands of smaller and more racially diverse groups targeting threats in their neighborhoods." Scientist and former Presidential candidate Barry Commoner adds, "They're opposing the corporations. You see them everywhere."
Opposing the corporations is the key, not only to get away from the idea that pollution is the fault of consumers, but because corporations are trying to take over the environmental movement. You had to laugh to keep from crying on Earth Day, as corporations like General Motors that have bitterly fought environmental legislation struggled just as hard to dominate the festivities. In Tucson, Peabody Coal, which has defiled a good part of the United States while leaving thousands of miners to choke to death with black lung disease, was an Earth Day sponsor.
Musicians have already played a key role (Sting went to Brazil for talks with President Jose Sarney, something George Bush would never do) and will be vital in keeping the movement on track. That's why it's so heartening to see the ranks of eco-musicians, until recently just the usual group of suspects, grow in much the same way as the movement has. Alabama is on the ecology tip, several rappers performed at Earth Day events, and KRS-1 has made a pro-environment record with REM's Michael Stipe. Who knows what music we'll hear on Captain Planet, Ted Turner's forthcoming ecology cartoon show featuring a caped crusader "battling war, nuclear power, and oil drilling."
There's a golden opportunity here to unite very different sections of the pop music audience as we work to force the eco-villains to clean up the earth. As for musicians, maybe they'll also learn a few lessons about the perils of corporate sponsorship. Or is it just a coincidence that Alabama's Pass It On '90 tour is their first without a sponsor?
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