America has not been this divided in my lifetime. Not even close. We're barreling towards the most contentious (for many, many reasons) presidential election of our generation, there's violence in our streets, we are being divided in every way imaginable, and for all intents and purposes, it would appear that the wheels are falling off the wagon of The American Dream. Michael Des Barres's new single, an incendiary cover of Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On?" confronts these issues in an incredibly timely and head-on manner.
What gives Michael Des Barres the right?
Michael Des Barres has lived in America for over thirty-five years, and for a member of British nobility (He is officially, Lord Marquis Michael Philip Des Barres) that speaks volumes. He's lived in America for the sole reason that he dearly loves it. His radio show can be heard on the greatest mainstream rock 'n' roll radio station on the planet, Little Steven's Underground Garage, and he's been a fixture on the scene in Hollywood as a rocker and an actor since the early seventies. You want to talk credibility? The guy has it in spades, so he's well within his rights to now ask, "What's Going On?"
The Marvin Gaye classic is Des Barres latest solo release on his own Humble Servant, Inc label, and both the song and its accompanying video could not be more timely, or rock a bit harder. Des Barres is joined by his old bandmate and legendary drummer, Clem Burke (Blondie, Chequered Past), and together they make a divine racket. The guitars bristle, the beat is savage, and Des Barres is in fantastic voice. He's also been gifted with an exceptional video (directed by Marianne Spellman) that shows how little things have really changed (and perhaps gone backwards) in the great American experiment and experience.
Des Barres is currently working on an album's worth of both classic and original protest songs for our times, and if this single is any indication (and it is), it's going to be a barnburner. Bring your torches and pitchforks, but make sure they are metaphysical, as Des Barres's message at the end of the day is that we all must learn to love one another and to practice this always. Believing in love has always been the formative philosophy of any protest worth its weight, and it's what the world needs now more than ever.
So, my question seems to have been answered. Perhaps the reason that it's necessary for an ex-pat Brit to kick off the return of the protest song in a country steeped in the tradition is that it sometimes takes the perception of an observer from outside the situation to see it clearest. Michael Des Barres has grabbed the bull by its horns and is leading the charge on this day in which America must truly ask, "What's Going On?" He's inside, and he's looking out. With love.