This week’s Free Ride* muses on one of the protest songs of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bobby Darin, who would have turned 75 today. To be perfectly honest, it was a long time before I knew there was a folky-protest side to Bobby Darin. I basically associated him with the Righteous Brothers’ song that reminds everyone that Bobby gave us Mack the Knife and joined Jim Croce and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix up in rock and roll heaven (if you believe in forever).
The mid-60s saw Bobby Darin take a turn from the pop-oriented persona of Silly Willy and Splish Splash and Lazy River toward some edgier social commentary in his songs. Behind the scenes he had already been supporting the cause of civil rights, and had been instrumental in bringing black artists like Richard Pryor to the fore. But it was his work on Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign trail and his Simple Song of Freedom, first covered and made into a hit by Tim Hardin, that launched him fully out of the Las Vegas lounge lizard scene and into the strong current of war protest. He invites everyone to sing his simple song:
Unlike some of the protest movement of the time, his song distinguishes between the young people being sent to the front lines, and the decision-makers who send them, focusing the critique on the latter:
Then, he has a great verse that somewhat belies his description of this as a simple song (how many simple songs reference a Russian dissident whose name many wouldn’t be able to pronounce?)
It’s too bad Bobby Darin’s life was cut short by a heart disease he had suffered with since childhood. We can thank people like Kevin Spacey for re-introducing a new generation to his music, through the film tribute, Beyond the Sea. It would be interesting to hear what kinds of simple songs he might invite us to sing in our era of “permanent war.” We’ll have to be content with the image of Bobby and Brother Solzhenitsyn and Bad Bad Leroy Brown and Righteous Brother Bobby Hartfield filling the air of heaven with one hell of a band.