On Monday I posted a blog called Down and Dirty Rockers Take On Bullying by my guest Doug Ratner, lead singer of the rock band Doug Ratner and the Watchmen. Yesterday, I received an email from Doug with the following:
“. . today we played “Bomb in the Backseat” on a popular morning show and … the management was not pleased. They kicked us off the show, and told us we’re not allowed back. … a lot of uptight people don’t seem to understand the message of that song and the current state of society. Talk about ‘bullying’ and ‘not accepting.’… It’s going to shine light into the fact that our music is serving a purpose and in no way are we condoning violence or terrorism.”
The goal of Doug Ratner and the Watchmen is to address issues such as bullying, depression, teen suicide, gender roles, and greed. “Bomb in the Backseat, from the band’s upcoming EP “Lessons Well Learned,” is a companion piece to “Ghost in the Mirror,” a softer, heartbreaking song about a boy who is an outsider, a ghost in the mirror. “Bomb” describes what happens when this one young man is made to feel bullied, outcast, and alone.
There is no doubt “Bomb” can be considered a controversial song, especially without knowing the background and motivation behind its creation. Always pairing it with “Ghost” would eliminate misinterpretation. Even opening the song with the quiet first verse of “Ghost in the Mirror” before breaking into the hard rocking “Bomb” would ease this misunderstanding:
You wake up today and get ready for school
Head to the bathroom, to find a way to look cool
Cuz lately the boys have been teasing you
And all the girls have been laughing too
You gotta find a way to change your face
You’re sick and tired of feeling out of place
But should an artist have to do that? Shouldn’t each song be allowed to stand on its own?
I’ll admit to having conflicting feelings about the effect of lyrics on a young person’s mind. When my children were young, I used the saying GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. I likened their brains to Jell-o® that hadn’t yet set. Whatever went in remained after their brains had gelled, to be with them for the rest of their days. So I encouraged them to put in only positive, uplifting messages. I doubt it made a difference, but I felt I was doing my job by objecting to lyrics that used foul language or that glorified violence. I don’t believe I was all wrong, since popular songs seemed to have taken a leap from the days of:
Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so wonderful
Oh, my pa-pa,to me he was so good,
(“Oh, My Pa-pa” by Eddie Fisher)
Kill yer parents / burn their bodies
bury the ashes …
yer parents are f**king blind
and their ideals are all wrong.”
(“Kill Your Parents” by No Cash)
Music in my day was all about drugs, peace, and free love. Most young people I knew didn’t get high, go out protesting, or get it on simply because they were exposed to music that seemed to approve and promote that behavior. Perhaps music validates those who are already on a particular path or have a certain propensity, but I don’t believe the music causes the behavior any more than reading murder mysteries turns people into murderers or using contraception turns people into sex addicts. So I don’t believe those who hear “Bomb,” even without the context of “Ghost in the Mirror,” are going to build a bomb and become a terrorist.
Doug Ratner and the Watchmen call themselves a “down and dirty” band, and “Bomb” is a down and dirty song. The beat and rhythm get in your head and stick. So do the words, certain phrases going deep, and twisting. But the actions the words describe don’t come to the forefront of your consciousness. The raw emotions of a young man in pain do.
I know “Bomb in the Backseat” would be painful to hear for anyone who had a loved one die from a similar act of violence. But that’s precisely why it was written and why it needs to be heard. Young people need to think of the consequences of their behavior and of their mistreatment of others. Hearing all the songs on the upcoming EP “Lessons Well Learned,” how many kids who are “only teasing” or taunting will stop and think how their victim feels and what might be the consequences of the cruelty? How many young people who head to school with a gun do so because they’ve been bullied? If they hear this music, how many might stop and think that perhaps someone in this cold, unfeeling world understands?
Doug Ratner and the Watchmen understand. They ache for the bullied ones who hurt, and, through their music, hope to reach those who cause the pain. But without “Bomb,” performed alone or in tandem, “Ghost” wouldn’t carry nearly as much weight. Hopefully such music will prevent songs like “Bomb in the Backseat” from becoming reality.
Sharing this message is a worthwhile goal. I’m not concerned about the lyrics used to share it, because the way social media spreads the message these days, it won’t take long for listeners to learn the true context and meaning of the song. I applaud Doug and the Watchmen for stepping up and taking the risk.
I’d like everyone to listen to “Bomb in the Backseat.” Then I’d like to hear from you.
Does the song condone violence or terrorism?
Had it been played with its companion piece, “Ghost In the Mirror,” which describes the bullying received by the kid who eventually goes on to build the bomb, would the message have been clear and therefore acceptable?
Is the story arc between cause and effect clear or should the two songs always be sung in tandem? Or is it okay for “Bomb” to stand alone?
Any words of encouragement (or criticism) for Doug and the band, or do you agree that the proper action was taken by the television station’s management?
This is an important topic. Speak up.