As protest anthems go, there are few that carry as much vitriol and moral outrage than Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.”
Written in 1963, the song has a long history of inspired covers. From the Staple Singers in the ’60s to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready in the ’90s and a furious jazz take by the Scott Amendola Band with vocalist Carla Bozulich in the early ’00s, each version has proved that the song’s pointed message stubbornly refuses to go out of date.
Saxophonist Charles Lloyd joined the roster of artists who have put their own stamp on the track by offering an instrumental take on his 2016 album, “I Long to See You,” which featured his new band that included guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz.
On Friday, Lloyd and his label Blue Note Records released a live version of the song in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. Recorded this past November at the Lobrero Theater in Santa Barbara, which is not far from the saxophonist’s home, the slow-burning song features Lucinda Williams on vocals as a counterweight to Lloyd’s twisting, searching lines.
Now 78 years old, Lloyd has shown no sign of slowing down, and in a 2013 interview he spoke about his history of reflecting larger social issues in his music. “I feel that the elders, they all gave me something and I stood on their shoulders,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon us coming along now to sing the song, because the song is eternal.”
Lloyd put out a statement about the release below, which reflects a similar thoughtfulness:
Nations have been throwing rocks at each other for 1000s of years. We go through spells of light and darkness. In my lifetime I have witnessed periods of peace, protest, and uprising, only to be repeated by peace, protest and more uprising. The fact that Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” was written in the early 1960s and not during the last decade, makes it timeless and timely.
It breaks my heart to think that there are current generations of young people all over the world who are growing up without knowing of Peace in their lives. The words Dylan wrote are a laser beam on humanity. This line, in particular, has stuck with me for over 5 decades:
“Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul”
The world is a dog’s curly tail — no matter how many times we straighten it out, it keeps curling back. As artists we aspire to console, uplift and inspire. To unite us through sound across boundaries and borders and dissolve lines of demarcation that separate. The beautiful thing is that as human beings, even under the most adverse conditions, we are capable of kindness, compassion and love. Vision and hope. All life is one. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll succeed. We go forward.
Follow me over here @chrisbarton.