Song of Peaceby Amy Ritchie
Stephen Smith, “The Bell”
Nearly 40 years after Bob Dylan sang “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” in protest of a distant and unperceivable war, this country is combating an enemy that struck on its own soil. The fight is compounded by the massive infringement on the Constitutional rights of so many of our own citizens. After a year of mourning, Americans, silenced by the continuous threat of terrorism and impending war with Iraq, generally have paid little attention to the artistic legacy of political protest and social consciousness. On the one year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, a new voice of protest did appear, however. Folk musician and political activist Stephan Smith released his anti-war song, “The Bell,” which he recorded with the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, as well as hip-hop artist Mary Harris and alt rocker Dean Ween.
Working in the tradition of simple colloquial folk music, “The Bell” draws from an old medieval folk song “The False Knight” and moves to a marching base rhythm rich with overlays of violin and electric guitar. Its lyrics make a profound statement against the relentless militarism of our current political leadership. “‘Oh I’m sounding drums of war,’ said the man at his desk / ‘Oh I will not fight your war,’ said the child and he stood / and he stood, and he stood, and t’were well that he stood.” The song escalates into a gripping refusal to let the combined fears of terrorism and of seeming anti-patriotic result in support for more death.
Stephan Smith grew up in Pennsylvania and Virginia, the son of an Iraqi father and an Austrian mother whose family died in the Holocaust. Such ancestry eerily befits a voice bringing peaceful weight through song to the rising international crisis. Smith has traveled the U.S. and Europe and recorded with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Rufus Wainwright, Victoria Williams, Steve Earle, and Michael Hurley. In 1997 Smith recorded the single “Ballad of Abner Louima” with the background vocals of Patti Smith. He has been involved with community activism in various locations, and his poetry and songs have become activist anthems throughout the country. Smith first introduced “The Bell” to a receptive crowd of 100,000 that gathered to demonstrate at the Washington Monument in April.
“The Bell” and the accompanying music video can be downloaded for free at www.stephansaid.com. The music video was directed by Kurt St. Thomas and produced by Corporate Sucker Films and ESP Pictures. In addition to footage from Manhattan peace vigils occurring in the days after September 11th, the video includes images of the actual attacks on the towers juxtaposed with shots of peace marches from around the world.