- A Song to Save the Salish Sea: Musical Performance as Environmental Activism by Mark Pedelty
In A Song to Save the Salish Sea, Mark Pedelty takes his reader to seven sites of struggle, environment, and music that you might not have imagined exist unless [End Page 254] you live out here in Cascadia. Save attention to Dana Lyons, who flirted with fame with the hit song "Cows with Guns," or focus on Idle No More protests and Raging Grannies actions, Pedelty explores much lesser known local individuals and groups who feed the public-discourse substrate of our regional environmental awareness. The majority of Pedelty's subjects are on Canada's British Columbian coast. Pedelty has moved from the more popular, bright-green, and grand narratives of environment and music to an idea of "environmental musicians" whose entire careers are dedicated to local environmental progress.1 While his earlier work, Ecomusicology, looked at the interventions of Woody Guthrie, artists like Soundgarden, concert events like Live Earth, and the concept of sustainability, A Song to Save the Salish Sea follows through on his call for greater examination of community-oriented music making.2 With increased ethnographic focus, Pedelty continues his attempt to objectively measure the influence musicians can have on environmental outcomes, awareness, and campaigns, even while he acknowledges that absolute measurement is impossible. From the environs of his summer cottage on Orcas Island in the San Juans, Pedelty "digs where he stands" for the Hidden Musicians.3
Each chapter of Pedelty's book offers a case study: Dana Lyons, the Raging Grannies, Idle No More, Bobs and Lolo, Artist Response Team, Irthlingz, and Towers and Trees. For each subject, the reader receives a thick description of particular approaches to raising environmental awareness through performance and the associated challenges of political musicianship. Aside from Idle No More, which has a more complicated presentation, Pedelty's subjects are making progress primarily through musical efforts. Pedelty carefully sifts for, distils, and documents stage methods that appear to achieve environmental ends. This is his ultimate goal for the book: to show how music can demonstrably and reproducibly play a role in public environmental discourse and action with the hope that readers might improve on the career-gleaned wisdom Pedelty collects.
Chapter 1 is about Dana Lyons, a singer-songwriter of cult fame who has struggled for decades to maximize his influence. Notably, Lyons has had success by touring in locations that trace energy transportation routes and corridors, binding together regional communities that stand to suffer the lived negative environmental consequences of, in this case, corporate energy profits, from nuclear to coal. In chapter 2, Pedelty shows how the Raging Grannies model an effective and reproducible protest ethos. They use their status to subvert hegemony: Who would dare to tear gas and cuff a garishly outfitted and angry singing octogenarian, and who wouldn't stop to listen to her message? Additionally, Pedelty suggests the challenges of group work in contrast to Lyons's individual experiences. Chapter 3 departs from the rest of the book in that it does not explicitly handle a reified sense of "music" as a medium for entertainment or stage performance but instead deals with prayer, soundscapes, Indigenous thought, experience, resistance strategy, and an account of an Idle No More march in Vancouver. Pedelty makes an argument for the importance of voice, timing, and emceeing for protocol, respect, introductions, and First Nations habits of collective action. In this chapter, Pedelty's focus shifts outward yet again, this time to a First Nations movement that now spans Indigenous North America and yet has essential local manifestations along BC's coast—a strategic and controversial point of collection, refinement, and ocean departure for interior fossil fuel [End Page 255] products. Chapter 4 introduces Bobs and Lolo, a duo that was born and bred on Cascadian island influence. Bobs and Lolo represent a form of children's music and TV edutainment that Canadians have pioneered since The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dressup...