In 1980, the year I turned 10, it seemed like every kid I knew loved Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" -- and not just because a bunch of us misheard one of the lyrics as "Dukes of Hazzard in the classroom." Here was a protest song against something we all actually experienced ourselves, the track's transfixing power magnified by rumors that children in Africa were singing the line "We don't need no education" as they refused to go to school. This tale was actually true, though we had no idea of the context: The song had become the anthem of a school strike in South Africa, where the apartheid regime reacted by banning the record. William Sievert of the Pacific News Service reported that some would-be censors wanted to do the same thing here in the States:
In the United States, educators in several states have tried -- with some success -- to have the song removed from the play lists of radio stations. Says Hope Antman of Columbia Records in New York, "The radio resistance has been surprisingly strong. Stations started getting angry calls and letters from teachers and principals and school boards claiming that 'Another Brick in the Wall' was creating a crisis in their classrooms."…
"We Don't Need No Education" graffiti has appeared on tunnel walls in the Sunset District of San Francisco, and its refrain has echoed through the lunch hours at private, Jesuit-run schools in the city.
Elsewhere, at least a dozen rock stations in major cities either stopped playing the record or refused to add it to their play lists. The resistance was even stronger in smaller towns, Antman says. One teacher in Chicago went so far as to cut his own record as a rebuttal to Pink Floyd, changing the lyrics to "We all need an education."
The rebuttal was an instant flop, while Pink Floyd's attack on schools has dominated the sales charts for months.
It felt very apocalyptic. Virtually everything felt apocalyptic in 1980. The Soviets were in Afghanistan, the economy was in the crapper, and every evening Walter Cronkite added another day to his count of the period Americans had been held captive in Iran. The hostage crisis had its own pop-culture echoes, from a "Stick a Hola in the Ayatollah" dart board to a "Barbara Ann" parody that joined "Another Brick in the Wall" on the radio for a few months. It featured the lyrics "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran." (What, you thought John McCain thought that one up himself?) And then there was a crude country song called "A Message to Khomeini": "You think you're so darn bad/but when Uncle Sam gets mad/there's gonna be an oil slick/right where Iran used to be."
Thirty years later, a rock band called Blurred Vision has borrowed an old song to protest another generation of mullahs. There's no trace of xenophobia in this record -- the musicians are Iranian exiles, not angry American natives, and their theme is revolution, not war. The song they've adapted isn't "Barbara Ann"; it's "Another Brick in the Wall," which now features the line: "Hey, Ayatollah! Leave those kids alone!"
There's a video, too:
It is, as Michael Totten writes, "an electrifying piece of music video art." And while it's far removed from 1980's anti-Ayatollah pop, it does remind me of those South African schoolkids chanting Pink Floyd lyrics as they stood up to apartheid. From Pretoria to Tehran to the cabin at Camp Kanata where we debated that Dukes of Hazzard line, we still don't need no thought control.