Where are the Elegies to the World’s Troubled Landscapes?
Travel Blog • Joanna Kakissis • 03.04.09 | 4:02 PM ET
The Eagles were on to something in 1976, when they lamented the pillaging of the western American landscape in “The Last Resort.” As eco-awareness of global warming makes major headlines, and movie stars and scientists link hands to march against coal-fired power plants, I wonder: Where are the music videos? The equivalent of “We Are The World,” climate-change edition? Or at least a few elegies to the troubled landscapes of our world?
Then I came across “Uyan (Wake Up),” a song about the ravages of environmental irresponsibility released late last year by hunky Turkish pop star Tarkan and baglama viruoso Orhan Gencebay. It’s a fabulous tune, brimming with eastern Mediterranean soul and accompanied by a video (see below) featuring the sexier-than-thou Tarkan and the comfortably weathered Gencebay jamming in a cracked and desiccated land—likely a reference to the fact that great swathes of Turkey are in danger of desertification.
So, inspired by Tarkan and Orhan Gencebay, I compiled a short list of place-evoking environmental songs. I’d love to hear your picks—and if you think eco-songs can save fragile lands, or at least get people thinking that they should stop abusing them.
Uyan (Wake Up)
Tarkan and Orhan Gencebay
The 36-year-old Tarkan released this song last fall to publicly oppose the proposed Ilisu Dam in southeastern Turkey. The dam is expected to submerge the town of Hasankeyf, flooding historic ruins and displacing around 50,000 people. “Uyan” offers a plea for eco-justice as well as as a large-scale awareness of global warming. “Our place, our homeland, our earth, eternally vanishing,” Tarkan and Gencebay sing. “Our home, our nest, our only hearth, going from the hand.” (Translated lyrics care of Jennifer Hattam)
This brilliant Australian band is the mother lode for powerful environmental songs, especially the 1990 album Blue Sky Mining. From that album, I chose “Antarctica,” described as “the one place left in the world, where the water’s pure and clean.”
Here’s a lovely ode to Prine’s sweet childhood in western Kentucky, a region later polluted by coal mining. “Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay,” Prine croons in this song from his self-titled 1971 album. “Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking. Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.” (Note: Prine doesn’t begin singing until about halfway through the video, which also features some commentary and scenes from his hometown.)
The Last Resort
The quintessential song-story about how the American West was lost to greed and environmental degradation. Sing it and weep.
The brilliant Senegalese singer, songwriter and activist released this affecting song in 1990 to protest rich Western nations dumping toxic waste in poor African countries. I couldn’t find a video, but you can listen to the song via YouTube and be reminded that the illegal dumping continues today in one of the world’s most naturally beautiful ecosystems.