This political season, some still asking an old musical question

Pop Music

October 31, 2004|By Geoff Boucher | Geoff Boucher,LOS ANGELES TIMES

It has been a political season of the most intense order, and rock acts have been dusting off message tunes. One of the songs enjoying revival is Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Jackson Browne, John Fogerty, Bright Eyes, Audioslave, Tim Robbins (in "Bob Roberts" mode) and, of course, Elvis Costello are among the artists who pointedly have performed the song over the last year. Lowe's song was popularized by Costello in 1979 - a rowdy version that the Dixie Chicks took to piping in for fans as pre-show politicking on their last arena tour.

Lowe, off tour, has watched with fascination from his garden in Brentford, Middlesex, near London.

"I'm rather schizophrenic about it. The Mercedes-Benz-driving, mortgage-paying, middle-aged songwriter that I've become is very, very pleased about the royalties. But the young hippie who wrote it still sincerely, fervently hopes that some day the song will be so redundant that no one sings it."

The silver-haired Lowe, 54, has career credits as solo artist, Rockpile member and producer on Costello's early albums of acclaim.

The song begins:

As I walk through

This wicked world

Searching for light in the darkness of insanity

I ask myself "Is all hope lost?

Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?"

And each time I feel like this inside,

There's one thing I wanna know:

What's so funny `bout peace, love and understanding?

"I think it was the first actual original idea I ever had. I remember thinking that I had better be careful to keep it simple and not mess it up." Still, the song, Lowe said, was "forgotten by all" until Costello tapped it for the landmark album Armed Forces.

"He is the one that gave it an anthem quality, and it was one-take, all energy with his eyes bugging out when he sang it," Lowe said.

And Lowe's favorite version? "I was on tour in the States and someone handed me a tape. I can't remember what was written on it. It was a black choir from Harlem singing it a cappella. I remember unashamedly weeping - I was that moved. And I know nothing else about it."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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